I write from a secret-garden-esque villa in Dubrovnik, Croatia. A storybook lagoon overlooking the Adriatic Sea is a five-minute walk from here. Sights and sounds of tourists on their nearby hotel decks and patios don’t mar the tranquility of the garden in which I sit, boasting fruit trees and patio furniture fit for festivities. I’m again struck with the unbelievability of the surroundings in which I find myself sometimes.
I am here in Croatia in the company of part of the team with which I served this past week in Montenegro. They were gracious enough to let me accompany them on their final two-day respite in Croatia before they fly back home to the States and I continue on my way here in Europe. Let me give you an overview of our time in Montenegro over the past nine days.
Camp Monty 2017
A youth camp involving basketball, facilitated by a team from the States in conjunction with a few local ministry contacts who are mostly Montenegrian and serve year-round, has been taking place in Nikšić, Montenegro for over 10 years now. I originally heard of the endeavor when I came to Europe two summers ago but hadn’t yet been a part of the event. This summer, when I knew I would most likely be in Europe and might be available, I reached out to the trip leader and he welcomed me to come join the team. I put it on the calendar.
I flew from Poland to Dubrovnik, Croatia on the 21st and met a faction of the team coming in from New Jersey/Pennsylvania. We drove the approximately 2 hours across the border into Montenegro through stunning scenery and arrived in a small, quiet, inland university town of about 700,000. We met the rest of the team including another large group coming from Ohio and a few more stragglers like me, making our team about 35 in total, and hit the ground running. We spent the first day or two preparing, gathering supplies, and meeting in sub-teams that would be facilitating different activities throughout the camp week including English classes, volleyball, basketball, tennis, and soccer. We spent time getting to know each other and filling those of us who were new in on how the week would work, as well as meeting the Montenegrians who would be volunteering with us and translating.
Monday morning we started our camp activities. In the morning, a few team members and I walked to a large sports complex to run a basketball clinic for ages perhaps 6-16. I got to work with the girls that attended — ranging from 7 the first day to about 15 the last day — as well as a group of perhaps 11-15-year-old guys. In total, we had about 65 kids in the gym spread across a main court and a smaller side court for two hours of drills and competitions every morning.
During the afternoon session, I along with a couple other members of our team would return to the gym and play pick-up basketball with a group of anywhere between 8 and 15 older guys depending on the day. This block of time was much more unstructured, but I welcomed the opportunity to get some scrimmaging in, even though I definitely was humbled on more than one occasion by some really talented fellows. I spent some of that time just trying not to get run over, and was less than successful, coming out of the week a bit more banged up than would have been optimal. But it was completely worth it.
After dinner each night, we held various events as an entire team. On our first night of camp, we put on a street concert out on a main plaza. I was thrilled to be involved with the music team playing acoustic bass or cajón for all our musical endeavors, and thoroughly enjoyed the chance to spend a lot of time with musicians making music over the course of the week.
The second night of camp, we visited a “gypsy” community of once-refugees that had settled on the outskirts of town. We brought games, a portable sound system, an upbeat music playlist, science experiments, balloons, hula hoops, and lots of hugs and smiles and spent a couple solid hours with perhaps 40-50 kids and lots of curious parents and adults doing our best to share Jesus and His love. This may have been one of the most special experiences of the trip. A couple other evenings were spent in a rented theater putting on a “concert” — playing some worship songs in English and Montenegrian and then sharing a short message. On Friday, we held our final morning session and finished camp. We didn’t play pickup that afternoon and instead, many of our team members took a van up to a cliff-side monastery (the views on the drives up and down were the best part) before closing with a dinner celebrating the many people and volunteers in town who had helped make the week possible.
On Saturday morning, after packing up and saying our goodbyes, my subset (the group that came together from the New England area that flew in and would fly out of Dubrovnik) packed our vans and drove the route back to Dubrovnik, this time getting to experience a border delay of about 3 hours because their computers were down.
But despite the holdup and varying states of health and energy, we arrived in Dubrovnik last night in relatively good spirits and were revived by an incredible evening of top-notch restaurant dining overlooking the lagoon and then a night trip into the bustling and touristy Old City area of town.
The team will return to the States tomorrow and I will remain here in Croatia one more night before flying out for Oslo, Norway, on Tuesday afternoon. I travel there to visit a fantastic friend I met earlier this summer in Amsterdam. We will also be joined by a second friend from my Amsterdam hostel days for a couple days to enjoy each other’s company and hopefully a good dose of Norway’s nature. I’ll then travel to the UK to visit Durham University. The sports director there and I have been communicating this summer about the possibility of me coming to complete a master’s program there and help coach and support the women’s basketball program this coming school year. I’m praying that God makes it clear one way or the other whether I am supposed to be there.
That’s the latest, my friends. I head back to the States on August 10th – less than 2 weeks away now. I can’t believe it. But I look forward to seeing what my final days in Europe bring before I get to head home and see some of you in person. We’ll see what God does next! Until the next post,