Final thoughts? No, just my last entry. I’ll be thinking about this team and trip for weeks and months to come. It will go down as one of the most meaningful experiences of my leadership in sports evangelism.
God will continue to grow what we were able to plant in and around Rio. The seeds that were sown and the prayers prayed to receive Christ are just one aspect of the impact of this trip. It never fails to humble me how God works in and through the lives of young men and women in sports.
Today, Saturday (24th), following twelve hours of sleep I am thinking about the team and praying God will protect their hearts that have been opened and filled up with a passion for serving Him. My prayer this a.m. was one of “thanksgiving and praise” for all we experienced together and the life-changing effects to continue to resonate in the team member’s lives. It was such a diverse group of young people - graduating seniors who had been with me before, freshmen first-timers who have just become sophomores, a manager, a senior who will graduate in August, two walk-ons who will not play next year, two up-coming seniors, and two who could not play a lot due to a broken finger and recent knee surgery. But, this team of diversity had a bond that was most unusual and served beautifully for two weeks. I focused on each one and these are my closing thoughts.
Brooke has grown and matured into a beautiful Christian woman who is now very comfortable sharing her faith and her walk with Christ. I have watched her evolve through three trips with me, culminating with her most effective and open witnessing in Rio. I enjoyed watching her grow into a leadership role. She and Michael (former Bruin in dental school) will marry in August. I can see them going on medical mission trips in the future through their church - Michael as a dentist and Brooke doing evangelism.
Brittany is a natural when it comes to working with kids. She lights up when the young ones come onto the court. Watching her grow during the two trips has been a thing of beauty. She will share at a moment’s notice now, and the depth of her sharing has reached new heights. Britt is comfortable with herself and her relationship with Christ and it shows in her daily demeanor and her daily walk with Christ. She’ll be doing more mission trips in the future.
Laura had a life-changing experience in Rio. God did a wonderful thing in her life, bringing back to her the real JOY of her salvation as she experienced full release and healing of some personal struggles. She was at her very best and I loved it. I marveled at her laughter, her testimonies, her deep love for her teammates, and her complete honesty in sharing her heart. The sound of her voice brought real joy to me, and I continue to hear it in my heart. Laura will be back on the mission field in the future as an occupational therapist.
Andrew was special. His first mission trip came at a perfect time in his life before he graduates in August. He was the perfect team player and captured the hearts not only of his teammates but the crowds. His energy, enthusiasm, and total abandonment to the moment said it all. His first time ever sharing his testimony was amazing. He became a natural and he liked it. I believe he surprised himself. I loved his openness and honestly in our processing session. And, I loved his presence and all he brought to this team. It would not have been the same without him.
Keaton was a favorite of the kids with his jamming and slamming around the rim, and his unusual compassion for reaching out to needy kids. If there was a loner or an individual who stood to the side it was Keaton who reached out to them. When he stood to speak he always spoke to them from his heart and from the practical side, encouraging them to say “no” to drugs, alcohol, sex, etc. Keaton is not a man of many words, but when he speaks “everyone listens.” His actions speak louder than words. I love his heart for God and his burning desire to grow in Christ.
Stefan was a magnet, clinging to everything he saw and experienced. His cup is filled up and overflowing. His smile, enthusiasm, energy, and excitement for the country as well as for the people was a thing to behold. His awe of God’s creation, of the beauty of the moon, the mountains, sunsets, the hills and ocean was overwhelming. He loved every minute of every day and captured the beauty of it all through his keen sense of presence. He gave his testimony for the first time ever and touched us all deeply. I believe he discovered a new level of meaning in his relationship to Christ during these days.
Matthew commanded attention with his very presence. The “little boy” inside of this giant of a man would “come out to play” and capture the hearts of his audience. Of course, the girls loved his “locks.” Matthew is grounded, deep, and comfortable in his faith, but I sense that he discovered an even deeper level of loving, giving and sharing the gospel. His encouragement of teammates and his level of maturity in his walk with Christ serves as a steadying force wherever he is. He is real and he loves his Lord. He’ll be “on mission” wherever he is.
Will was a sponge, soaking up everything about the trip, the ministry, and the culture. I believe he probably got more out of this trip than anyone. He was totally uninhibited in his work and play and enjoyed every moment. He would have shared at every session if I had let him. You see, Will is what I call a “gym rat.“ He could play and hang out at a gym 24 hours a day. But, he learned a lot about himself during these days. And, his teammates enjoyed his presence on the team. I believe Will came back a different man with a new and deeper commitment to priorities in his life. He is determined to refocus on his schoolwork and set his goals higher.
Andy is a natural on the mission field. His sweet smile and gentle nature draws his audience. His broken finger didn’t keep him from being a powerful influence. He couldn’t do a lot of playing, but he was everywhere talking and “hanging out” with people. Andy has the gift of communication and shared whatever and whenever we needed to go in a particular direction. He is a deep thinker and his teammates love hearing from him in group settings. His reflections during “processing time” served as inspiration and motivation to all of us. He is well on his way to becoming a Godly man, and it is evident that God has something really special in store for this guy.
Brittney inspired us all with how she handled her two day “bug” that kept her in the hotel. She never complained and worked hard to get back out with us for ministry. She loved working in the schools, sharing and giving her testimony. Each time she went deeper and deeper with her words and challenges. I read her entries on the journal and know how God worked in her life. There is a depth to Brittney that came to the surface day by day. I loved watching it happen. She is kind, gentle, loving, and good hearted. Her gift to her teammates was encouragement.
Whitney became a Brazilian, adapting to the place, the people, and the culture. I wasn’t sure she was coming home with us. A person of few words, I watched her thrive in the ministry. She listens, observes, and processes. Her play and interaction with the kids, the students, translators, and volunteers were an encouragement to all. Whitney came home a different person. God knows the work that He did in her life, and I believe it is just beginning. There is a powerful force inside this young woman that is going to burst forth and when it does….watch out!
Rachel simply embraced everything about the experience. She had the time of her life. Everybody loved Rachel. Her smile can light up the world. You would never know she had not done this before. She said she was nervous, but I don’t believe it. I loved watching her encouragement to the missionaries, translators, and volunteers. Then we all saw a different and deeper side of Rachel where she shared from her heart and through her tears during processing time, loving and encouraging her teammates. God did a work in Rachel’s life that we will see continue to emerge in the next three years at Belmont.
Tony saw and experienced more than anyone on the trip because he saw it through the lens of a camera. His influence and impact on this team cannot be measured with words. He will tell the story through the editing of maybe 1,000 pictures and hours of videoing. We will be privileged to relive the journey because of Tony. But, Tony’s influence on this team goes beyond all that. He was a “rock”. The team members loved him, respected him, admired his gifts and talents, and grew to appreciate Tony, the man, not the volleyball coach. Their bonding with “T-bone” moved me day by day. His willingness to be in the background, bring up the rear, and play his role won the hearts of this team. Tony had a special relationship with missionaries Sharon and Ray and ministered to them in ways we’ll never know. I am indebted to him for all he has given and the time he will spend creating the videos to “tell the story.”
This will be my final entry but not my final thoughts of this team. I will forever be grateful for the opportunity to serve on the mission field with them in Rio. I pray God will continue to grow the passion for service and ministry that is now alive in each of their hearts.
TO GOD BE ALL THE GLORY!