This week, we met Jesus in the Balkans.
On July 6, our team of 13 people met at PCC and headed for the airport. We were Balkans-bound at last! Everyone was excited. As we grew to know each other preparing for the trip, we were confident that God had placed each person on the team for a specific reason. We had been prepping for weeks to run a sports camp with kids in the Balkans, many of whom had never heard of the love of Jesus. Our bags were packed, our flights were booked, and we were ready to go!
We met Jesus at the airport. The moment we tried to check in at the airport, chaos ensued. What followed was several hours of baggage mishaps, delayed flights, ticketing mistakes, and a last-minute drive to Chicago to try to catch another plane. After rearranging our tickets (and having to send part of the team on another route through another part of Europe) we finally made it to the Balkans safe and sound. It had been a very long day full of many unexpected speed-bumps. Yet, through it all, the team had great attitudes. As we reflected on the day, it was clear that even when we weren’t sure how things were going to work, God provided for us every step of the way. The trip didn’t start how we planned, but the initial trials actually served to bond our team even closer together. God was with us, helping us every time we needed Him.
We met Jesus in the missionaries. When we finally got to our destination, we stayed with John and Ruth, longtime PCC missionaries. We then spent every day serving alongside their son Caleb and his wife Heather, who run a sports ministry. Seeing how these two families have given up more comfortable lives in the United States to see the light of God’s love shine in the darkness of a Muslim country inspired us to do our part in living out God’s mission back in Hendricks County!
We met Jesus on the soccer field. I’m sitting in the Vienna airport as I write this. As I look around, our team is sunburned, sore, and very, very happy. We spent the week playing with kids, teaching them soccer, basketball, baseball, tennis, and volleyball. More importantly, we tried to show them the love of Jesus every chance we got. The language barrier often stopped us from expressing with words what was in our hearts, but through the common language of sports, hugs, high-fives, and smiles, we trust that God used our team to show His Love. On the final day, we told the kids that we came from America to tell them that Jesus loved them! For many of them, that was the first time they’d ever heard that. We hope they saw His love in us.
We met Jesus in each other. Each person on our trip played a unique and vital role in the success of our week. Andy led the team to Munich when our group got split up. Eric helped figure out countless little details that the rest of us missed in our travel negotiations on the first day. Wade’s smile and sincerity lit up the soccer field. Brian R. shared his wit and his wealth of tennis expertise. Ben’s experience as a soccer coach came in handy. Brian P. made every person he met feel like they were the most important person in the world. Tory captured the hearts of young boys discovering baseball for the first time. Mariah invested in many of the young kids too shy to play the big-group games. Luke B. brought a jubilant youthfulness to the entire trip, and all the little girls loved him. Paul bonded with the crippled boy who couldn’t run like the others. Kristie made us all laugh and created a culture of openness in our group. Oggy was the basketball wizard, and led us with his sincere heart of prayer. In so many ways, God used the unique gifts and experiences of each person on the team to show His heart.
We met Jesus around the dinner table. Our favorite experience of the trip was the many meals we got to share with wonderful people. The food was amazing, but the best part was the conversation around the table. On Thursday evening, we went to the home of a middle-aged couple whose son we met at the camp. We sat in their living room eating dinner, listening as they described the hardships they have faced since becoming Christians. They have no other Christian friends. They are shunned by their family and scorned by their culture. Yet, they spoke with such joy because of the hope they have found in Jesus! We were all strengthened by their testimony of God’s faithfulness. Following Jesus is certainly worth whatever we have to give up to gain Christ.
We met Jesus on the mountain. On Friday evening, we hiked up a mountain to an ancient castle overlooking the region. As we hiked, we heard the call to prayer from dozens of mosques scattered throughout the city below us. As we stared out over the valley below us, we were haunted by the thought of the many thousands of people who do not know the love of Jesus. As Jesus said, “The harvest is plentiful but the workers are few. Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field.” (Matthew 9:37-38). We are so thankful that John and Ruth’s family are workers in this field. We pray for more, and we are committed to being workers in the harvest field back home in Hendricks County.
This week, we met Jesus. He has been with us every moment of this trip, and we have felt His Love in a new and exciting way. He will continue to be with us in our everyday lives back home, where the harvest is still plentiful, and the workers are still few.