Best Birthday Yet!

 Our ‘Merry in Canary’ team is a true family.  I woke up this morning to our room decorated with balloons and a big “Happy Birthday” sign.  The girls had gone to Walmart while we were in the States to buy decorations to surprise me on our last day in the Canary Islands.  It was so unexpected!  The time and dedication they took to plan ahead with the decorations, set them up while I was sleeping, and keep it a surprise the whole time made me feel so loved.  And this was just the start to an incredible day.

     After going to a fun birthday breakfast, we came back to our hostel to find Joanna there with a chocolate cake, a crown, candles, and temporary tattoos to continue the celebration.  It is so awesome to me that the Lord used not only my new friends on our team to make me feel loved, but also the staff with our partnership organization in country.  The Lord really used this day to teach me that as followers of Christ, we are truly family.  It does not matter how far apart we live or how long we have known each other, we love each other the way Christ loves us.  

     Now, to my favorite part of the day- practice!  We had spent two weeks forming friendships with our teammates and using atletismo (the Spanish word for track & field) to connect with them.  Today was our last day with them so we thought, now is the time to be bold.  The wonderful girls from Stephen F. Austin brought with them supplies to make these awesome bracelets that allow us to easily share the Gospel with the people we meet. 

At the end of practice,  we all got out our bracelets and shared.  One girl that I shared with who really stood out to me was Emma.  When I shared the Gospel with her and told her that I loved her and Jesus loved her, and that I was praying for her, she tackled me with a big hug and said “I love you too!” She was so touched that we came all the way to the Canaries to show them God’s love and share with them the hope we have in Jesus.  I was able to give her the New Testament in Spanish as well and a daily devotional for athletes called Corazón de Campeón (Heart of a Champion). 

At the end of our sharing we got together and Samantha prayed for everyone in English and sweet Emma prayed for everyone in Spanish.  It was an incredible way to end our time there and truly the best birthday present Jesus could have given me.

-Lauren, for the team

Best Spiritual Conversation in Four Years

Have you ever stayed overnight in a European hostel?

It functions like a hotel, but it is set up like a dormitory. There is a small receptionist desk, and then a short hallway with rooms of various sizes. In each room is at least one bed, and down the hall are bathrooms. Across the hall from the bedrooms is a large common area, with a small kitchen. This room is not just the place for meals, but the place to hang out, have conversation, and make friends with the other guests.

In this common room are banners on the walls with photos of past AIA teammates, with a description in Spanish of what Athletes in Action is. For the other guests staying in the hostel, it is no secret that they are sharing a living space with American athletes who are followers of Jesus.

Guess what? We could have stayed in our hostel most of the day and still had opportunities for spiritual conversations. Fortunately, that was the case with one woman from mainland Spain.

This woman checked in to the hostel a couple of nights before our team’s departure. She didn’t speak English, but she noticed the banners hung on the walls, which have Spanish written on them. Each banner reads, “Followers of Jesus, in every city, sport, and nation.”

This lady, who had a spiritual hunger, was curious about who our team was. But she felt bad that she couldn’t speak with us because she didn’t speak English. And we had no idea what she was feeling until Joanna, who lives and works in Tenerife, was able to have a conversation with her.

The woman shared that she had an interest in studying the Bible, but had never done so before. When Joanna finished talking with the woman, she said it was the most spiritual conversation she had had in her four years of living there. That statement helped me realize the spiritual apathy that most Spaniards and Canary Islanders posses.

But God is living and active, and He reveals Himself to those who seek Him. In His sovereignty, he placed that woman, our team, and Joanna in the right place at the right time.

“Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; the one who seeks finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened.” (Matthew 7:7-8)

Life Is a Like Bead on a Necklace...

Our last day in Tenerife was so bittersweet. Of the two weeks we spent there, God gave us the prettiest day of all. It was actually warm and the sun was out all day! We celebrated Lauren’s birthday and then went up to a place called Mesa Mota to debrief and talk about what the trip meant to all of us. It made me realize how blessed we were that the Lord brought us all here, specifically, to know and learn from one another. The time that we spent together, with the Lord in prayer, and then overlooking the city of La Laguna together was so sweet. I was seriously trying to cherish every second!

