More reflections from Jake on his time spent at the Athletes in Action World Academy last week...
Have you ever read scripture and asked yourself the question of whether or not you really believe it? Of course if you are a follower of Christ you believe that Jesus died for you on the cross for all of your sins and rose three days later. We believe Jesus is the only way to eternal life and the only way to a true relationship with God. We believe the parts that will make us feel good. We believe the parts that give us strength during difficult times. But do we believe the entirety of the Bible? Do we really believe in the power of God?
When we read Proverbs 21:1 – The king’s heart is in the hand of the Lord; he directs it like a watercourse wherever he pleases - Do we really believe this?
When we read Isaiah 40:22-23 – He sits enthroned above the circle of the earth, and its people are like grasshoppers. He stretches out the heavens like a canopy, and spreads them out like a tent to live in. He brings princes to naught and reduces the rulers of the world to nothing - Do we really believe this?
When we read John 14:12-13 – I tell you the truth, anyone who has faith in me will do what I have been doing. He will do even greater things than these, because I am going to the Father. And I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Son may bring glory to the Father. You may ask me for anything in my name, and I will do it - Do we really believe this?
If we really believed these things with the same conviction that we believe Jesus died for us on the cross how much differently would our lives look? How much more would we accomplish to bring Christ glory?
I believe these things came alive to me in the form of a testimony today. I could share all the exciting things that we did today like attending the Wright State men’s practice and the leadership development sessions that we got to participate in. I could share more of the stories of how many laughs and funny moments we had together. However, all of the fun details of the day do not compare to the power of one testimony that shaped the entire day with Athletes in Action and will forever shape me as a believer as I begin to understand the true power of God.
Following breakfast Coach Mo, one of the head guys with Athletes in Action, introduced us to another staff member named Rayshon (I hope I am spelling it right). Rayshon came from the country of Kyrgyzstan which is located in Central Asia. Rayshon’s story is below and I hope that it will have the same power in your life as it has in mine.
Rayshon’s story began by discussing how his first twelve years of life started with his mother’s desire for him to become a devout leader of the Muslim faith. Each day his mother would take him to the mosque and he would study the Koran and pray all day long. However, when he turned twelve his father had different plans for him. He told his son that he was not be called to be a religious leader, but rather a world champion boxer. Rayshon’s Dad drove him to the local boxing academy in Kyrgyzstan and that is where he would spend the remainder of his childhood.
Rayshon went on to become the number one ranked boxer in Kyrgyzstan by the time he was 18 years old. He was told by his coaches that he would be attending the world championships and would then become the boxer representing his country at the Olympics. On the day he was scheduled to leave for the world championships his coaches informed him that the government would not allow him to represent the country because his parents came from Uzbekistan. Even though he was a citizen of the country and had trained his body to become the best, he would not be allowed to showcase his skills at the highest level. With that decision coming from the highest officials within the country he decided that there was no point to pursue boxing any further and hung up his gloves on that very day.
Once his boxing career had come to an end he turned to robbery and other various crimes within his country. Rayshon told us story after story about how he robbed people, beat people up, and took everything they had. Until the one day that he got caught. He spent some time in jail and upon his release he decided not to turn from his ways, but rather to be smarter about how he committed his crimes. He decided that the smartest thing to do was to enroll into college and study criminal law. Rayshon believed that he would continue to do his crimes, but would need to be more educated on how not to get caught.
A short while after enrolling into the University he saw a flyer floating around campus announcing that there were a few students coming from the United States for a semester of school at his university to teach English. With this knowledge he decided to enroll in the classes, not because he wanted to learn English, but because he thought there would be no better people to rob and steal from than Americans with a lot of money.
He enrolled in the class along with his other criminal friends. He told us how he and his friends tried to do everything to distract the American students leading the class. They were blurting out comments, kicking chairs, talking and being very disruptive. He said to his surprise these Americans just kept on teaching and showing us that they were truly in his country for a much bigger purpose. One day the Americans announced that they were going to teach the entire class how to play American football. He describes how his first thought was that this would be a great opportunity to hit these Americans as hard as he wanted. However, as that evening went on he had a great time and slowly these Americans began to break down the walls he had built up over the years.
As the weeks went by Rayshon’s relationship with the Americans grew. During the last few days before the Americans had to return home they invited him and his friends to their apartment for a movie. Rayshon and his friends accepted the invitation and soon they were sitting with the Americans in an apartment watching a movie on Jesus. Rayshon tells us how he remembers sitting and watching the movie and not being able to believe what he was watching. He had heard of Jesus, as Jesus is one of the primary prophets of the Koran. However, he had never heard about Jesus dying on the cross for our sins. He was taught through his Muslim beliefs that Jesus was taken right up into heaven by their god allah.
Once the movie concluded Rayshon and his friends sat up into the wee hours of the night learning all about who the real Jesus is and how He died on the cross for all of our sins. They asked questions and conversed in some heated discussions. As the night concluded and the sun began to rise he had given his life to Christ.
