It can be difficult to put into words a concise reflection of our most recent USG Impact Trip to the Middle East. I’ve been a part of several of these initiatives historically, even in the same nation in 2019. However, regardless of where you go or where the Lord calls you to, on these opportunities, He seems to work in both mysterious and intentional ways within your team and leaves each individual closer to Him than they were before the trip itself, which is what truly makes these opportunities ever so special!
Upon arrival to the nation, there wasn’t much “culture shock” for me, as I was familiar with my surroundings, having been to this location previously. One group had arrived, and the other group of members were waiting at the airport. As we were waiting for the second group, those of our team that were already present were drinking coffee, eating croissants, and all were filled with anticipation of what was to come—processing through the question of “what is our Lord going to do over these next few weeks?”. Once our full team had arrived we headed to a compound in the city, where we would be leading a Christ-centered sports camp and where we would be staying over the next week.
After arriving at that compound, we met as a team, met with our local partners, and took a look at how the upcoming week would be structured. We also made sure to take the camp to the Lord in prayer, asking for His will to be done, and that He would use our team and staff for His glory! There was palpable excitement to serve and to give back. Still, I was most excited to see, as I’ve seen the Lord do historically, how He was going to weave our team of diverse individuals with unique personalities as one body in Him, that would in turn bring honor and glory to His name.
There were so many reasons to thank the Lord from the sports camp itself. This included, but was not limited to individuals who grew closer to Jesus, that participants had fun, the freedom experienced in worshiping our God as one in a different cultural context, and breaking bread together at meals. Our team served, was unified, and each team member embraced their unique skill-sets for God’s glory! Though I was able to be a part of all of these opportunities, the Lord was pruning me throughout the whole camp experience.
Having a passion and heart for soccer, one of the things that I was most looking forward to was the potential opportunity to coach and play soccer with the kids at the camp. On the first day of the camp, however, I received a slide tackle from a camp participant that caused a severe ankle roll and I sprained my ankle. I was immobile and was in a lot of pain. One of my favorite aspects of the camp, that I had been looking forward to for months, was over. I spoke to God at first, asking “Why?” disappointedly, but as He moved in my heart, I eventually moved towards asking Him the questions of “What do you want to do in me through this?” and “How do you want to use me amidst this?”.
After the injury, He provided a member of our team that I didn’t know had an athletic training background to provide me treatment. He provided intentional one on one conversation opportunities with camp participants and our team that I likely wouldn’t have had otherwise, and He gave me the opportunity to help with cleaning dishes in the kitchen for our meals, an area of need that we didn’t prepare for initially. God didn’t cause my ankle injury (which is still swollen, by the way), but He used the aftermath of the situation as a way to glorify Himself and also remind me that I’m His and that He is going to move regardless of my health status, as He sees fit. He doesn’t need me, but He chooses to use me; what an awesome God we have!
After the conclusion of the camp, we moved towards intentional Biblical sightseeing, in walking and experiencing areas where Jesus walked, which really brought Scripture and His alive and active Word to life! At one of those sights, as we were on a boat floating on the water, I was reminded of the gift of His presence and the attribute of His character being Immanuel, “God with us.” Soon after the boat ride, we headed to an area for baptisms for four of our USG members. They were ready to give a public outward declaration of an inward change, acknowledging Jesus as not only their Messiah, as the Savior of the world, but also as the Lord and Master of their respective lives. They also shared how the Lord has used USG in their walks with Him. I had assisted with a few baptisms historically in my life, but it was special to be able to lead two of the baptisms for a couple of guys that I had poured into and done life with over the years in my role at USG. I’m grateful for the opportunity and privilege of being able to be a part of this Biblical sacrament and special day with them.
As we went from site to site throughout the country, each area had its own Scriptural significance and historical importance. As the tour was finishing out, as I had hoped, our team left the experience closer to Jesus than we had been previously when we had flown across the pond. Our team split off into two groups, and we then headed our separate ways, back to different locales all across the United States of America. As I reflected on the trip between watching several movies and battling a cold on the flight back, I was reminded of a song from our time at the camp entitled “Kama Hesed.” It translates from Hebrew loosely to “so much grace” or “so much kindness,” but as I reflected on that song and those words, I was convicted of how often I strive or try to earn favor with God. In reality, I need to continually remind myself of the grace that He has bestowed upon me in being reconciled to Him and enjoying the gift of His presence, sitting at His feet, and doing life with Him each day. Continually living transformed in the freedom that I have in Him, both now and forever, until He returns or calls me home, that's a “Kama Hesed” lifestyle, and that’s a lifestyle that I desire to embrace in Christ, now that I am back stateside.
Psalm 34:8 notes: “Oh, taste and see that the Lord is good! Blessed is the man who takes refuge in Him!” This Scripture really encapsulates my experience and our USG team’s experience overseas. As we abided with Jesus, we tasted and saw that He is good and that He is our refuge and strength. My hope is that we can continue to provide these high-impact experience opportunities for our USG members to grow in Christ for the long haul so that more of our members can grow closer in Him and with Him and grow in a heart for the lost and the nations as well!
It was encouraging to see the impact that the two-week trip had on this group of Christ-centered leaders within the college and pro sport industry. Learn more about USG's Impact Trip to Israel with the link here.