That evening we headed out for our last practice with the team. We prayed for boldness, that we would be able to share Jesus with them and what He has done for us. I immediately knew that had something special in store because every time I looked around, there were more and more people who were showing up to practice. After the actual practice, we handed a bracket to everyone and explained its significance-

It’s just a simple bracelet- one piece of yarn with a tiny bead, but with a greater meaning. The line, or the bracelet itself, represents our eternal life with Jesus once we have accepted Him. It’s never ending, there will be “no more death or mourning or crying or pain,” and it will be spent in pure joy of glorifying the Lord! So the line is good, and long and something we should focus on instead of the tiny bead, which represents our life. When we have a bad day or a season that is tough, it doesn’t even show up on the tiny bead and much less on the line. In the grand scheme of things, it’s so small that you can’t notice and so we shouldn’t get caught up in it! Instead of worrying about the world (the bead), we should focus on and press towards our life with the Lord (the line).

The best part was that they were all so sweet, thankful and receptive to the message of the little matching bracelets from us! The coach came up to us and told us that he was so glad we could not only teach them about track but about life too! And whether he meant that in a spiritual standpoint or not, at least he noticed that we weren’t just there to physically train but to show them love! Some of our new teammates explained that they believed in Jesus too, which makes leaving a little easier because we are bonded not only through track but with Christ too! Some of the girls and I circled up to pray in English and then they prayed in Spanish & you could just feel God’s presence all around us! That night, they even posted different things on social media about our AIA team and thanking God for bringing us together! It was so special to see!

For the majority of this trip, I have sort of felt guilty in the back of my mind because I felt like the Lord was working on my heart more than working through me to help others. Obviously, it was exactly what I needed and I am so thankful, but I had assumed that this trip would be all about sharing the gospel with everyone around us the whole time. But in reality, we couldn’t just do that. We got to know them and show them that we cared about them, and then the Lord was able to make Himself known in a big way. It wasn’t just with a few people on the team, but with everyone! I know with my whole heart that He was with us at practice and in our conversations! My prayer is that something would spark the hearts of those who have yet to make the decision to follow Him. I believe that we did what Hid had in store for us and that He is faithful to continue working in the hearts of our sweet teammates.

I don’t think that I doubted God and what He was doing, but I was beginning to wonder if there would be an opportunity to reach our amigos. Over the two weeks, we were in prayer for them and obviously the Lord was working on our hearts, so at just the right time we were able to speak His name boldly. I am so thankful for the friendships that we created on the track and everything we learned from them! They work so hard and seriously enjoy every second of being at practice. They were always so relaxed instead of focusing so much on being competitive and getting discouraged after a bad rep at practice. I know that this is something that God had for me to see, because it’s something that I have to work on! Jesus was also there to teach us that everything is perfect in His timing, not ours! He is the same God in the Canary Islands as He is at home, and I know that He is working in the hearts of those on their team.

THIS TRIP HAS BEEN SUCH A BLESSING!

“Give thanks to the Lord, call on His name; make known among the nations what he has done.” [1 Chronicles 16:8]

-Sammi Jo

A Photo Gallery of New Experiences

From running the BlueTrail 20k to listening to classic flamenco guitarists in the street, this trip has been full of excitement and the beauty of God’s creation has been on full display. Through it all, I’ve learned about the ways in which God’s love is able to be shown. For me, it requires continually and consistently taking the initiative to show God’s love through my actions. God works in a myriad of ways and I’ve learned to just trust and have faith that God’s plan is in the works.

^This picture is from the BlueTrail 20k race we all participated in, which consisted of hiking up a mountain and then running back down and through the city. The experience was like non-other. The combination of the beautiful scenery with the pain of running a 20k up and then down a mountain was an experience that will be nearly impossible to match.

Not long after the BlueTrail, we all competed in a track meet at Playas de las Américas. Here we were able to showcase our athletic abilities that God blessed us with as well as be in fellowship with the athletes we were competing against.

