January 10, 2020
Following the Great Commission to make disciples of all nations, the East Texas Baptist University Cross Country and Track traveled to Athens, Greece on a Tiger Athletic Mission Experience (TAME) trip from January 2 through 10. While tensions mount in other parts of the world, the group of 34 ETBU athletes, coaches, and staff traveled for more than 30 hours to partner with International Sports Federation (ISF) and Streetlights, a community discipleship ministry that focuses on working with refugees from Europe and the Middle East.
“TAME was created in order to give ETBU Tiger student-athletes the opportunity to use their God-given talents and abilities to share their faith with people across the globe as they strive to transform the world for Christ,” Vice President for Athletics Ryan Erwin said. “Our student-athletes were nothing short of amazing as they fought through exhaustion. They did an amazing job interacting with and showing love toward the local children in Greece.”
The teams hit the ground running with outreach to refugees of all ages during a community festival facilitated by Streetlights, where the student-athletes served by assisting with various activities such as face painting, dance competitions, and games.
“The kids loved getting to laugh and play,” senior Michael Sanders said. “It was amazing to see God work through our actions to spread the Gospel.”
ETBU student-athletes did not shy away from their opportunity to reach out to a population in need during their time in Greece. As a testament of Christ-like love and service, some Tigers attended an Iranian church service where they were able to serve lunch to over 75 Iranian refugees.
“As we arrived at the church, the leader greeted us and we prayed for God to open our hearts and eyes to the world we were about to see,” graduate student Beau Billings said. “While at the church we were able to meet a man and learn his story through Google Translate. It showed the true power of God and how appreciative the people we were serving are.”
Before a small group of Tigers took trains to reach a local refugee camp, a Streetlights leader shared a verse from Ephesians 2:10 “For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.” After being encouraged to reflect on their purpose in Greece, the student-athletes visited and ministered to residents of the camp, and were inspired by the stories of suffering and triumph.
“We introduced ourselves and sat down to visit with a family,” freshman Kennadie Ransberger said. “The woman shared her testimony with us. She was not a believer, but her story was extremely moving and brought tears to my eyes. She talked about her past that brought her to this camp and how difficult and heartbreaking it was. However, she also talked about how strong she is today and the person she has become because of it. It was such a humbling and eye opening experience for each one of us. Leaving the camp was so sad, they did not want us to go.”
Aside from ministering to the hearts of Greece, the group assisted with painting, cleaning, and needed repairs for a local kindergarten, elementary school, and the Streetlights building. A large portion of the service efforts involved teamwork, allowing the teams to grow closer together.
“I have really enjoyed getting to know my teammates through this experience,” freshman Hope Shipp said. “Not only have gotten to know my teammates, but I’ve also met some really awesome new friends. I cannot wait to see the other amazing things God has planned for us in my time at ETBU.”
In addition to ministry opportunities, Tigers had the once-in-a-lifetime chance to run a marathon or 5K race through the streets of Greece, finishing at the site of the original Olympic Stadium.
“This was no ordinary race,” junior Kylie Embry said. “We were running through the city streets of Athens with cars all around us. In the midst of the chaos around us, our team was a unit, working together, encouraging one another, and enjoying the experience.”
During a hike to the Acropolis and Parthenon, the teams experienced the history of the iconic landmarks before climbing Mars Hill, where Paul preached the sermon found in Acts 17 of the Bible. The group had a special time to reflect, sing worship songs, and partake in communion with brothers and sisters in Christ, who were also traveling in Greece.
“Seeing firsthand what we have read about in the Bible and actually getting to be at that spot was mind blowing and very humbling,” senior Reed McDonald said. “When we were praying as a group, the sun came out for the first time all day and shined down on us and then when we were done, it tucked back behind the clouds. The whole trip was humbling from communion, to singing, and soaking in all the beauty.”
Through playing with local children, reaching out to refugees, and serving as the hands and feet of Christ at the schools and Streetlights buildings, the student-athletes brought home an abundance of memories and a refreshed outlook on how their purpose as a team extends far beyond running the race or coming in first place.
“This trip has been an incredible experience resulting in bringing our team together, enlightening and changing our perspectives, creating a space for hearts to awaken, and fostering a deep gratefulness for the many blessings we take for granted,” ETBU Cross Country/Track and Field Head Coach Natalie Bach-Prather said. “It was so special to see many of our athletes have soul-awakening moments throughout the week, and it was very evident that God was working through our group to reach others. I am so grateful for this opportunity we had to grow as a team and witness life changing moments.”