A few hours after the Bears' offseason program concludes next Thursday, outside linebacker Sam Acho will hop on a plane and head to Nigeria.
It's a trip that Acho has made virtually every year since he first went as a 12-year-old. It's part of an annual two-week medical mission coordinated by Living Hope Christian Ministries, a non-profit organization that Acho's parents have operated since 1989.
Dr. Sonny Acho and Christy Acho have been returning to their native Nigeria each of the past 27 years with doctors and nurses to provide free medical care.
Bears outside linebacker Sam Acho will host a grand opening of this medical center that will provide Nigerians with year-round care.
Without that care, Nigerians have passed away from insect bites and stomach flu, and they've been incapacitated by cataracts, hernias and abscessed teeth. But the free treatment provided by the doctors and nurses on the mission trips has afforded people longer and more fulfilling lives.
While Acho is extremely proud of the assistance that's been provided during the annual two-week mission trips, the Bears linebacker is thrilled that a more permanent solution has been found. On June 17, Living Hope Christian Ministries will host a grand opening of a medical center that will provide Nigerians with year-round care.
"What usually happens is we go for two weeks and we bring surgeons and the surgeons remove hernias and cataracts and give out medicine, but then we leave and people don't really have any help," Acho said. "So our goal and dream has been to build a medical clinic where people can get year-round care. We've had that dream for three or four years and this year by the grace of God that dream is coming into fruition."
The medical center is being built in part by the $60,000 that was raised at Acho's "Celebrity Waiter Night" benefit last year and via a $50,000 donation he received by being named the Bears' nominee for the 2016 Walter Payton NFL Man of the Year Award.
The Living Hope Medical Center will be operational immediately following its grand opening, but funds will continue to be raised to enhance the facility.
"The rewarding part has been seeing faith in action," Acho said. "After the fundraiser we did last year we said, 'We raised money with the help of all the Chicago Bears fans and my teammates coming out, so let's start building something. Worst case is we'll build something and the people who come on the trip will see that we're on our way.'"
Acho feels fortunate that his status as an NFL player has provided a platform to deliver his message. But his passion for the cause would be the same if he were in any other line of work.
"Even if I wasn't playing football I would still be going to Nigeria doing this medical mission work," he said. "But football has been a great tool and opened a lot of doors for us to make more progress."