The morning after the meet, we hiked up Montaña Roja to watch the sunset. At the summit, Jillian (Clara) led us in worship and we enjoyed God’s presence through praise and through the beauty of this earth He created.

Later in the week, as we were walking around the quaint town of La Laguna, we stopped to listen to a few street performers playing classic flamenco music. These performers are some of the best musicians I’ve heard, but because of the lack of musical opportunity in Tenerife they are usually found on street corners playing and creating an amazing atmosphere here on the streets of La Laguna.

-Micah, for the team

Rejoicing Over a Lost Wallet

Saturday morning I listened to a song which talks about thanking God in difficult circumstances. Little did I know that I would face a challenging situation that very afternoon!

I’ve memorized James 1:2 which says, “Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds,” but the concept of having joy in trials has still been hard to embrace. The sentence continues with, “because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance.” Well, I can certainly say that my faith was put to the test, and that the past couple of days have been an “endurance builder.”

Saturday afternoon, I lost my wallet while getting off of a public bus. I don’t know how, except that I had it when I sat down, and right after getting off the bus I noticed that it was gone. I told the team that I had lost it, feeling sorry for myself and also feeling bad for them since I’m their leader and I lost some of the team’s money along with my personal credit cards.

The first thought that came to mind was to just pray out loud. Honestly, I didn’t feel comfortable doing so but I knew that I needed to pray, and I needed to pray in the company of others. My teammates showed their support by praying with me, and helping me in every way possible to track down my wallet. We did all we could, including notifying the bus company, and even waiting for the same exact bus to circle the route again- but at the end of the day it had not been found. 

I felt really down on myself for losing my wallet. I try my best to take care of my things and it was something that I thought would never happen to me. But I felt loved and cared for by my teammates after it happened. We were scheduled to run a road race later that evening, but part of me no longer wanted to run. I just felt too down on myself and undetermined to participate. 

After speaking with my wife on the phone, she encouraged me that the day was not yet over, that money is not eternal, and the important thing was that we were all okay. She helped me see the perspective that what happened to my wallet was a spiritual attack, and that I shouldn’t let Satan keep me out of doing the Lord’s work.

So I decided to choose joy, and run the race with perseverance! 

I wish I could say that I won the race, but that didn’t happen. I did, however, probably have my best race of the past two years. I felt good, and I ran with joy because God gave me the ability to enjoy running, he gave me awesome teammates, and he’s allowed me to build relationships with many people here. I even met a man at the starting line who is also a Christ follower! He noticed the backs of our uniforms which have a big cross with Philippians 3 written inside. I heard from a teammate that another person had taken a picture of the back of my uniform. I believe that God wanted me to run that race with joy that comes from Him.

If I had chosen to let myself remain down and discouraged, I would have missed out on allowing the Lord to use me and I wouldn’t have been able to appreciate the things that He has blessed me with. As a leader, I’ve got a team to take care of and I can’t let a small setback get in the way of being a loving, godly example to them. I’m learning that being filled with the Holy Spirit is the key to living the Christian life- because He’s the One who helps me exemplify Christ in challenging situations. 

I’m happy to report that my wallet was found! Somehow, the police got ahold of it and I was able to go down to the station Monday morning to retrieve it. Since I don’t speak Spanish well, I had to work hard to communicate with the officers. It was an exhausting and intimidating process, but finally we understood each other and they matched the name on my passport (which I had in hand) and my drivers license, which was in my wallet. The cash was gone, but fortunately the credit cards and other things were still inside!

The past few days, I’ve been thinking of the parable of the Lost Coin, found in Luke 15:8-10.

“Or suppose a woman has ten silver coins and loses one. Doesn’t she light a lamp, sweep the house and search carefully until she finds it? And when she finds it, she calls her friends and neighbors together and says, ‘Rejoice with me; I have found my lost coin.’

In the same way, I tell you, there is rejoicing in the presence of angels of God over one sinner who repents.”

Join me in praying for the people of this island, especially the friends our team has made, that they too would be found.

-Joel, for the team