Three months ago, I embarked on a trip that hopefully will continue to transform my life. On December 27, 2008, I left San Francisco airport with 13 other guys and one young lady for Mindanao Island in the Philippines, where we traveled all around the island playing basketball and telling people about the love of Jesus Christ. I had never been on a missions trip in the States, let alone in a foreign country, and for my first one I flew 14+ hours across the world. The closest I've come to missions trip were my biweekly visits to San Quentin Prison. It was actually through that ministry that I found out about the Philippines trip.
Before I go any further I'd like to stop and take time to thank everyone who supported my trip through their continuous prayers and financial contributions. In just 50 days, I was able to raise the $3100 needed to cover my flight, housing, and travel expenses in the Philippines through generous giving by friends and family. But while the financial gifts were instrumental in me making the trip, the prayer support was critical in us surviving the trip. There were a number of situations in which we avoided potential danger, and I can only attribute that to the Lord listening to the prayers of his children.
We traveled all over Mindanao Island, playing 27 games in 12 days and as many as 3 games in one day. A majority of the games were prearranged against the city or neighborhood's all-star team. Imagine the best players from a city basketball league playing against a traveling team. Those were the types of teams we faced. A couple of the games, however, were completely impromptu. We would be driving down a road, either on our way to our next game or home, and we'd pass by a basketball court with players playing a pick-up game and fans surrounding the court. We would stop, they would welcome us in, and we would play against them.
You see the unique thing about the Philippines is that basketball is their national pastime. They are absolutely crazy about it. And the basketball infrastructure is pretty amazing considering the poverty level, especially in Mindanao. In the middle of what would seem like nowhere would be a concrete-paved basketball court with two backboards and rims. Sure the concrete might be broken, the backboards made out of wood planks, or the rims too high/short, but at least it was something. And in many cases the court was the center of the neighborhood, so when American basketball players are on the court, word got out quickly and we would have our audience.
So in a typical game, we would arrive maybe 30 minutes early to set up and begin drawing in the crowds. In the cases were there was nobody there, we would drive around the city in trucks parade-style, inviting people to the game. After warm-ups, the players from both teams were introduced. After shaking hands, we'd put a hat on each one of the players' heads and the audience loved it. I'm still not sure why that was. Towards the end of the 2nd quarter, the players who weren't in the game would go out into the audience handling out these blue pamphlets that was written in Tagalog (the primary native language). I don't know exactly what they said, but it basically gave an analogy between a basketball game and coming to know Jesus Christ as your Lord and Savior. They had time to read the pamphlet before the halftime show began.
The halftime show was run by Tom Randall, the founder of World Harvest Ministries, and four of his boys from the Sankey Orphanage (Gilbert, Roy, Randy, and E-Mat). First Tom would do a series of juggling tricks with as many as three basketballs, and then the boys would come out and perform a unicycle show with him. I was amazed at how fluidly they moved on those things. Then the show ended with Tom pulling a little kid from the crowd, putting him on his shoulders and riding around the unicycle. The crowd always loved that.
Tom Randall riding around with a boy on his shoulders while riding the unicycle. He seems a bit terrified.
Following the show we would sing Alive! Alive! Alive Forevermore! in both English and Tagalog. Then one of our players would give his testimony on how a relationship with Jesus Christ has changed his life. I'm not quite sure how much they understood what we were saying, but they would always clap for us after telling our story. I came to learn that most Filipinos do know some English since most business and legal matters are conducted in English, but it's certainly not their primary conversational language. David, a Filipino who works at the Sankey Orphanage, would follow after us (speaking in Tagalog), summarizing the testimony, and explaining the purpose of the pamphlet we handed out earlier. The pamphlet had a tearaway portion, which the audience was to fill out in order to sign up for a Bible study that would be run by the local area pastors. At the beginning of the third quarter (and for the remainder of the game) we went around giving them pens and collecting the slips.
In total, we received nearly 6000 Bible study sign-ups (out of the 10,000 we started out with), which was simply amazing. It was truly unfortunate, but we actually ran out of pamphlets for the last day of games because so many people were interested in the Bible studies. And it's not just those 6000 people whose lives will be affected. Those 6000 will tell others about Jesus and they too will become active in Bible studies and church. And then the next thing you know, there'll be hundreds of thousands of people coming to know Jesus Christ as their personal Lord and Savior. Praise God!
This trip has motivated me to do more to evangelize for the Kingdom. In my eyes, Tom Randall is like a modern-day version of the apostle Paul. He's done and is still doing so much (while going through many struggles) to get the Gospel out to those who don't yet know Jesus. In Mark 16:15, Jesus says to go into all of the world and preach the good news to all creation. It is not enough for us to just be content with our own salvation. In fact, that's selfish because someone else had to preach the good news to us in order for us to come to know Jesus and accept His freely-given salvation. So I'm hoping that this is just the beginning. I want to get over my fear of sharing with others my relationship with Him, and use this trip as a launch pad for being more active.
It is really hard to condense 27 games and 2-weeks of life experiences into a single account and I also took nearly 700 pictures while in the Philippines. So if you're interested in finding out even more about my trip, you can check out my photo albums over on facebook: