It’s Not About Me

TJ and I are officially a few weeks deep into support raising, and it has been quite a ride. As of today, the commitments and gifts we have received total just under $1,400 per month.

God has absolutely awed us in this process. We are over halfway funded. That $1,400 per month translates to over $16,000 committed and given in a little over three weeks. WHAT?! Even as I type that number it feels like I need to double-check the math. There’s just no way it can be real.

It’s real.

In the midst of all its ups and downs, support raising has reminded me of a valuable lesson about the importance of focus. Over the past month, there have been more moments than I care to admit when I’ve been tempted to believe that this whole support-raising thing is about me – about my fundraising number and my start date and my abilities to raise money.

My, my, my. Ugh, it’s painful just to write that sentence.

Here’s the pattern I’ve noticed: the second I put the focus on myself, I allow frustration and fear to slide into the driver’s seat. EVERY. SINGLE. TIME.

I was having one of those “me” moments last week when a story that Brian Hall, one of Sports Friends’ missionaries living full-time in Langano, Ethiopia, wrote was posted to the Sports Friends blog:

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Hundreds of kids came through camp this past summer, each with a unique story.  Some come from Orthodox homes, some from other religious backgrounds, some non-believing, and some from no home at all.

It was “family time” after lunch one afternoon during our week of girls camp.  I sat in the circle with my team of girls and listened as each one told about their family, how many brothers and sisters they had, their parents, where they were from, their favorite food and color, and what they wanted to be when they grew up.  It was a time to get to know each other as the girls were all from different areas.  Each one took her turn going through the routine, and then it was time for *Mary to give her story.  “I don’t have any brothers or sisters….” Tears started rolling down her face and she could not finish her story. Yigirem, one of our summer staff employees, comforted her and encouraged her to keep going but she couldn’t.  Later on I asked him her story.

Mary, a 16-year-old girl, is homeless and living on the streets of Addis. She has no family to love her and guide her through her adolescent years, and as a homeless child at the age of 13 she started having sex with men on the streets.  One of our other summer staff employees, Nega, had found her on the streets this year and invited her to join one of his teams.  He has taken her under his wing and is looking after her by finding her a place to live and giving her some money to buy food.

As I listened to her story, I had so many thoughts about this young girl.  “What will she think when she sees the drama on Thursday night, the drama of the adulterous woman who finds forgiveness?  How will she respond to Christ’s forgiveness?”  As I ran through all of these thoughts, for now I was just happy to know that someone within Sports Friends has found her, is taking care of her, showing Christ’s love to her, and now she has had the chance to come to camp. That is such a big part of why we do what we do here – to introduce these hurting youth to a loving God. Hopefully through her camp experience and her connection with Sports Friends in Addis, she will one day decide to give her life to Christ and experience his amazing love, joy, and forgiveness that will change her life. Please pray that Mary and many more youth around the world will find Christ through this ministry, and pray that their coaches will continue to reach out to them and be godly mentors and influencers in their lives.

*Name changed for security reasons

This story served as an inhaler for my panicky soul. It was calming and grounding and brought me back to the simple, beautiful truth – this support-raising journey is not about me. It’s about Mary and every child around the world she represents.

I believe – really, really believe – that God is using Sports Friends to change lives for the better across the globe. The proof is in the stories. When I keep my focus on that, my heart beats fast with excitement and motivation. I feel unstoppable, not because I am, but because I’m partnering with an unstoppable God.

So much of support-raising seems scary, difficult, and frustrating when I’m doing it for myself.

How wonderfully uncomplicated it becomes when I’m doing it for Mary instead.

Is there somewhere in your life you’ve lost focus? What’s distracting you from keeping your attention on what matters?

 

*If you’re interested in learning more about how you can join our support team, visit the “Support Raising” link in the blog header above. I’d love to answer any questions you may have about Sports Friends, support raising, or this adventure we’re on!

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An Ethiopian Foot-Washing Ceremony

Sports Friends serves thousands of kids in Ethiopia, but only about 1,000 of them get to come to Camp Langano each summer.

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Dedicated coaches (or Sports Ministers, as SF officially calls them) from around Ethiopia are invited to camp by Sports Friends regional staff, and then those coaches face the task of selecting 5-10 kids to bring with them for the week. I can only imagine the prayer and consideration involved in this process, because the time spent at camp will certainly be life-changing and, clearly, not everyone will have the opportunity to experience it.

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All of the kids and coaches were sorted onto teams shortly after they arrived at Camp. They were not necessarily with their teammates or coaches from home.

While I obviously enjoyed hanging out with the kids, one of my favorite parts about camp this summer was getting to know the coaches. These people are legit about serving the youth in their communities. Their selflessness was so evident, and I sincerely believe that a passionate, bold generation of Ethiopians is being raised up by the people I met.

Some of the stories the coaches (and the staff, for that matter) told about their pasts are truly unbelievable. It’s always convicting for me to hear stories from believers around the world who stand firm for God in places where they could face punishment, disownment, or even death for it. In church on Sundays I’m mostly worried about whether or not the coffee will still be hot by the time I get there or if there will be enough seats in a row for my friends and me to all sit together. Real important stuff, ya know?

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On the left is Dinku, the coach I spent the week with on team Germany. On the right, TJ and Yibe play a game. Yibe is on summer staff at Camp and was on team England with TJ.

On the last night of each week of camp, the Sports Friends staff and the firenjis (white people, for those of you who don’t speak Amharic ;)) have a foot-washing ceremony prepared to honor the coaches. The basis and symbolism of this comes from John 13 when Jesus washed his disciples’ feet.

John 13: 14-17: Now that I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also should wash one another’s feet. I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you. Very truly I tell you, no servant is greater than his master, nor is a messenger greater than the one who sent him. Now that you know these things, you will be blessed if you do them.

The idea of Jesus, the King and Savior, washing the feet of his disciples, ordinary people like you and me, defies everything our world says about leadership and power. In our culture the lowly serve the elevated, not the other way around. But in the culture of God’s kingdom, everything is upside down. I sincerely love the picture and example of Jesus as a servant-leader.

On the night of the foot-washing ceremony, the coaches sat in front of all the kids and staff. The men in our group and one of the ladies were waiting with basins and towels. The rest of us stood off to the side to sing Amazing Grace while Marisa, our group’s musician, strummed her guitar.

I can’t remember ever being in a room filled with kids that quiet before. I watched them curiously, imagining what they must be thinking.

What are these crazy firenjis doing? Why is my coach sitting up there? What is going on?

The moment our group started the ceremony and we began singing, I was a wreck. I believe I successfully choked out the first few lines of the song, but by about “was blind, but now I see” it was over. I had my face in my hands and was sobbing right along with most of the coaches sitting in the front of the room.

Rarely in my life have I ever felt God’s presence so acutely. Rarely have the words to this timeless hymn ever seemed so real.

Because of His grace thousands of Ethiopian children have Godly, caring adults to look up to and depend on. Because of His grace these kids get to be just kids for a week at camp – safely playing and having fun in a way that many of us who grew up in America likely took for granted. Because of His grace they are exposed to a different way of living, a way filled with the hope and joy of God that this world so desperately needs. And because of His grace TJ and I got to play a tiny, tiny part in all of this.

Amazing grace, how sweet the sound.

His grace truly is amazing.

Because of the sensitive and emotional nature of the foot-washing ceremony, I didn’t take pictures to share. However, if you’d like a glimpse into it, there is video footage of one in the Camp Langano video I posted in July under “Off to Ethiopia!” It starts at 3:25.

Camp Langano: A Top 10 List with Pictures

We’re back!!

To say that we had a great time in Ethiopia is a HUGE understatement. I know it’s going to take me awhile to fully process all the events of the trip (and all of my 900+ pictures, haha!). In the meantime I wanted to post a sampling of photos from our time at camp.  So, without further ado…

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TOP 10 THINGS WE LOVED ABOUT CAMP LANGANO (In no particular order!)

10. Beautiful African Scenery

The scenery in Ethiopia is absolutely breathtaking. I apologize, but even the most professionally-taken photos (which mine are not) can’t do it justice. One of my favorite parts of the trip was the drive from Addis to camp. The further we got into the country the more giddy I became. I was giggling like a little kid, my neck craned out of the bus window with my camera glued to my face. I kept saying to TJ, “Oh my gosh, look! This is REAL Africa! WE ARE IN AFRICA!” Yep, we were definitely in Africa. And the views were everything I dreamed they would be!

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9. Cultural Experiences

We had a lot of fun experiencing the many cultural differences in Ethiopia. From trying to speak Amharic to eating the local cuisine, I can definitely say we gave everything the ole’ college try! The meal you see below is called Injera. Injera is the national dish in Ethiopia and it’s unlike anything I’ve ever eaten before. The tortilla-looking part is made from a grain called teff, and it is SOUR with the consistency of a thin pancake. The stew on top is made from a chickpea or lentil mixture blended with spices, and sometimes the plate included a cabbage, potato, and carrot salad as well. The injera is used as the utensil, scooping and soaking up everything else. When I heard Injera was going to be sour, I thought to myself, “Oh, no problem. I like sourdough bread, so this will be fine!” Um, it was not AT ALL like sourdough bread. I really liked the stew and the salad, but I have to admit that by mid-week I had forgone the injera for rolls of bread instead. Injera was served for breakfast and lunch, and it was normally pasta or rice for dinner.

