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June 01, 2006

My Closing Thoughts

plc_destri_testify.jpgIt is difficult to write my closing thoughts on this mission journey to Venezuela. Processing is not easy while making the adjustment back to work and my real world. I find words difficult to describe. My thoughts are in the form of pictures: pictures of schools, crowds, faces, concrete courts, bent basketball goals with no nets, blistering hot sunshine, makeshift houses of tin, hunger, and barren land. I see contrasts of rich and poor with no in-between. And, I see thirteen Belmont students connecting with people of all ages through the language of love. There is laughter, smiles, hugs, tears, high fives, handshakes, and touches. I see God at work bringing together two countries, not through politics or religion, but through a relationship. There are no barriers, no hidden agendas, no egos, no power struggles. There is only the love of Christ being demonstrated and proclaimed through the platform of basketball.

plc_shelley_bw.jpgOur days were long and filled with opportunities for ministry – morning, afternoon and evening sessions. The numbers were astounding! Mornings and afternoons took us to schools where the entire school population came to outdoor courts to see the American basketball players. Our play, relays, demonstrations and exhibitions provided the connection with students before we sat them down for a time of sharing. I still can’t believe we organized anywhere from 400-800 students at a time for play and fun, and then found them attentive, open, and receptive to the gospel. They listened!! Only the divine appointment by God for our presence could make that happen, over and over again. Evenings in community settings brought smaller numbers, but nonetheless meaningful response to the gospel.

betty_prayer.jpgMissionaries Paul and Shelley Scott estimated conservatively that 6,000+ heard the gospel during those 9 straight days of ministry and approximately 1,000 prayed to receive Christ. Those numbers sound high, but I can still see the crowds and hear their prayers in Spanish as they responded to receive Christ. Beautiful memories! I have asked myself over and over…why such large numbers this time. This is what I’m processing.

The door to Venezuela is slowly closing. They say we may be one of the last volunteer teams to get in. The window of opportunity for this kind of work is small and getting smaller. Missionaries have already left the country out of fear. Paul and Shelley are unsure of their future there. I believe with all my heart that God blessed our team with maybe one of the last opportunities to reach the masses before doors close. God gave us crowds unlike I have witnessed before. He wanted to get the most out of this team. That is why the days were long, filled with visits to so many schools and three different towns. I felt an urgency unlike ever before for sharing the gospel. It was God ordained that we be consumed with ministry and opportunities to demonstrate and verbalize God’s love. Who knows what the future holds for a Christian witness to large numbers in that country.

God used this team in a mighty way. Story after story comes to mind as I will continue to write about this journey for my book. I can’t possibly put it in this journal. I am grateful to God for the experience, for our special team of athletes, for Paul and Debbie Chenoweth’s support, for missionaries Paul and Shelly Scott and their family, for Pastors and lay leaders of the churches who organized and worked with us, for translators who became family, for financial and prayer support from our friends and churches, and for Belmont University who encourages its faculty, staff, and students to “go into the world, make a difference, and transform lives”. The personal impact of this experience will be ongoing for all of us. God bless Venezuela!!