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Thomas Tapeh

Thomas Tapeh has a few stories to tell. It’s hard to imagine that an NFL player born in Liberia and raised by a single mother in Minnesota wouldn’t have quite the intriguing history.

But for the free agent fullback (whose name is pronounced tuh-Pay), a pair of verses from the Old Testament Book of Jeremiah can sum up an entire lifetime: “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, before you were born I set you apart” (Jeremiah 1:5, NIV) and ” ‘For I know the plans I have for you,’ declares the Lord, ‘plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future’ ” (Jeremiah 29:11).

The significance of Jeremiah 1:5 is specifically tied to the circumstances that surrounded Tapeh’s birth. A few months before he was due to arrive, Cecily Woiwor sat in a Liberian abortion clinic awaiting the procedure that would terminate her pregnancy. She was there under pressure from Tapeh’s father. That’s when an anonymous woman walked into the room and told her, “Get up. You’re not going to abort this child.”

The woman helped Woiwor get off the table, grabbed her clothes, walked her outside and sat her down. When Woiwor looked up, the woman had disappeared. To this day, Tapeh’s mother is convinced that the visitor was an angel.

“I’m just grateful that the Lord did not allow me to be aborted,” Tapeh says. “It just goes to show that everyone has a [divine] plan for their life and no man can stop it.”

It took a little longer for Tapeh to understand the truth found in Jeremiah 29:11.

That journey began when Tapeh’s mother moved to the United States in an effort to make a better life for her children, who all stayed back home and were cared for by their grandmother. When he was 9 years old, the family was reunited in St. Paul, Minn.

Although soccer was his favorite childhood sport, Tapeh was introduced to football and proved to be a quick study on the gridiron. With only three years of experience, he earned USA Today second-team All-America honors and was named the Minnesota state Player of the Year.

Despite an injury-plagued career at the University of Minnesota, Tapeh was selected by the Philadelphia Eagles in the fifth round of the 2004 NFL draft. It was in Philadelphia where his faith became real, thanks to team chaplain Theodore Winsley and Pastor Lamont McLean (of Living Faith Christian Center in Pennsauken, N.J., where Tapeh still attends).

But during the 2007 season, Tapeh fell prey to something he calls “the mind-set of the NFL,” which drove him to fight through a serious knee injury.

“You put the NFL before your body, God, anything,” Tapeh explains. “You’ve got to be this indestructible human being that can’t be touched. You can’t be weak. You can’t get injured.”

Tapeh elected to have his knee cleaned even though major surgery would have been more helpful. He avoided such a procedure to ensure his chances of landing a free agency deal. That opportunity came from the Minnesota Vikings, but his calculated decision to not fully disclose his offseason activities weighed heavily on his spirit.

“I couldn’t sleep at night,” Tapeh recalls. “I was being a hypocrite. Every time I tried to go to sleep, the Lord would talk to me. What are you doing? Get up and go tell Brad [Head Coach Brad Childress]. It got to the point where I couldn’t sleep anymore.”

In 2008, Tapeh only played two games before landing on injured reserve. It was during that time when he told Childress the truth. Shortly thereafter, Tapeh was released from the team.

That’s when the truth of Jeremiah 29:11 started to sink in.

“If something is meant to be, it will be,” Tapeh says. “I’m tired of trying to figure out what to do and how to do it. God brought me here for a reason, so I’m just learning every day to surrender myself and die to myself and live the way He called me to live. Unfortunately, I have scars on my body and I have scars in my life because of making my own decisions.”

Since that time, Tapeh has been pursuing fulfillment away from professional sports by spending more time with his wife, working in his church as a mentor and volunteer, and speaking publicly about his faith.

But that doesn’t mean Tapeh is through with football.

“I believe I’m going to come back,” Tapeh says. “The game is never over until I decide it’s over. I have a lot of game left in me. I believe I’m going to get a phone call, but I’m not sitting here crying over it. This time, I’m fully allowing God to take control. But if that call never comes, I’m still blessed. When I look back on my life and remember where I came from, the reality is, I shouldn’t be here. Everything I gain from now on is a plus.”

Article Written By Chad Bonham for the Pentecostal Evangel January 31, 2010

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