I’ve been back in the United States for a full week now, and so it’s finally time to end the drought and write a post. I mentioned in Sampler Platter III that I’d be going on a mission trip to the countries of Romania and Serbia, and it was 3 of the most challenging, yet rewarding weeks of my life. I would say it was even better than the trip I took last year to Romania and the Czech Republic. So just to let you in on a few more details about my trip, I’m going to give you a quick summary of the 3 phases of the trip.
I took a red eye flight from Anchorage to Denver on July 24th, and after a morning of hanging out at Crossover President Zo Azubuike’s house, all three of our teams boarded a nice chartered bus to drive out to our home for the week: Horn Creek. We were spending the week at a camp in the Rockies and an elevation of roughly 8000 feet (so I was told), and so we were instructed to drink a lot of water to avoid altitude sickness. The dry, thin air took its toll on my sensitive nose all week long, and so I endured somewhere between 10-15 nosebleeds in those 5 days. The thin air also made everything physical so much tougher. I trained a decent amount before this trip, and yet our practices still left me extremely winded after just several trips up and down the court. Besides basketball practice, training camp contained a lot of meetings and sessions of different people teaching us different lessons about missions and just following Christ in general. We also met as individual teams to have times of sharing testimonies and prayer. We were encouraged to take time to have one on one time with God, and we also did all kinds of fun activities as the entire group. But there was still several hours a day where we could all have free time, which was the most fun to get to know people on our own teams as well as the other teams. One night, we played a big game of Mafia, and it turned out to be the most fun game of it that I’ve ever been a part of. It was a huge game, so I was one of 6 mafia, and not only did we win, but we had a perfect game because not a single one of us got caught. My friend Moses made me laugh so hard that night, because he was mafia, and he was so obviously mafia when he kept on saying things like, “let’s kill her and find out!” and blatantly accusing people left and right, and yet nobody had the guts to put him on trial. I just kind of sat back and watched it all unfold. After our week of training, it was time to go overseas, and so our long day of travel began with a 4:30 AM bus ride to DIA.
So after 34 hours of travel time, we were in Romania! Sunday morning we went to church and then toured the city of Cluj-Napoca that afternoon. That night we had a meeting to go over some more details for the upcoming week of camp, and I was told that I was going to be the “camp director” of the gym with the campers age 12 and under. So my experience was going to be different than last years since I was going to be a much different role. So from Monday to Wednesday, we put on our basketball camp to about 70 youth ages 6-17. The kids in Romania were so great, and leading the camp for the younger kids really wasn’t that hard because of how easily they accepted instruction. We also had the help of so many great translators. So at the end of the night, we delivered the Gospel message to the campers with a very simple illustration, and then we gave them an “altar call” type opportunity, and the most rewarding part of the week was when 50 kids raised their hands to accept Jesus into their lives. In addition to the camp we put on, we also had our games at night. We lost our first game, but then went on to win our next to very easily. I think with more depth we could have easily went 3-0, but with what we had, we only went 2-1. I had my personal best game ever as a Crossover tour member with a career high 13 points, including 9 in the second quarter when we pulled away from the other team in our final victory. Our girls’ team also won two games easily, and then lost a game by about 10 or so. After the week of camp was over, we had a free day to debrief and hit the mall in Cluj, where we got to meet 7’7″ Gheorghe Muresean, formerly of the Washington Bullets, in the parking lot. He’s originally from Cluj, and he still comes home every year and puts on a free basketball camp for local 13 year olds. The next day we went to a salt mine that had been shut down back in the 1920s, but is now a tourist attraction. It was nice to get out of the sun and the heat for once, and the caverns created that deep underground by all of that salt being removed so many years ago was pretty incredible, too. After the salt mine we had a nice meal in a restaurant where I ate a kilo of french fries, and then it was the beginning of our travels to Serbia. We stayed at a hostel in Timisoara, Romania that night after a long bus ride, but another early wake up call the next morning was going to lead off another day of travel.
We rode a train from Timisoara to Belgrade that day, and then made a transfer to another train to ride north to Novi Sad. All in all it was only about 6 or 7 hours of travel, so it was a piece of cake. In Romania, we had all stayed together at a YWAM base, but in Serbia we were going to be split up and staying with host families. My friend Nick and I were staying with an American family that had recently moved to Serbia as missionaries. The kicker was that our host family was out of town until later the next night, so Nick and I had the place to ourselves. So after a day of some sight seeing, when everyone else was entertained by their host families and went to bed early, Nick and I got dressed and checked out the night life in the square of downtown Novi Sad. I have to say, Serbia has got an abundance of absolutely beautiful women. Our ministry opportunities were actually slightly different in Serbia than in Romania. First of all, on the Sunday night before camp started, we went to a beach called “The Strand” where there was an outdoor basketball court. On this court, we put on a 2 hour program of giving basketball instruction to kids in the crowd, performed dramas, gave testimonies, and Moses even gave a dunking exhibition. The program successfully promoted our camp and games and let the people of the community know what we were all about. Then, on Wednesday of the camp, instead of having just another day of camp, we took our roughly 60 campers in a bus up to a camp in the nearby mountains where there was a U.N. sponsored “peace camp”. The peace camp brought kids from all over the region of the former Yugoslavia together to unite in peace over the game of basketball. So with their 80 kids, we were in charge of 140 campers that day. We also ended up doing a wrap up performance once more at The Strand that night as well. The Serbians we played games against were very good, and so we lost both of our games, and the girls went 1-1. Having only 6 guys on a team, including one coming off of wrist surgery, one who was recovering from Mono, and another who suffered a severely sprained ankle on the tour was not a good formula for our success, but we survived the tour with a 2-3 record. As it turns out, Serbia is not the most open country to evangelism, as it is culturally not acceptable to really to teach any form of Christianity besides the Orthodox church. So the first day of camp, a parent got upset when they found out we were a Christian group, and that parent notified the police and the newspaper. The police were cool with us, but the paper came by the next day and grilled our tour director with questions. The article came out the next day, and the Serbians told us that it was a very slanderous one that portrayed us as evil Americans come to corrupt their youth. So when it was time to invite the campers to say the “Sinner’s Prayer” after the Gospel presentation at the peace camp, our contacts asked us to not do the Sinner’s Prayer, so as to not come off as pressuring the youth to make a decision too much, but rather leave it more open-ended. But I know we made a great impact on a lot of the kids, because of how much love they showed us when it was time to go. At the last presentation at the Strand, two campers gave their testimonies to the crowd to tell about how great of an experience they had during the week, and so the locals knew we weren’t as evil as they were led to believe by the papers. So despite some resistance early on, I really believe God worked in the hearts of those that we came in contact with in Serbia. I love the country, and now that I have to return there some day.
After Serbia, we rode a train up to Budapest and reunited with another Crossover team that went to Czech Republic and Romania. Together we spent the day going to a Hungarian bath and then a dinner cruise on the Danube. It was an awesome way to celebrate the end of our 3 weeks. The next day I rode 4 planes to get all the way home to Anchorage, Alaska.
There are so many more experiences to share from those 3 weeks, but I don’t really feel like writing about all of them because of how long that would take. But I hope you have an idea about what my trip was like. If you’re interested, you should really check Crossover out, or spread the word to someone out there who loves the Lord and the game of basketball.