Basketball and Jesus came together in late March 2019 when a team of 10 spent nine days in a mega-city in East Asia. The purpose was to share the Gospel using sports as a way to make contact with local men and women and begin spiritual conversations. A typical day included a morning devotional, prayer walking the park or gym where they’d play that day, three to four hours of basketball and then inviting people to dinner for further conversation.
The trip was life-changing. Here’s a glimpse from the perspective of three Church at The Mill members.
Mission trips are not new to Adam Wofford. He has been to Uganda three times, but never to Asia. Adam found this trip very different, not only due to the language barrier and the physical exertion of walking 12 miles a day on top of playing basketball for hours but also because of the intense spiritual need of the people. Adam describes the overriding attitude as “a false sense of self-sufficiency,” saying that “the god of that country is money.”
Adam found the people friendly once they were engaged in conversation. On one occasion, he was talking to a young man in the bleachers about Jesus. The young man was visibly excited. He returned the next day to talk to Adam and told him that he had shared what he had heard with his roommates. But when Adam asked him if he would like to give his heart to Jesus, the young man said that it was not the time and that he wanted to “do more research.” Adam gave him a Bible and has been in contact with him, as well as three other men, on the country’s approved social media network.
Adam developed a heart for the people and felt a heaviness for the lost around him. Although there were no salvation on this trip, Adam said that he believes in the importance of making disciples and “not just being one.” Keeping in mind the prophet Isaiah’s response of “Here am I! Send me,” Adam said, “your win is not salvations. It’s going and being obedient.”
You might assume that this kind of trip would include only basketball players, but Brooke Martin readily admits she is no sportswoman. After praying, she felt this mission trip was right for her, but how would she handle the sports issue? After talking to Jason Williamson who was also going, she filled out her application, identifying herself as a “bleacher evangelist.”
Brooke, a veteran of two Uganda trips, has a heart for children. She struggled at first to find her place on this quite different trip. She talked with the two other women on the team, and prayed, asking God to show her where her talents lied.
That day, God answered her prayer in a chance encounter. An Asian couple approached her and asked if they could take a picture of her with their young daughter. Brooke said “yes” and had a moment with that young girl. Brooke felt God affirming her love for children and giving her a peace about where she was.
Familiar with talking about Jesus with children, Brooke found that the same conversation with adults was harder. But, she said, “once the door opened, it was amazing to see how willing people were to listen.” Brooke’s favorite moment came after Jason shared the Gospel with a group in the gym. One of the basketball player’s girlfriends, Eva, heard what Jason said. Brooke was able to share more with her, using the Gospel story bracelet worn by all mission team members. Brooke has kept in touch with Eva over social media since returning and has developed a close bond with the women on the team.
Brooke said that God not only confirmed her giftedness but that He also “pushed me a lot harder to share my faith when I came home. He has helped me to learn to be bolder.” God had a place for her, and it had nothing to do with sports, but everything to do with Him.
Matthew Darnell, a 17-year-old Woodruff High School student, took this trip for the second time. Last year, Matthew had never been on a plane, nor had he been out of the country. He said that the primary reason for going last year was to spend time with his brother and play basketball, but not necessarily to spread the Gospel.
The life-changing part actually came after he returned from the trip. It was at the Ocoee Student Mission Trip the following summer. He said, “I led two guys to Christ using the technique I learned on the East Asia trip.”
But that wasn’t all. After the Ocoee trip, Matthew felt a call to missions and ministry, and it was that call that compelled him to go to East Asia again to view this trip as an opportunity to engage others with the Gospel. Matthew’s relationship with Christ had gotten stronger over the year, and this time he said, “I was intentional instead of going for myself.”
Matthew said he learned that being a witness was more than having a conversation. It was “loving on them and playing with them…that every day you can be a witness in what you do. God also showed me that I don’t have to stick to one thing, that God can open other doors.” The life change continues.