Last summer, Hope Church in Richmond, Virginia embarked on their eighth trip to Ethiopia to share God’s love at a Sports Friends camp. They served at a discipleship camp with youth who have heard of Christ before but desire to pursue Him more. We interviewed team members Clay, Shirley and Lynn on their experiences.
When you’re not away on a missions trip with Sports Friends, what do you do?
Clay and Shirley: We are both retired educators and lead short-term missionary groups. Shirley also has a role in women’s ministry.
Lynn: I work for a large school organization where my title is the Education Specialist for elementary reading.
Do you have a favorite Bible Verse?
Clay: Proverbs 3:5-6 “Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways submit to Him, and He will make your paths straight.”
Shirley: It depends on the season of life I am in. For this trip it was Revelation 7:9, “After this I looked, and there before me was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people, and language, standing before the throne and the Lamb. They were wearing white robes and were holding palm branches in their hands.”, because we will see a multitude of kids in heaven; we could see all these kids from Ethiopia in heaven!
Lynn: For the last few months, I have been focusing on Psalm 46:10 “[God] says, ‘Be still and know that I am God; I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth.’“ I realize I need to be still. Trusting that God has a plan. I need to be listening. I need to not let my job be all consuming. I need to remind myself: “Be still and know that I am God.”
How did you end up serving on this missions trip with Sports Friends?
Clay and Shirley: This is our eighth time going to Ethiopia, and we just love taking the team there to experience serving the Lord.
Lynn: This is my eighth trip going now. I can’t imagine not going, because I feel like it’s become a part of my life. I do try to be faithful in praying “is this what You want me to do” in case there are things right in front of me that I am blind to see. Ethiopia is where God wants me to be. It is a leap of faith for me each year to know God will provide the money I need.
What was your favorite part of this trip and why?
Clay: Having our son with us to share the experience of our eighth trip. Also, How God used our team in situations to bring them together. He worked through our team and let the Spirit flow out, let us foster the Spirit, let the light shine out of us, and show a lot of love.
Shirley: Usually we go to a regular Sports Friends camp, but this time we went to a Sports Friends discipleship camp. The boys in the camp, we were told, became Christians at camp or through their coach. This was encouraging to know, and a highlight for me to be motivated as I saw these kids join together to worship; it was beautiful– 80 plus kids worshipping with full hearts.
Lynn: This year when I left, I was going through a hard season in my life. Hard things were happening at work. I was not prepared or mentally ready to go. I had to bring my bills to Ethiopia that I had not paid yet. I left my kindle on the airplane on the way there. My team said to me, “Lynn this is not like you.” From the beginning when I got to camp, I kept on saying “my team is a gift.” I had this group of boys who cared for me so well. God knew exactly what I needed. God put this team in my life.
What were some things that were different or interesting about Ethiopian Culture?
Clay and Shirley: Definitely the food is different! We have a love for how relational they are. We love so much the way they put relationships above getting tasks done. We have developed strong relationships with Brian and Laura and camp staff; coming back and seeing them again was like coming home. The more we go it becomes more normal and harder to notice the differences.
Lynn: From my first year going, the thing I tend to always notice is how the Ethiopians care for each other. The older ones always care for the younger ones on the team. Because I am older, they carried my bag for me. At meal times, it didn’t matter how many kids were at the table, they always made room for me. I never had a strong liking to Ethiopian food, and the Ethiopians noticed this and asked what parts I did like to make sure I ate. They would ask me if I had eaten that day, and the children would give me the vegetables or other foods from their own plate that they knew I liked. The level of care the Ethiopians have is on another level than we are exposed to in America.
What story stands out to you when you remember back to the trip?
Clay and Shirley: When we remember back, it would probably be when the kids share their testimonies each day– one camper and one staff member — both really had difficult lives. They just inspire all of us, even though life is difficult, God is in control. One camper was kicked out of his house, he was poor, he had to live on the streets, he went to jail, but despite these horrible things that happened in his life, God took care of him. Same with the staff member. He was kicked out of the house, but God cared for him all the way.
