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 Steve and Lani (husband and wife) on their experiences.
When you’re not away on a missions trip with Sports Friends, what do you do?
Steve: I work for an insurance company in Richmond, Virginia.
Lani: I am a stay-at-home mom. I am also a violinist, and I teach and perform, I have a studio as well. I am also a leader of a Bible study in town.
Do you have a favorite Bible verse?
Steve: Hearing this question, I immediately think of Hebrews 11:1 “Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see,” which is my life verse my mom gave me when I was born.
Lani: My favorite verse is Philippians 1:6 “being confident of this, that He who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus” because there is faith in not just for today but for all days until Christ returns for us. We serve Christ and through Christ we will finish it.
How did you end up serving on this mission trip with Sports Friends?
Steve: I am one of the two co-leaders for the team. Shirley and I have been leading for a number of years, this year was our eighth year to go. We began to speak with Sports Friends in 2011, and our first trip began in 2012. We wanted an ongoing relationship with Sports Friends as a church to continue this mission trip.
Lani: Steve, my husband, has been the leader all eight years, and I have had the privilege of being part of the team for the fourth time now. We love to support and serve there. We hope to return next year, but we shall see what God has planned for us. I am sure Steve will definitely go.
What was your favorite part of this trip and why?
Steve: Every year is different. This year for us was different because it was a discipleship camp. Normally it is evangelistic camps, but this year the boys already knew Christ– we just brought material help to grow their faith. I enjoyed it. It made me feel more like I was participating and having fellowship at a bigger level. The dynamic is different when the purpose of the camp was towards discipleship rather than evangelism. How it works in an evangelism camp is that Sports Friends speaks the core values of the Bible that build up to the end of the week. At the end, the gospel story is given. The discipleship camp is focused on the character as a Christian and the traits to exhibit.
Lani: My favorite part was the worship time for this particular trip. The boys claimed Jesus as their Savior and Lord, while they sang songs. They were so confident in God’s love for them and they valued this special time. They had strong hearts and passion for God, which was so special to witness.
What were some things that were different or interesting about Ethiopian culture?
Steve: That question is hard for me to answer because my parents were missionaries, so I grew up in Ethiopia until I was eleven. Ethiopian culture is much more community focused rather than individual focused. Ethiopians are much more expressive.
Lani: Steve and I love Ethiopian food! Steve actually grew up in Ethiopia with his parents who worked with SIM International. So, it is like coming back home for Steve when we return each year. We love the food and the people, and I know I have adopted the culture because of my husband. It is cool to see the others on the team adjust and be willing to try new things and not be hesitant and love the people. The Ethiopians always have room for one more person and no one will be left out; they embrace everyone.
What story stands out to you when you remember back to this trip?
Steve: Because it was different for us this year, we had briefings, and the team leader commented on what people bring with them, like assumptions. One thing she talked about is how people are addicted to comfort and convenience. We treat it as a right. Her commentary on our mindset of “I deserve comfort. I deserve electricity…” was a challenge for me and helpful to think about when I came back to the U.S.; I took everything for granted.
Lani: The one person that stood out the most to me while I was there was a guy who was a really good athlete. He is a street kid, has no family, and he embraced other street kids and loved them. He wanted to give them the family they never had. This boy is maybe 16 years old, and he is mature in his faith in God. I pray for him to be safe as he struggles finding meals and a place to sleep. The coaches come along side of him and help him, which I am so thankful for. I also pray for all the kids who live in desperate situations. I sometimes struggle in staying faithful in praying for them, but God helps me to stay faithful.
In what ways did you see God at work during this trip?
Steve: We were intentional to stop and pray. When situations came up, we would say, “Okay, let’s stop and pray.” As a team, we had to focus on really asking God to help us, which was a good thing for us. In times of disagreements, it helped us find the direction we were going. This taught us the importance of the practice of prayer in daily situations. One person on our team had a challenging group of girls, and after processing it, we saw that it was good because she relied on and prayed to God more.
Lani: Definitely for protection because we have had health issues in the past. It was a huge blessing no one got sick or had to go to the hospital. I prayed for health every single day because we needed more energy than we are used to as we worked all hours of the day until 9:30 or 10:00 at night. God definitely gave us that energy that we needed. I also prayed for us to have joy because it is exciting to serve hand and foot for someone and anticipate the good things Christ will do. God also gave us this joy as we served. I prayed for no wild animal encounters, and God protected us from those encounters.
How has your faith grown from this mission trip?
Steve: I would say being conscious of talking to God. That’s really made an impression on me. And being conscious of the people around me more.
Lani: My faith grew by God reminding me not to be complacent and not to take for granted things in my life. He reminded me of the importance of our eternity. I was reminded to seek completely for God’s provision first.
What was your biggest challenge on the trip?
Steve: My challenge was dealing with some of the more emotional topics that were emotional values to us, but were not values to the Ethiopians. We had to consider how to do it in a way that was honoring to God and not to us. It was good. It was a challenge. To think about what was God’s intention for this.
Lani: There were multiple challenges. Before we went, Steve and I had a stomach bug. We were so weak and had no energy, but God enabled us to rest on the plane, so we could be healthy and strong when we were there. It was also a challenge when the internet shut down right before we came because there was a political concern where the government didn’t want people to communicate back and forth. We were concerned that we may not be able to communicate to others in the states when we landed in the city because all the internet was gone in the entire country. But the internet was turned back on right before we arrived. Praise God! It was also a challenge not to be too scared. God said to be faithful and to depend on Him and ask Him for help during our troubles, which showed us God can overcome all obstacles. It was reassuring to see God at work and that we were all in this together, no one was by themselves during all of this.
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