My Worth Doesn't Come from Winning

Wednesday was by far one of my most memorable days here in Tenerife! We began the day by exploring Teide National Park and it was absolutely breathtaking. It really made me feel so blessed to be able to experience God’s beautiful creation with this amazing team. When we got to the top, we were literally above the clouds. It was indescribable. It put in perspective how powerful God really is and how perfect his creation is also. I will never forget the fullness I felt in this moment.

Later, we competed at a local track meet and met so many new faces. It was such a treasure to share laughter and love with these girls in the Canary Islands! Lauren and I competed in shot put and were able to connect with a lot of the other participants. Sharing the excitement of getting new personal bests and being able to compete at an amazing facility, doing the sport we love, we were able to relate with each other. We talked a little bit about their interests and culture here. It was cool to hear their perspective on track and field and realize how important this sport is on this island. Some of the girls, being a lot younger than us, explained how they wanted to run track for a university in America. It was a good transition to be able to talk about where we go to school and begin telling them about what Athletes in Action is. At the end of the meet we exchanged shirts with them and they seemed so excited and grateful that we gave them AIA gear.

This really helped me appreciate where I’m at in life right now and look at all the blessings I have. I attend a university and I’m also able to compete in the thing I love AND now, I am able to share my love for this sport in a way I have never been able to before.

It also put into perspective that winning is not everything. Joel shared a little of Genesis, chapter 4, that really stuck with me. I discovered how God was happy and pleased with Abel because he gave him his absolute best. That’s what I have started to think of during my races. It’s so easy to get wrapped up in all of the competition and wanting to win, and doing so for the wrong reasons. Giving my absolute best effort and glorifying God is really all that matters- my worth isn’t in how good or bad I do.

Everything I have learned through this experience I will hold onto for forever and I am so excited to continue in this growth and sharing His Word. This group is continuously pushing me out of my comfort zone and helping me become the woman of God I have always wanted to be: holding me accountable with my personal, as well as, communal relationship with the Holy Spirit and just as important, my relationship with non-believers. I’ll truly never be the same after encountering the love and grace of Jesus Christ here in the Canary Islands. I will be eternally grateful that God placed each of us here, together.

I’m so thankful to grow closer with these brothers and sisters in Christ! (Sadly, Joel and Paul not pictured)

-Jillian, but you can call me “Clara”

 

 

Gratefulness for the Small Things

The past few days our AIA group has spent some time in the south of the Island in a city called El Medano, to spend some time focusing on God’s word and reflecting on our own personal relationships with Him. During the retreat we continued our discipleship time with the group and really just took in the beauty of where we were and all that God has done for us. Our first day we checked out the beach. It was beautiful! The sand was black, the water was blue, and the mountains in the background were breathtaking.

I enjoyed my time on the beach by writing in my journal while catching a few sun rays. To me, it was the little things that caught my eye throughout our three days there. Things like walking along the beach with one of my best friends, and enjoying the scenic art work that God created by his own two hands. These really made me realize what an unbelievable God we worship. And then I realized just how easy it is to be ungrateful for what we have. I just thought it was crazy how the locals were so casual with their home and as I told them how beautiful it was, they replied with a shrug of the shoulders and “ehh.” I live in a small town in Texas and there are no mountains or oceans in my backyard.  I couldn’t imagine living here everyday and just taking this beautiful island for granted.

And then I thought of all the beautiful places I could see in my small town. Like watching the sunrise on Lake Fork, and riding horses through the pasture with my family while checking the cows, and east Texas sunsets…those are amazing. 

I have learned many, many lessons while on this trip, but one of the biggest ones God has revealed to me is how blessed we really are. While the Canary Islands are BEAUTIFUL and definitely all it’s cracked up to be, it’s not home. It’s not surrounded by my family and by my childhood memories or friends that love me. In our Christian walk we can experience these same things. We believe that worldly things can bring us happiness and our own selfish desires can fulfill us. However, temporary things give temporary fulfillment and only God can truly make us whole. 

