I spent my 29th wedding anniversary separated from my wife. She was home in Chicago; I was in Poland.
Reminders that I was far from home surrounded me: from the confusing airport signs-"Goods to Declare," "No Goods to Declare," "Passport Clearance"-to the drab Communist apartment buildings and those mystery fishballs at dinner.
This trip, though, combined my two life passions: Jesus Christ and basketball.
Athletes in Action, Cru's outreach to athletes, had arranged for me to coach a two-week basketball camp in Biala Podlaska, a town two hours east of Warsaw.
Looking over the 17 players, male and female ages 16 to 26, I felt intimidated. Several played professionally in Poland. Others were headed to the States to play college ball.
I wondered, What does this pot-bellied, gray-haired old man have to offer these kids? Suddenly I was thrust before them to introduce myself.
Taking the floor, I told them my two reasons for being there. Over 30 years ago Jesus Christ revealed Himself to me in a saving way. I wanted them to know Him in the same way. Secondly, I hoped that they would progress in their understanding and ability to play the game.
Then practice began.
The energy was high. Many players liked to run and "jack it up," but fundamentals and team play were sorely lacking. I realized, I need to teach fundamentals. I can do this; I love this part!
I preached basketball fundamentals-we didn't need "Hollywood" players but those who do the basics well. We ran through foot-fires and 20-second drills. I taught them the B.E.E.F.-balance, elbow, eyes, follow-through-of effective shooting.
Later in the camp, our AIA team played the university team. Our guys' team was pumped after a 57-45 victory. The women cruised to an 87-24 win.
Despite the great progress in fundamentals and victory on the court, I wanted these kids to know that they can't put their hope and identity in something as temporal as a game. Each morning, I began practice with a short Bible lesson translated into Polish. But had I made any difference in their lives?
Before leaving camp a quiet, diminutive player named Marta hugged me and thanked me in broken English (using more words than I had heard from her all week). Two days later Marta told us that she had prayed and received Christ.
She came to camp hoping to improve her game. She left with a whole new life.
Hopefully as Marta's basketball skills increase so will her desire to introduce many Poles to Christ.