I write from an airy, inviting kitchen, overlooking a green walled-in yard through spacious windows. A collared boxer watches hopefully for playmates through the glass back door. The mother and young daughter of the household enter the kitchen holding a murmured conversation in Russian, and whisping sounds of other activity occurring throughout the house waft through the room on the pleasant afternoon breeze. It’s an incredibly peaceful existence I’m currently living.
I arrived in Chișinău, Moldova on Thursday, June 29th. I came at the relayed request of the FCA director in Ukraine to help with a basketball event happening here. I didn’t know what to expect, but was confident that whatever it was that I’d end up doing, God would provide. I agreed. The day or two before I flew in, I heard from people who would be my points of contact and would be helping me manage the basketball camp event. Slowly the picture was brought into focus. I would be running a youth basketball camp for four days. I’d work with about 30 mostly male (along with perhaps 8 female) high schoolers of roughly the skill level equivalent of a State-side male high school team from about 9am until 12:30pm, and then from about 1:30pm until 4:30pm we’d work with a mostly younger group of novice players. This group numbered roughly 40 and ranged from perhaps 6 to 16 years of age.
My first full day, Friday, I observed a couple practices for different age groups to get an idea of what skill levels we would work with at camp starting Monday. I got to interact with some of the players, especially some of the high school girls, who ranged from conversational to almost no English. Then on Saturday, I got to work with the girls in a relaxed practice (we only had about six players) and then went out for lunch with them to get to know them better.
My accommodation was (and still is) a bed in the home of the family that founded and runs a basketball academy. There is so much to this story that it’s difficult to boil it down into a concise blog post, so I’ll stick to the bullet-pointed version. Essentially, I’ve been blessed with the opportunity to step inside a very special, intentional undertaking here in Moldova. The Admirals was founded to provide quality basketball training to the youth of Moldova. It trains kids from maybe 6 or 8 all the way through 18 and also trains a semi-pro team of perhaps 18-22 year old players who compete against other clubs and national teams in Moldova.
However, the mission of the academy is much more intentional than to simply provide basketball training. It is meant to foster discipleship — to build a community where athletes can not only be exposed to the Gospel but can do life with each other and observe their coaches’ love for God and the way in which they live. Boys become men here. Hearts are softened. Old habits and patterns are broken. I’ve been exposed to a long-term, close-knit community of people who love their athletes and seek to transmit to them truths about life and people, about love and character.
Back to the story. I stepped into life here and we jumped into basketball. Camps were stretching and a fantastic learning experience. Some moments were definitely trying. I usually had enough coaches present (I had a core of 2-3 assistant coaches that helped me work with the first group and a second similarly-sized team for the second group) to make the place run smoothly but sometimes when it was just me and one other person for lengths of time, we had to be creative. However, God is always sufficient and the camps were a fantastic experience. Our last day was full of hugs and high-fives and adorable children and the sting of goodbyes.
The end of camp is where the logistics of the story become more interesting. When I left for Moldova, I had planned to continue on to Romania to visit another friend after finishing our camp here. During basketball camp last week however, I heard from that Romanian friend that a conflict had arisen and we would no longer be able to meet. I was left without a plan. During the remainder of the week, several possible iterations of what I would do next blossomed and then fell through. As last Friday approached, the day before my original departure date, two Moldovan friends mentioned that they’d be taking a bus to Bucharest before continuing on to an event in the UK and offered to have me join as far as Romania. This seemed an attractive option — I was waiting to hear from other friends in Romania about perhaps meeting up with them and working at their camp, and thought surely something would work out there. However, as I prayed and asked God for guidance, the only thing I heard was “stay.” I didn’t like that answer. “Why?” I said. “”I don’t want to — I don’t know what I’m supposed to do… I would rather have a plan and know what I’m supposed to be accomplishing… How can I simply stay without a reason… I hate to feel like an imposition…” I asked God for some kind of confirmation as to what to do. Then Friday morning, the head of the household reiterated an open invitation he had made during the week to stay as long as I needed. In addition, another conversation with the matriarch revealed that a ministry friend in the area was doing some teaching at a leadership training event and was looking for someone to watch his infant son to no avail. The decision about whether or not to board the bus that evening for Romania was made straightforward. I remained at the house.
God is funny. After waiting all weekend to get confirmation about babysitting, the ministry leader sent word last night that I was not as necessary as we thought originally and that they seem to have enough hands to manage without me. However, if I hadn’t anticipated that chance to contribute here, I would have boarded the bus and thus probably have been stranded in Bucharest since I still haven’t heard back from others there who are all probably in other parts of the country working camps and wouldn’t have been available.
So now, here I am at the house, living hour by hour, becoming more integrated with this family and this mission with every interaction, and intensely asking God for direction as to how best to spend this coming week. My next event that I know for sure will occur on the 21st of July as I travel to Montenegro, another small country on the Adriatic coast, to volunteer at a large basketball camp I was connected with but didn’t get to visit during my last trip to Europe. Until then though, myriad possibilities float but only the next hours and days will tell what will happen until then.
Until I write again,