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Volunteers use basketball to spread gospel in Far East

LEXINGTON, Ky. (BP)–As players filed off the bus, the Asian crowd shouted, “Michael Jordan, Michael Jordan!”
They weren’t the Chicago Bulls. They were men and women from Kentucky who had come to play basketball and to share the gospel when possible.
“Jared,” 29, at first thought the trip through parts of East Asia would provide a chance to revisit his basketball glory. But when seated on the sideline, his focus moved from the court to the people in the crowd, sometimes numbering as many as 7,000.
“After I got there and saw the needs of the people, it changed my perspective,” Jared said. “Everywhere we went, the Spirit was opening doors for us to witness. If I couldn’t finish a witness, someone else would pick it up.”
People constantly approached players on the bench during games and wanted to know why the Americans were so tolerant of the biased officiating. As three-pointers rained in the background, it was an invitation to share Jesus.
During the two weeks in June that the two teams barnstormed the country, 20 people accepted Jesus as Lord and Savior.
The trip was Jared’s first volunteer mission experience. But Jared is not his real name because Baptist workers in these limited-access countries must protect their identities. It is legal to tell someone about your faith only if the person asks about it.
Like the 22 other volunteers with him, Jared relished the opportunity to use basketball to introduce Jesus where open evangelism is prohibited by law. At first, he was concerned the Americans might not be accepted. Those fears quickly faded.
“The people were hungry for the message we had,” he said.
“Tina,” also traveling with the group, never tires of experiencing the moment when someone realizes that Jesus is his or her only hope — especially in such a closed place. This was her fifth volunteer mission trip.
“I think the thing that is so awesome is how God can take someone from not knowing a thing and can bring them to a point of knowing Jesus as their personal Lord and Savior,” Tina said. “There is no way in our humanness we can understand that. It is the power of the Holy Spirit working in the lives of people. I tell you it still blows me away.”
For Tina, the entire approach to sharing Jesus in such a place hinges on building relationships. One instance will be embedded forever in her mind, she said.
The women from both teams sat in a circle on the hardwood court of a cozy gymnasium. The smell of spectators’ cigarettes lingered in the air. In the amber wash of sodium-vapor lights, American players still in uniform shared with their Asian opponents the source of light for the entire world.
The discussion turned to relationships and loneliness. An Asian player looked at Tina and asked what she did when she felt alone. Tina simply responded that she has a friend whose name is Jesus, and Jesus is always with her. The Asian silently panned the circle.
“Which one is Jesus?” she finally asked.