Soon the Americans were gone. Rayshon had put his faith in Christ, but not much in his life would change until one day he went out to rob some innocent person. As he began to beat up this individual and take his money he began to feel sorry for what he was doing. He began to feel guilty about his actions. While in the middle of beating this victim up he decided he could not live like this any longer and he picked the stranger up, wiped his pants off, and handed him all of his valuables back. He told us that the victim after somehow grasping what had happened ran off, but not before telling Rayshon that he is the craziest criminal he had ever met. As Rayshon knows now, the Holy Spirit was alive in him and beginning to hold him accountable for his sin and raging war against all of his fleshly desires. His life would definitely never be the same!!
Once Rayshon fully realized that his life would never be the same because of this new Jesus that he knew, he decided it was now time to tell his family that he was now a Christian. As he returned home to share this new Jesus with his parents they became horrified. He said that the minute he told his father and brother that he was a Christian they began beating him up with no mercy. Rayshon told us that he could have easily fought back, especially since he was a world champion boxer. But he knew that if he would have done that it would have been disrespectful to his father and brothers. So, he lay there and took the beating. They kept telling him to deny Christ and say that he was a Muslim. He kept telling them that he could not do that and so the beating continued throughout the night.
Finally his father became so discouraged with his son that he told him he would rather have a son that is a criminal and a Muslim instead of a son who is not a criminal and a Christian. Rayshon said that since he would not deny Jesus that his Father told the family that it was necessary for him to kill his son. His Dad left the house only to return a couple minutes later with an ax. He was going to chop his head off with the ax. Rayshon says that for respect to his Father he knelt down on his knees and placed his head on the table and told his Dad it would be better to die because of the Jesus that he now knows than to deny his new Savior. He told us after he spoke these words he began to pray as his Dad raised the ax above his head. And then all of a sudden his Dad stopped and told him to leave the house and that he was no longer his son. Rayshon got up from his knees and left knowing that only God could save his family.
Rayshon said some time went by and he tried to reconnect with his family, but it would never be the same. With the reality of the situation with his family quite clear he decided to leave for Turkey as he had an opportunity to attend a seminary school there. As he left his country he never knew if he would see his family again, but he recounts how he prayed daily for God to save his family.
About a year after he left for Turkey a genocide broke out in his home country. The government was going around massacring large numbers of Uzbekistan descendants that now lived in Kyrgyzstan, and this would include his own family - or so he thought. Only by the grace of God, after months of silence did he reunite with his family in a refugee camp in Turkey. He talks about not only how God answered his prayers and saved his family from this genocide, but how only the power of God would allow them to end up in a refugee camp in Turkey very near to where he was attending seminary school at.
He remembers seeing his family for the first time in a long time, and the first thing he asks his father is, “Why did allah not protect you while in Kyrgyzstan?" He goes on to tell his Dad, “Don’t you feel it is ironic how my God brought you out of the country back to me in Turkey?” His father did not have any great answers and has not yet given his life to Christ, but like God did in Rayshon’s life, God is breaking down some walls and slowly revealing His power to his father.
Rayshon went on to tell us that it is funny how God is working in the smallest ways in his father’s life. Last Christmas Rayshon brought his entire family to the United States to visit. He told us that after a Christmas party that ended at about 2am he had a friend drive his father back to Rayshon’s house. While his friend was driving his father back to the house they stopped at a red light. Rayshon tells us that his Father apparently turned to his friend and said, “Why don’t you just go through the light? It is 2am and nobody is around.” Rayshon’s friend turned to his Father and said, “I can’t go through this light for two reasons. First, it is against the law in the United States to go through red lights. Second, if I knowingly choose to break a law it would not reflect well on my savior Jesus Christ.”
Rayshon goes on to tell us how his Dad brings this event up quite often. His Dad thinks it is amazing that these Christians that believe in the Jesus that died on the cross obey God even when no one is looking. The greatest part of the story is that Rayshon’s mother has given her life to Christ, though it is not something that is discussed much because of respect for his father. Rayshon concludes his story that he still prays daily that God will save his family once again from the eternal damnation they will face if they don’t repent and turn to the real Jesus. He knows God can do all things through His power as he has seen the reality of that in his own life!!
For me, I am simply amazed by the power of God. I am amazed at how God has orchestrated Rayshon’s life. If his Dad does not make him a boxer he may have never heard about Christ. If he would have gone on to the Olympics he would have maybe never heard about Christ. If he would not have become a criminal he maybe would not have ever heard about Christ. If he would not have gotten caught he maybe would have never heard about Christ. If he would not have gone to law school he would have maybe never heard about Christ. If those Americans would have never come he maybe would have never heard about Christ. If those Americans did not teach him how to play American football he maybe would have never heard about Christ. If the American’s would not have had the courage to show the Jesus film maybe he would have never heard about the true Jesus. And now you wonder maybe if there was never a genocide in Kyrgyzstan, maybe his parents would never have had a relationship back with their son who God may use to lead them to Christ. When thinking about all these circumstances in his life that have been orchestrated by God is it not amazing? Does it not make all the scripture about God’s power seem so real? How can we choose anything but to believe in the full and complete power of God? And, if we do really believe in the true power of God I wonder how differently our lives will begin to look. I know God has my life in the palm of his hand and he will most definitely direct everywhere it will go.
All I can say is what a couple of days this was with Athletes in Action!!!!! I can’t believe God has given me this experience. I am not sure where God is going to take all the new relationships that I have had the opportunity to create in just 48 hours. I know God is up to something pretty cool and I am excited to be participating on his team to take the gospel to the ends of the earth.