Lynn: There were a couple of older boys and some of us were sitting on the steps in front of the Meeting Hall. They were asking me questions about who we do or don’t like in American politics. We talked about how does Jesus treat people and how we should treat people as He did. I did not expect to speak about American politics and how it has a role in their lives. This conversation kept coming back to me and how I was able to minister to them through politics.
In what ways did you see God at work during this trip?
Clay: On the team there was a bit of disharmony, but I could feel God work it out to a win-win situation. There was a father and his children who joined us from New York for the camp. They became naturally one of us, as if we had known each other for years. I was just so thankful we joined together as a team, though we had not known each other long.
Shirley: We are so close to the Sports Friends staff in Ethiopia and it is amazing to see God work in their lives, and how God has expanded Sports Friends. Hearing the little stories along the way about how they [the team members] have “never experienced this before,” is another way I see God at work each day in people.
Lynn: A woman on our team named Nancy ended up on a girls team. Nancy is loud in the best of ways. She is funny and silly. She ended up on this team who spoke no English, and she really struggled. We normally have a translator for each team, but Nancy did not have one. At night she would confess, “I just don’t know what is going on with my team.” Her girls were going through a lot of drama. During the day, you never knew Nancy was having a hard time because she was so energetic and loving. One night she was upset and Bryan from SIM International said, “Nancy, God put you on this team for a reason. You are always smiling and laughing — this is a gift. There is a reason you have this team.” On the last day, we were reflecting on the week, and we had a translator there so we could understand what was being said. One girl from Nancy’s team stood up and shared how much she enjoyed the week and how patient Nancy was and encouraging and sweet and fun she was. She would never forget her. Hearing this, made Nancy know she was making an impact in these girls lives and made the experience that much sweeter. God did have a reason for her to have this team.
How has your faith grown from this mission trip?
Clay: My faith has grown just by looking at the Ethiopians in awe for their faith. They rely so much on God. We have distractions, but they don’t have as many or live a different quality of life than we do. Their faith inspires me.
Shirley: Our faith grows every year we go. A couple of years ago there was this program called Knowing God in Texas, where it would challenge the city to know about God and think about faith. This made me think about how much I talk to the neighbors about God compared to Ethiopians. We have now started a Bible study and feed our guests; my faith has grown by ministering to those near my home.
Lynn: I really felt from the beginning that Africa was not on my radar, but I ended up in Ethiopia because that’s where God sent me. I don’t have to know why He’s sending me, I just have to be faithful. I am learning to be obedient to God’s calling. I have felt led to be in missions. I don’t have to know all the answers. It’s okay to be afraid and it’s okay to not know. I just know I am where God wants me to be, which is why I am still journaling on being still. It’s His timeline, it’s not my timeline. I need to be still and be prayerful and be listening.
What was your biggest challenge on the trip?
Clay: Finding the energy and stamina. Maybe I have done the trip so many times I need extra enthusiasm for the team because I have become a bit stale. God gave that needed enthusiasm to me through answered prayer.
Shirley: Praise God no one got sick this year. We want to find a way to give the team members time to reflect on the trip, that is our challenge we have yet to find the solution to.
Lynn: This year the challenge for me was getting there and feeling like I should be there. I love returning to a place that has now become familiar and people I know. I love to be reunited with folks I know and love. I remember my second year being afraid because the first trip was so amazing. But the second year ended up being amazing as well, just different. I learned that every year would be amazing, but different. This year was the first year I felt, “I am not equipped for this.”
Is there anything else you would like to add?
Clay and Shirley: You get so much more out of this trip than you put into it.
Interested in serving with Sports Friends on a short-term trip? Check out www.sports-friends.org/go for more information.
Written by Callie West, Sports Friends Communications Intern