Meet the Team

God has blessed Sports Friends with a passionate group of leaders who together represent many different cultures, nationalities, professional backgrounds, and ministry experiences. Today, more than 175 men and women are serving in key leadership roles on four different continents. Together they serve and support thousands of volunteers ministering to the youth and their families.


Tripp Johnston

Tripp Johnston – SF Co-Founder and International Director

Tripp earned a B.S. degree in business administration from the University of North Carolina where he was a Morehead Scholar, and an MBA degree from the Harvard Graduate School of Business. Prior to co-founding Sports Friends in 2002, Tripp worked as an investment banker specializing in advising corporate clients in mergers and acquisitions and various capital raising options. As Executive Director of Sports Friends, Tripp focuses on the overall leadership and administration of the ministry. Tripp and his family lived for multiple years in both Ethiopia and SE Asia as Sports Friends began ministry in these locations.


Jill Ireland

Jill Ireland – SF Deputy International Director and Regional Director for South America

Prior to joining Sports Friends in 2007, Jill served for nine years with Christians In Sport, a leading sports ministry organization in the U.K. Jill currently lives in the U.K. providing leadership and support to Sports Friends' overall training efforts, as well as overseeing the ministry in South America. Jill graduated from Loughborough University with a BSc (Hons) in Physical Education & Sports Science, as well as a Post Graduate Certificate in Secondary Education as a Physical Education & Geography Teacher. Jill also received a BA (Hons) in Biblical and Intercultural Studies from All Nations Christian College. Formerly a high-level field hockey player, Jill came to faith through the testimony of one of her hockey teammates and is a passionate trainer and equipper of other sports ministers.


Berhanu Kebede

Berhanu Kebede – SF Regional Director for East and Southern Africa

Berhanu led the development of the Sports Friends ministry in Ethiopia and now provides support for Sports Friends' growing ministry in other countries in East and Southern Africa. Berhanu also recently served as Vice President of the Ethiopian Football Federation. Prior to joining Sports Friends in 2002, Berhanu served 17 years with the Southern Baptist Mission, where he directed various development and ministry projects. Berhanu has been a pioneer in the development of sports ministry in Ethiopia.


Kyle Abts

Kyle Abts – SF Regional Director for West Africa

Kyle led the development of the Sports Friends ministry in Nigeria and now provides leadership to Sports Friends' growing ministry in other countries in West Africa. Kyle has served in West Africa for over 15 years and provided leadership to a number of community development and transformational ministries in multiple countries in the region. Kyle joined Sports Friends in 2006 to help launch the ministry in West Africa. Kyle is an avid sportsman and has coached volleyball, soccer, and basketball teams at various levels of play. Kyle attended the Trinity Evangelical Divinity School and Jos ECWA Theological Seminary. As a result of Kyle's pioneering work in using sports as a tool for peace in Nigeria, he was invited to participate in the Yale University Summer Peace Fellowship in 2011.


Shane Smith

Shane Smith – SF International Expansion Director

Shane graduated from Baylor University with a degree in Business Administration. He went on to spend 15 years in sales and management positions, primarily in the technology industry. In 2008, his family moved to Ethiopia where he worked for SIM/Sports Friends overseeing ministry activities at Lake Langano. In 2013, his family moved to Kenya to build out Sports Friends ministry in Kenya and Tanzania. Shane now works with the Sports Friends International Leadership Team on global expansion initiatives.


Dan Linz

Dan Linz – SF International Support Services Team Leader

Dan was born in Ethiopia to SIM parents and grew up in Liberia. He and his wife moved to Malawi as missionaries with African Bible Colleges in 1998 to help start ABC Christian Academy. In 2000, they joined SIM and spent 9 years in Malawi where Dan served as headmaster. They then moved back to Charlotte for 9 years where Dan was the Director of Recruitment for SIM USA. Dan has spent the last year and a half serving as Executive Pastor at Center City Church in Charlotte, NC. Over the years, he has led multiple Sports Friends teams to Ethiopia. He now leads our International Support Services team out of the Charlotte office.


Sports Friends' International Support Services team provides support to the overall ministry in the areas of communications, recruiting, short-term teams, church partnerships, fund development, finances, and training resources. For questions or further information in the following areas, please contact:

Communications: Cat Tongkao This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.
Short-Term Trips: Bryan Mills This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.
Church Partnerships: Bryan Mills This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.
Donations: Michelle Palacio This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.
Finances: Michelle Palacio This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.
Training: Jill Ireland This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

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