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8. Swimming in Lake Langano

Swimming in the lake was a highlight for sure! The kids LOVED swimming and it was so entertaining to watch them splash around! Many of them had never swam before. The first day we swam in the lake the water was FREEZING. The other times it was like bathwater. I’m not sure what caused the difference. The views at the lake were spectacular!

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7. Team-building Activities and Games

The team-building games and activities organized by the staff were great! The kids definitely bonded by working through the challenges presented in each situation. The ropes course was a major highlight. There were several stations designed to push the kids to work together and trust each other. My personal favorite was the rope swing! The camp staff really capitalized on the teachable moments that naturally arose from frustration or team breakdown. The activities were both fun and intentional for team growth.

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6. Worship time with the Summer Staff

We sang, worshiped, shared, and prayed with the summer staff in the morning before camp began and in the evening after the campers returned to their cabins. I know I will have more to share on this later, so for now I’ll just say that it was one of the most meaningful parts of camp for me.

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5. Soccer Games

The campers were divided onto 8 teams once they arrived at camp. Throughout the week there was a round-robin tournament going on between the teams, concluding with a championship game held on the last full day of camp. TJ’s team was in the final, so it was especially fun cheering for his players. The championship was a blast! The teams were very evenly matched, making for an exciting game. I was especially impressed by how supportive all of the kids who weren’t playing were for those on the field.

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4. New Friendships

The best part of camp was all the new friendships we made. The group we were with from Browncroft Church was AMAZING. We are so grateful that they adopted us as two of their own! The summer staff and missionaries living in Langano are all unbelievably kind people, and I especially enjoyed getting to know some of my new Sports Friends co-workers who live in Ethiopia. Besides the friendships we made, watching the kids grow in friendship with each other over the course of the week was sweet as well!

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3. Dancing, Singing, and Cheering

Camp Langano was LOUD! The week was filled with dancing, singing, and cheering. Needless to say, I fit right in! Haha!

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2. The LOVE of the Staff and Kids

The people of Ethiopia are incredibly loving. My little heart could barely hold all the love I felt for the people we met! You couldn’t go anywhere without someone’s arm around your neck or hand intertwined with yours. The enormous love the staff had for the kids was inspiring and displayed such a tangible picture of God’s love for us.

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1. NON-STOP FUN

For someone like me who loves kids, sports, and being ridiculously silly, camp was a dream come true! It was pure fun from sunrise to sunset. I know the kids had a life-changing week, and it was a privilege to share the experience with them!

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Off to Ethiopia!

Tomorrow night we leave for Africa!

Needless to say, we are very excited. I wanted to post a great video of Camp Langano before we head out in case anyone is interested to see where we will be going. We will fly into Addis Ababa, the capital, and stay there for a couple of days before making the 4-hour bus trip out to camp. While in Addis, we’ve been told we will get to see some local Sports Friends programming, visit an orphanage, and go to international church on Sunday before heading out to camp. We also visited an orphanage in Guatemala, so this will be the second international orphanage we’ve been to this summer. I’m really looking forward to this unexpected part of our trip and will be interested to compare the two.

If you’d like to be praying for us while we’re gone, here are some prayer requests:

-Pray that we are able to share God’s love with the kids at camp despite language barriers. This is the first trip TJ and I have been on where neither of us speaks the language and we’re a tad bit nervous about it.

-Pray that all the kids at camp have a truly life-changing experience and either form or build upon a lasting relationship with Christ.

-Pray for safe, peaceful travel for TJ and me. I am a little anxious about the long flights (Charlotte -> Chicago -> Frankfurt -> Addis). Also, please pray that we would both be able to get some real sleep during some portion of the plane rides. And if you want to get really crazy, pray for a window seat for me!

-Pray for health for us and our team (a Sports Friends church partner group from New York) throughout the trip.

-Pray that we would build some lasting relationships with our team members and with the Sports Friends staff in Ethiopia. Pray that our visit would be an encouragement to the Ethiopian staff.

-Pray that our hearts are open and ready for whatever God has for us or wants to teach us during this trip.

Thanks, y’all! I can’t wait to share pictures and stories when we return!