As I was walking on the beach, Sam said “I feel like I’m in a movie.” This made me feel, as cheesy as this sounds, so alive and present for the first time in the trip. At the beginning of the trip I was so homesick that all I could think about was going home on June 20th. And slowly, thoughts of home started to slip away and I really began enjoying my time with our group and I felt God really was working in my life. It’s so easy to want to look at other people doing “great” things in their lives and just be so ungrateful for my present situation.

As a student athlete there’s no time for vacations. You go to school, you go to practice, you go home, you do homework, and then you wake up and repeat. When I see other students (that don’t work full time) enjoying their college experience, it’s so easy to want that free time and flexibility. They go to the beach on spring break while we drive five hours to a track meet.

However, through athletics I have been blessed to have this opportunity to be on this trip with AIA doing work for the Lord while growing with teammates who are sisters and brothers in Christ. It made me realize that at times life may be so busy yet so slow that we can take for granted all that we have during that moment. We are just too impatient to notice that in the stillness of life, God is working on something even greater for us.

So be present!! Be thankful!! Because God is doing his work in the meantime. 

-Caitlin, for the team

Community on the Bluetrail

We got up at 4:30am on Saturday (the 9th). The morning was shrouded in darkness and anticipation. The Tenerife Bluetrail half marathon was upon us! Every race day feels special, but I knew that this one was going to be extraordinary before my feet hit the floor. 

This was not your every day kind of race (unless you climb mountains in the pouring rain every day). The seemingly endless incline and tractionless mud were enough to push many athletes to their limits. It’s a good thing that our God has no limits! 

I felt God’s presence with me from the start to the finish of the race. In case you are wondering, He makes the best running partner! He gave me the strength and endurance to run this race with confidence. This was a really cool gift. But He didn’t give it to me so I could tell people that I had a great race and felt fantastic. I think He gave it to me because He wanted to have a conversation and didn’t want me to be distracted by stress and exhaustion.

We had conversations about gratitude, perseverance, strength, weakness, joy, pain, circumstances, and so much more. But the conversation that we had about community is the one I want to share with you now. 

There was a three mile stretch in the middle of the race where I was running solo. None of my teammates were around. At one point I was going down a very steep and muddy hill. Slipping and sliding, I felt a bit helpless without a teammate to support me. In an effort to save my balance I grabbed a low hanging branch. Immediately, it became apparent that this branch was covered in thorns! As I wiped the blood and mud from my hands, I realized that some of the things we reach out to in our distress are not good for us. 

Right now, I am in a season of life that is filled with many moments of solitude. It’s easy for me to feel helpless, but I need to rely on God to be my strength. Even when I feel alone, He is always with me. And when I do reach out for help, I need to make sure that the people and things I am grabbing onto will serve to help me and not to hurt me. It’s always good to make sure that your community isn’t a thorn bush.

Shortly after this, I caught up to three of my teammates. Just as God does not intend for us to live our lives in solitude, He did not intend for me to run this race alone. We encouraged and pushed each other along the way. Good community can be so refreshing!

With about four miles to go, the path began to level out. I was tempted to take off, forget the team, and see how fast I could finish as an individual. But God had a better idea. 

One of my teammates, Micah (a.k.a. Santiago), got muscle camps in his legs and started to drop off of the pack. The other two were feeling good, so they were speeding up. In that moment, I felt God call on me to give up the last bit of selfish ambition that I was clinging to and finish the race with Micah. 

Nobody on our team finished alone. We all walked away with some great stories of how we were able to encourage and be encouraged by our teammates. Each person showed by their actions that they cared more for their teammates than they did for themselves. This painted a beautiful picture of the body of Christ and the community that it forms. 

Now, a few days later, the cuts and bruises are healing. The aching muscles are slowly releasing their painful grip. As the physical marks of this race fade into our past, I pray that the spiritual marks will be engraved on our hearts forever. I know that I will never forget the Tenerife Bluetrail and all that God taught me there.

Hannah, for the team

“Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others.” 

Philippians 2:3-4

Motivated by What?

Have you ever experienced one of those cool “God moments?”

This morning, Sunday, our team visited a local church. Two of our members shared their testimonies, while I (Joel) preached the sermon (my third time in three years).

