Monday, November 21, 2011

Athletes In Action World Coaching Academy - Day 1

Last week Jake attended the Athletes in Action World Coaching Academy. He had stories coming out of his ears when he came home so I asked him to write about his experience in a few blog posts….here are his thoughts from Day 1….

In a recent song written by Casting Crowns called 'Courageous' there are lyrics that go as follows:

“In the war of the mind I will make my stand.”

When you read those lyrics can you relate? Do you take a stand or do you allow Satan to deceive you into ignoring where God is calling you? Does that war that is taking place in your mind prevent you from experiencing the awesomeness that is found in all that Christ is doing? For me personally that war rages daily in my mind, and almost prevented me from experiencing a couple of the most amazing days of my life.

On Sunday, November 13th I jumped on a plane headed for Dayton, Ohio to take in a couple of days of the Athletes in Action World Coaching Academy. Everything in my mind was telling me to stay home. I was weary from a few busy weeks with Kingdom Hoops, and was just coming off a busy weekend of coaching in Lincoln, Nebraska. I wanted to just stay home, stay in my normal routine, and be with my family. My mind was waging against me, but in my heart I knew God was calling me to attend this event. For weeks prior to me actually leaving Satan was using my mind to deceive me in wanting to pass on this opportunity and stay home. But, like God so often does, the Holy Spirit was speaking a little louder and there was no way I could just ignore God speaking so clearly in my heart.

I had to make a stand against my mind and against my flesh to travel to this coaching academy where I knew no one and had no idea why I was even going. I did not know where I was staying. I did not know who was picking me up at the airport. I did not know the itinerary for the couple of days I was going to be there. I kept wrestling with God why he even had me going to this event. However, I could hear the Holy Spirit asking me if I really trusted. I could hear God saying that it is not for me to know all the details. The days leading up to the event it was like he was telling me to remember that He is in the business of calling us and we are supposed to be in the business of following.

As I hopped on the plane for Dayton on Sunday night I picked up a book that I am reading called ‘Courageous Living’. In the book the author poses a question. If you look back on your life how many things have you accomplished that you had actually planned on accomplishing? His point was that God dictates our life. He said usually the times in which we don’t know where we are going are the times that God is most involved. This is my story of the past couple of days! All I know is that God moved in me in mighty ways and I pray that God can move in the others that I got to meet while in Dayton, Ohio.

Monday, November 14th – Day 1
Finally I arrive in Dayton, Ohio at 12:00am on Monday, November 14th. Craig Sladek a staff member with Athletes In Action (AIA) was there to pick me up at the airport. I had no idea Craig was picking me up, but it was a relief when he texted me that he was waiting for me outside the airport. I have come to know Craig over the past couple years as he actually lives in Johnston, Iowa, and is one of the few off-site staff that Athletes in Action has within the United States. It was great to see a familiar face at the airport. We took the 20 minute drive to Xenia, Ohio where the AIA headquarters is located. I got checked into the dorms around 1am, and it was immediately to bed as breakfast was being served at 7:30am.

As my alarm sounds on Monday morning it feels like I just fell asleep 15 minutes ago. I jump in the shower and I am off to breakfast with no idea of what to expect or what God was up to. I walk into breakfast and I am met by friendly faces from all over the world. There are coaches from Rwanda, Uganda, Zimbabwe, Togo, Columbia, Jordan, Guatemala, Uszbekistan, Kazakistan, Turkey, and Canada. There are people speaking French, Spanish, English, and various other dialects. No matter what the language barrier there are smiles on everyone’s face and plenty of people to greet me as I enter breakfast.

As we finish breakfast it was time for what AIA calls “Team Time.” It is a large group Bible study where everyone discusses various scripture. On this particular morning we discussed the freedom that is only found in Christ. The study was centered around Colossians chapter 2, and it resonated loudly with so many of these coaches. Where many of these coaches come from freedom is a premium and in many of their countries it is something that is dreamed about daily. Many of these coaches come from cultures that hold back the gospel due to tradition, the large impact of the Muslim faith, or simply because they are scared, like many of us, of what others might think if they boldly profess Christ. No matter how long you have been a Christian, it is like drinking the most refreshing glass of ice water in the hot desert to be reminded about the freedom that Christ has given all of us, because of what he did for us on that cross.

After “Team Time,” we were headed to the 15 passenger vans for an exciting day in Cincinnati. I, being new to how the van situation goes, hadn’t noticed that all the vans were divided up by ethnic groups! Not even realizing it, I had jumped in the van with all of the Guatemalans and Columbians. It took us about 60 minutes to reach Cincinnati and it was an experience that I will never forget. I was completely out of my comfort zone in this South American van, and wondering why I did not pay more attention in Spanish class! I loved the South Americans and getting to know them, but through this small experience it was all the more clear to me that God has really ignited a passion in my heart for Africa.

Our first stop in Cincinnati was at a Christian training facility called Ignition. Ignition trains athletes of all ages and ability with the primary focus on speed/agility, acceleration, and strength training.
Their trainers are also responsible for training the Cincinnati Bengal NFL Football players which was a huge hit with all of the coaches even though many of them knew very little about American football. During our time at Ignition they put the coaches through various workouts and training methods that they can take back to their country. Our time was short at Ignition, but as God so often does he began working in ways that I certainly can’t explain.

As many of the coaches were taking in the various training methods by the Ignition staff I saw an African coach sitting against the wall. Most of the African coaches that were at the event came from French speaking countries, so I did not expect much conversation as I headed over to the wall, but I could feel the Holy Spirit nudging me to go. In one of the most awkward ways possible I simply said hi. I was only expecting a head nod, but to my surprise he responded, “Hello, how are you doing?” He spoke perfect English. Before long I was sitting along the wall with him learning all about his life and about the people of Uganda. The crazy part about this man from Uganda named Gad is that he comes from a village called Ogoli. If any of you know Dylan and Jen De Bruin this is the same village that God has led them to in caring for the orphans of Uganda ( During our conversation I also had the opportunity to share my story of what God has been doing in my life over the past couple of years in Iowa and Ghana, Africa.

When you get into conversations you never know for sure where God is going to lead it, but I soon found out that Gad actually is in the United States for a few months on a multiple entry visitor visa. I have no idea how he got this type of visa as it is very, very rare, but none the less he has it. Gad told me a story about how when he first came to visit the United States six months or so ago he was coming to visit his cousin in New York City. A couple of days before he arrived in New York his cousin received a job transfer to a city in Pennsylvania. He did not want to go to Pennsylvania so he spent a few days wondering around New York City. He said, he walked by a church and could feel the Holy Spirit telling him to go into this church and just to pray about what he was supposed to do. As he entered the church the first person he met was a lady from Uganda (go figure! God is working!). This lady introduced him to the pastor of the church and the pastor and his wife immediately took him in like family. For the past five months he has been living with the pastor and his family and you can simply see the joy in his face as he talks about them. This was one of the many times in the next 48 hours that God’s power would be so clear to me!!!

The next hour flew by and before I knew it we were all being escorted back to the vans to head for lunch. My new friend Gad told me to ride in his van and to my delight I was surrounded by seven African coaches and one lady from Canada named Steph who is part of the AIA staff. She was translating everything into French for the majority of the African coaches. All of sudden I felt comfortable and at home as we headed to Qdoba for lunch.

Over the course of lunch I met all the African coaches and got to hear so many incredible stories about the power of God in their lives. I also had the opportunity to share my adventure with Christ with all of them. Let me tell you if you ever want a challenge in telling your God story have a translator sitting with you interpreting all of it into another language. You have to break the story up into a few hundred fragmented sentences, but it did help refine my God story in as concise of a story as possible!!!

Following lunch we headed over to the University of Cincinnati to watch their women’s team practice. Upon arriving I of course had to sneak over to the Cincy football stadium to take some pictures to send to JJ.

The facilities at the University of Cincinnati are incredible and it was a great time taking in a practice with these coaches from all over the world. Here we are outside the Cincy stadium...I took all these pictures on my phone which is why I am not in any of them!
After practice concluded we had about two hours until dinner in Cincinnati and the AIA staff decided this would be a great opportunity to head to a coffee shop and break into small groups to discuss all that we were learning. Before I get into the details regarding our discussion time I want to paint a picture for everyone. Imagine you are standing in your local coffee shop trying to get your caffeine fix for the day or you just got off of work and before heading home you head to the coffee shop for some quiet and alone time. Just as you sit down the door flings open and 40 people walk in. Not just any 40 people, but 40 people from all over the world - multiple languages being spoken, a mix of cultural African scents invading the air, incredibly loud talking Spanish people, all with a group of white people laughing their heads off. Try to imagine what you would be thinking at that moment. I wish everyone could have seen the faces of all of those people in the Bruegger’s Bagels store that we stopped at. It was one of those priceless moments.

The AIA staff all split up in different areas where they had been ministering. Basically there were three tables. Central Asia, South America, and Africa. I was helping to lead the African discussion group. We all had two questions to ask our group. 1) What have we learned in regards to basketball? 2) What is going on in your heart right now? The first to speak was Jaqukes (it was spelt something like that) from Rwanda. He told us in French (thank God for the translator) that the thing he is learning in regards to basketball is the importance of assistant coaches. He said that in Africa nobody has an assistant coach except for the National team, because coaches don’t want to share their system or training methods with anyone else. They fear that if they share information other teams will pass them up and take opportunities away from themselves. This not only provided us leaders of the group a great opportunity to talk about working together for the greater good of the country in regards to basketball development, but even more importantly to intertwine the gospel into this conversation. We focused on two main areas regarding the gospel and the simple idea of having assistant coaches. First, we talked about the great commission as Jesus told his disciples to go out and share the good news and make disciples all over the world. We even posed the question to the group of African coaches that what if the disciples would have just kept Jesus all to themselves? If the disciples would have done this all of us sitting in Brueggers Bagels that day that have accepted Christ would not have eternal life because we would have never heard of him.

The second question we posed to all the African coaches was the idea of storing up treasures. Could the unwillingness to share information be that they were focused too much on storing up treasures here on earth? Many of the coaches were concerned with the fact that if they win a tournament/game they get paid more money, and if they don’t win enough games it could cost them a promotion. Through their conversations it was clear that they held opportunity and money at a high value – to the point where they don’t trust their fellow brother and are unwilling to help others become successful because it might take an opportunity away from them. During our entire discussion we never even had to ask about what was God doing on each individual’s heart in our group. We all knew the answer. He was challenging each of them to share what they are learning in order to allow the gospel to spread all throughout Rwanda, Uganda, Togo, and all of Africa.

Following practice it was back to the vans as we headed to Faith Bible Church in Cincinnati. They had a small group within the church cooking and serving dinner to all of us.
We had sloppy joes, rice and beans, and some pumpkin pie to top off the meal. It was so incredible to see all these ladies serving us! The exposure of culture and God’s ultimate love just spread throughout all the coaches and all the people serving. As we got ready to leave the Africans wanted to thank all of the people who served us with a little African song and dance! Of course the Guatemalans and Columbians were not going to miss out on this opportunity to sing and dance. They didn’t know the words since they don’t speak the same language – but that didn’t stop them from joining in!

After leaving the church we had about an hour drive home and like God so often does he used the insignificant moment of a drive home to show me how His power is alive in so many lives. On the way home two of the AIA staff shared their God-stories with me. I will share their stories in a future blog post. Let’s just say you will love the stories of how God’s power is leading people to the ends of the earth in order to see the gospel shared. These testimonies on this rainy drive home not only refueled me, but spurred me on to attempt to do greater things for God.

Before I knew it we were back at the dorms and we all headed downstairs to a 96 inch TV to take in some college basketball games on ESPN. This also provided an opportunity to be able to converse with these other coaches into the wee hours of the night. My favorite encounter of the evening was with the director of Athletes in Action in Uganda. He shared his story with me and I will be sharing it with all of you very soon. The other cool part is that I think it's going to work out for him to come to Iowa this week and experience Thanksgiving with my family before he has to return to Uganda.

As 1am in the morning rolled around we decided to go to bed or so we thought. My roommate and I headed to our room and before we knew it the clock read 3:39am as we shared our God-stories with each other and sat up into the night discussing the various challenges we face daily in our walk with Christ. To me it was incredible how something like this could happen. Two young guys from the United States that have grown up in two totally different environments that never knew each other 24 hours earlier were sitting up into the early morning hours of the next day talking about all that God is doing. Eventually we got ourselves a couple hours of sleep with a joy that can only be expressed by a day truly orchestrated by God.

For tomorrow’s blog post I will share all about day 2 with these men and women of God in Dayton, Ohio!!

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