I write from an airy university dorm lobby in Nikšić, Montenegro. I arrived here with a bus-full of Americans arriving from the Eastern States. We are a team of about 35 American, Serbian, and Montenegrian volunteers, here to facilitate a week of youth activities in a small inland university town. We’ll hold sports clinics for tennis, volleyball, soccer, and basketball; perform a street concert and a couple open worship services; visit a gypsy community; and find other ways to serve if possible. More about this later. First, let me give you my normal laughably inadequate attempt of a summary of the last two weeks.
When last I wrote, I was in Moldova living with some profoundly hospitable friends who were gracious enough to let me stay in their home for an indeterminate amount of time while I figured out where I was supposed to be.
My one-week stop in Moldova turned into a two-week stay and became more like a respite with extended family than event-oriented accommodation. By the time I left, I had become a part of the home and I very much thank God for that experience.
During that second unplanned week in Moldova while I tried to piece together a plan B after my original plans for that time had fallen through for the week between July 14th and 21st (when the next confirmed item on the itinerary would begin), several options were processed through the ole’ idea generator that didn’t pan out. The most significant one, however, was a desire to go to the UK and visit a school there called Durham University with whom I have been in communication about perhaps attending to obtain a master’s degree while working with their women’s basketball program in a graduate assistantship capacity. It seemed the perfect opportunity — I had several free days, nowhere else to be, and the coincidence of a basketball event very close to Durham where, fantastically enough, some of my Moldovian friends had traveled to and would be during the same time. But as I weighed travel options, the only feeling I seemed to get from God was “wait”. Frustrated, I tried to make sure He was aware of how perfect a scenario it seemed to be. But the feeling remained the same.
Perplexed, I considered other options. I reached out to a Ukrainian friend who would be attending a basketball camp in Poland during the same dates, got in contact with the facilitators, and asked if they could use another volunteer coach. Several emails, Facebook messages, and Skype calls later, I was buying a plane ticket for the next day to Warsaw.
Poland: Basketball Mecca
I spent a final morning with my Moldovan family and then they brought me to the airport. Away I went. I arrived in Warsaw in the afternoon and was picked up by a group of Americans in a white van. Off we went to Camp Proem in Zakosciele, Poland.
I found myself in a blissfully forested campground with spacious buildings, tasteful landscaping, savvy banners, and staff that seemed to multiply as we exited the van into the twilight air and gathered our luggage. We dived headlong into a week of basketball extravaganza. The camp program consisted primarily of basketball games from morning until night (except when we were rained off the outdoor courts a couple times). We had chapel services morning and evening and managed to squeeze some other fun activities like morning Insanity workouts and utilizing the camp’s other amenities (ping pong, a riverfront, farm animals, and more), but the majority of our time was spent on a huge four-court asphalt slab with groups of players ages 10-ish all the way up to maybe 30 years old that traveled from Lithuania, Belarus, all over Poland, and Ukraine to take part.
We divided everyone into mixed-nationality teams for league play and then also organized “National games” that happened after lunch. Staff members were assigned groups dubbed after NBA and WNBA teams — I coached the Los Angeles Sparks — and we jumped right into playing multiple games a day. Everything culminated in tournaments held on the last full day of camp.
What a time. The camp wasn’t geared for serious instruction as much as it was meant to let kids play as many games as possible, so my inner coach lamented not being able to focus on instructing and teaching. However, learning my team’s personnel and strengths quickly provided a fun challenge. I connected with a couple of my girls especially well and hopefully we’ll be able to stay in touch. In addition, I got to form relationships with a few other staff that worked either for Proem ministries or for Athletes in Action in Warsaw. I love people wherever I go but I will dearly miss some of the friends I made during this week. I hope to get to go back to Warsaw and see them sooner than later.
All too soon (as usual), Thursday night rolled around. I had to depart from camp a day early to meet the group traveling to Montenegro that I would be joining, so I missed all the festivities on the last day which was most disappointing. But Thursday night provided a fitting ending with a huge 3-on-3 tournament and then a fun late-night staff celebration under the stars complete with food, campfire, and fantastic conversation. Friday morning I left early and was graciously driven the hour and a half to the airport, leaving behind Proem and friends both new and old to finish out camp without me.
That departure was an especially difficult one. I would love to go back. I hope God will allow that. The ensuing transit day I spent in a melancholy daze, arriving in Montenegro around 4pm and meeting a new group of people and preparing for a new endeavor. However, God is good and even though it was sad to leave one group, He gave me another to serve alongside.
I am finishing this entry on day seven of our Montenegro experience, so there’s much more already to share. But I’ll save that for the next post. Until I write again,