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Thursday, September 21, 2006

Report on a life-changing experience

I went to chapel at Southern Wesleyan University today. Since I retired from there, over a year ago, I haven't been to chapel but twice, counting today. (I used to go regularly.) The women's basketball team (the link currently leads to last year's roster) was scheduled to report on their trip to the Czech Republic, and I wanted to hear the report. I'm glad I went.

Ten of the Lady Warriors, and their coach, went to the Czech Republic for 11 days, participating in a Sports event for the mission work of The Wesleyan Church. What does basketball have to do with missions? Sport? Let's put it this way. A number of years ago, when the first Wesleyan mission couple went there, the man was asked to coach a semi-pro football team (American style, not soccer). He's still doing it. It turns out that that was a great way to reach young men for Christ. The sports ministry has grown, to the point where it seemed advisable to have a major event, bringing in teams from four Wesleyan colleges to play other teams, meet with them one-on-one, hold clinics for kids, and engage in other activities. By all accounts, the young people (and their coaches) did what they came to do -- present the claims of Jesus Christ.

Probably more important than that, it was a life-changing experience for the young women. Some of them had never been on a plane, and none of them had ever been to Europe. They had to raise $1700 each, as did the coach, and all of them were able to do it. They shared one electrical outlet and one hair wand. One girl's luggage never came, but the others shared their clothes.

I was especially struck by what three of the ladies said. One of them, who came to SWU three years ago, mostly to play basketball, kicked it off by telling about the trip. It was obvious that she had been changed by going, and it was obvious that she was a much more mature Christian for it. A second said that she, too, just came to SWU because she could get a basketball scholarship. She said that she had never been in church, or opened a Bible, until she became a student. She, too, was clearly growing in grace. A third, as part of her prepared testimony while abroad, told, publicly, for the first time, and then to chapel, how she had had an alcoholic father who was physically and emotionally abusive, and how that had burdened her throughout her school career, but that God had healed her father, and enabled her to forgive him. There weren't many dry eyes. I doubt that there were many in Brno, either, even with translation.

Christian colleges generally have sports teams. I won't say that they are always worth it, or that everyone who comes to play ends up a model citizen, but then sometimes people who come to study for the ministry don't, either. It costs money to hire coaches, build and maintain gyms and athletic fields, and offer scholarships. But, on balance, it's more than worth it. Athletics motivates some people as nothing else, and exposure to a Christian environment can be transforming. I remember, for example, a student who came to SWU to play basketball and major in science. He did. He met his wife there. She was youth pastor of a church when they were first married. Now he is senior pastor of a church, and God is blessing their work. Another one I know of had been kicked out of a public university, and off its basketball team, for drinking. He found out about SWU's coach, and asked him for a chance. His first year after college was spent helping out the sports ministry in the Czech Republic. He married a young lady who was on a one-year missions trip to Germany at the same time he was in Europe. They both raised their support for their year in Europe. They are now co-pastors of a church, and he is the Missions Director for the South Carolina District of The Wesleyan Church.

May God bless the coaches and athletic teams of SWU and similar schools.


Julana said...

That's an interesting perspective.

Martin LaBar said...

Thanks, Julana.

Joy said...

It was good to see you in chapel. A good friend of mine went on that trip, and the change in her has been very visable ever since. Thank God that the team was given the chance to go, and did!