WOW! Is it really over? Words fail me as I attempt to bring closure tonight to this journey. Part of me feels like we just got here and another part feels like we have been here for weeks. I feel empty and yet so full. I’m exhausted, yet energized as I release the team to a free evening without schedule. The girls are at the hippie fair across the street getting some last minute souvenirs before our tourism day tomorrow and departure for the states tomorrow night. They are free now, free in the spirit.
God may have saved the best experiences for the last day. We went to a school this morning in a favela (slum) and the entire school was waiting for us, surrounding the outdoor court. Preschoolers to middle school children turned out to welcome us as we stepped off the bus. They were waiting, waiting for the Americans and greeted us with smiles as wide as the ocean. How beautiful they were!!! The screams turned to clapping, then to hugs and kisses as the team took time to reach out and touch each one. I just knew this would be a special day to end the mission journey. They even had us line up on the court while they played our national anthem. It brought tears and great joy to hear it in another country. Following our anthem they played the Brazilian anthem.
We played, hugged, signed autographs, danced, and loved on those children. We took enough photographs to filled up all our cameras. There is no way to describe the morning at this school. Following our time with the kids, we then took a walk into the favela to see for ourselves where these children come from. I won’t attempt to talk about that. The only way I can describe it is to tell you I can still smell the place as I type this closure. You have to be there to have any idea how these people live. And, that favela is just a small dot in what is a typical Brazilian landscape, slums on top of slums, mile after mile. The bus was very quiet as we drove away.
Following a light lunch we proceeded to the last stop in our trip, a small school for children of special needs. There we saw children with multiple handicaps and many needs. Our hearts were broken as we observed children with muscular dystrophy, extreme autism, and many other needs. I watched our girls kneel beside these children, touch, hug, love, and give attention. I saw our tears from broken hearts. We were truly humbled. We met with mothers who stay at the school for support and encouragement from one another. They answered our questions, along with the staff and teachers. They told us not to feel sorry for them. Their children are God’s gift to them and that He has a purpose in giving them these children. We gathered to pray for the children and their families prior to leaving.
Saying goodbye to our local leader, Marsio (Marsue), and our translators was a very emotional time. Looks like it would get easier for me after all these years, but it is always the toughest part of the trip. There is a special bond between teams and their lay leaders and translators that is very unusual. I won’t even attempt to describe it. This team has made some very special new friends.
I’m not doing this justice tonight. I feel so inadequate to even share my thoughts. They seem so trite compared to how it really is. My heart is full and overflowing, but empty at the same time. The team gathered in my room for debriefing and processing prior to our meal. Each member shared from the heart. I feel so blessed to have led this team. They are an amazing group of people. They have touched my life deeply, making a lasting imprint while joining the other athletes who have served in the past twelve years in Sports Evangelism. I can’t say enough about Deane and Tony and their leadership. These two are men of God who have shown their players what it is to take a stand for Christ. I have watched them, time after time, follow the girls’ testimonies with a clear explanation of the gospel and how to have a relationship with Jesus Christ. The more they shared, the better they got. I listened as the girls opened their hearts and talked about how Christ makes a difference in their lives. Each player had her own special ministry. I am so proud. I am blessed. I just wish parents and families and people at Belmont could witness what I have seen these past ten days. I am confident we will see all this make a difference in what is already a championship team.
They will leave for the US tomorrow night. I will stay for another week and work with a medical team from my church that will arrive in Rio on Friday. I’ll have a day and night alone in the hotel to rest and continue to process. I’ll return to Nashville and Belmont on the 31st and try to adjust to my work routine. It won’t come easy; it never does. Thank you for supporting us through your prayers and encouragement. I pray you will have gotten a small glimpse of this trip through this journal. Seeds were sown, people came into a relationship with Christ, and lives were touched. Only God knows the ultimate results of this trip.
A special thank you goes to Tony Howell for this journal. He deserves the credit for your ability to share this journey with us. “Thank you, Tony!”