As I began to write my sermon a couple of weeks ago, the only thing I felt led to preach on was the parable of the Prodigal Son, found in Luke 15. For some reason, this parable had been on my mind a lot in the past month. Athletes in Action teaches a principle titled “Inside Game,” which is based on the parable of the Prodigal Son. This Principle teaches how we as Christ followers can live life being motivated by God’s love for us, instead of by worldly pleasures or self-righteousness.

I shared in my sermon that in my life I often identify as the older son, who thought that he could earn his father’s love because of his obedience. As an athlete, I actually did believe that the better I behaved toward God, the better I would perform in my sport. I also believed that my performance could suffer if I was acting in disobedience before God.

I shared with the congregation that while the older son is motivated by self-righteousness, and the younger son motivated by worldly pleasures, the Father is motivated by his relationship with His sons. He treats both sons equally, even though they view their relationship with their Father very different.

I told the congregation that whether we doubt God’s forgiveness, or if we feel we’ve earned God’s favor, what God desires most is for us to love Him wholeheartedly. The relationship we have with Him should influence how we live our lives.

After the service, a British couple approached me and told me that at their home church, their pastor had just finished a six week series on the Prodigal Son. The couple was delighted to hear a message on the same subject, yet from a different angle.

Also, I learned that a Spanish lady had just been at a ladies’ retreat in which the teaching centered around the Prodigal Son. She too expressed that God had spoken to her through my sermon. Apparently, she left the retreat unsure how the parable directly applied to her life. But she left church on Sunday morning understanding that the way the father loved his sons in the parable is the same way that God loves her.

I prayed last month that the Holy Spirit would guide me on what to preach, and all that came to mind was the Prodigal Son. So I decided to run with that idea and trust that God would use it. Before church, I prayed that God would use my sermon to minister to the congregation, and He answered that prayer!

Next Sunday we will visit a different church, so pray for God to use the team and I to encourage the believers there as we did at this church!

Joel, for the team.

Everyone Has a Plane Story

Today (June 5th) our team really had to live out our norm of flexibility being the best ability. We started the day with discipleship time and then packed up and headed to the airport. By nature I am a very friendly, chatty, outgoing person and love making new friends on plane rides. We used a book for discipleship called “God Space” by Doug Pollock and he suggests using those plane rides to create space to share about the hope you have in Jesus. He also says these conversations often happen when you don’t always want them. This was the case for me on our flight to Chicago. All I wanted to do was work and get things done so I could be better prepared for our discipleship time in country. However God had other plans! Our plane was delayed 30+ minutes so we were stuck on the tarmac waiting to take off for what felt like forever. And during this waiting time I was chatting with our team, playing games, and not really talking to the man next to me; all the while waiting for our plane to take off so that I could work. When we were finally ready for take off, he asked me where we were going and my first thought was…I’m not going to get any work done on this flight. But, I quickly shook off my feelings of disappointment and decided to rely on the Holy Spirit to guide my conversation with this man on the plane.

God continually shows me that He is so good and that His ways are so much greater than mine. This conversation on the plane with this man, Mark, was so incredibly life giving. We started by talking about where we were both going. I told him all about AIA, our track tour, and what we hoped to do in the Canary Islands. He of course had many questions; such as what events we did, where we were from, why we did not get paid, how could we afford to get there, etc.  After I answered all of his questions I asked him where he was going. He was a hog feed seller from the Philippines and was going to a hog convention in Iowa. I was fascinated by this and told him that my dad’s family is from the Philippines. So he taught me a lot about Filipino culture and his family’s history. I then asked about the spirituality of the Philippines and learned that most were Catholic, but only because their parents make them. This lead to a very natural transition of asking what he would believe in if he could pick, and he didn’t know. So, with the power of the Holy Spirit, I was able to connect the things I shared about AIA and why we were going to the Canary Islands to my hope in Jesus and he thought that what we believe was really interesting. I am so happy that I was unable to work on that flight and instead was used by the Lord to maybe be one of many interactions to move this man closer to a relationship with Him.

The rest of our travel day was not so pleasant. Because we were delayed on our first flight we missed our flight to Madrid and had to fly out 5 hours later to Barcelona. And then got a different flight to Tenerife. This made our travel day really exhausting. But all the delays were a small price to pay for telling someone about the glory and power of our God.

-Lauren, for the team

“But in your hearts revere Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect.