Being a part of the Lipscomb Track & Field and Cross Country (XC/TF) team (or any team, for that matter) is something really special. As a former member, I speak from true experience. Most of my former teammates are still my very best friends, even to this day. The bond that is formed between people who are working together whole-heartedly for a common goal, through the lowest hard times and the highest good times is one that is not quickly broken. The strength of this bond doubles when this is also true spiritually speaking.
Arguably, this truth is on display the most when teams go on mission together. The XC/TF team has done this annually over the past 8 years and this winter break was no exception. The day after New Year’s, the group of student-athletes and coaches left the comfort of their homes early to set off for the Dominican Republic. Over the span of 8 days, they partnered with Manna Global in the cities of Santiago and Bobita. This included work with the Manna graduates, serving together in the Santiago and Bobita communities. This is the same ministry that the team served alongside with last year, and it is a relationship that they hope to continue long-term, for the benefit of both parties.
To hear first hand from a couple of the athletes that went on this trip, I caught up with junior track members Katie Bianchini and Abby Newby to get a more in-depth look on their thoughts about the trip:
Question: What were your expectations going into the trip? In hindsight, how did God work in these expectations?
Abby: When I first decided that this trip was something God wanted me to be a part of, my biggest concern was the language barrier. I don’t speak any Spanish which is the primary language in the Dominican. Luckily, the group of students that we were working with from Manna knew English very well. This only helped a little when connecting with people outside of the students, but over the course of the week it got easier, and I even started to pick up on some Spanish. I also was anticipating learning a lot culturally and spiritually from the people in the Dominican, which did occur, but what I wasn’t anticipating was the deep fellowship I experienced serving along side the students from the Dominican. It is the kind of fellowship only experienced when communing around Christ.
Katie: I expected the trip to be very similar to last year even though that was kind of a ridiculous thought being that we went with a totally different team to do totally different activities. I thought I would have the same overall feeling toward the trip, though. When people think of mission trips, they often count “success” in the number of material tasks they can complete like painting houses, handing out care packages, and cleaning out old rooms. While we did each of these activities on the trip–and each influence me in a different way–God’s real work in my life on the trip came when I was unable to do anything at all. Throughout my life, God has spoken to me by forcing me to face my biggest worries. My main concern on each of the three mission trips I’ve taken has been health. Would I go far away from home, to a different country, and find myself extremely uncomfortable with some unknown illness? Well, on this trip that’s exactly what happened. Beach day quickly turned into bed day for me as I lay in the sand fighting stomach pain. Soon, our trip leader, Glenn, took me back to camp down a bumpy-country-Dominican road. Meanwhile, he spoke to my friend, Brooke, and I about the possibility of returning to intern in the DR this summer. Staying in the DR for a longer period of time has been on my heart since last year when we went on the mission trip. I listened as intently as I could as I combatted sharp pains with each pothole in the road. The more I wanted to say “yes, of course I’ll come back here as an intern,” the more nauseated I felt. Glenn asked if we had any questions and I could not speak or even open my eyes. I kept praying over and over, “God, give me peace, give me peace.”
I had been thinking at the beach that I just wanted to go home, but my attitude totally changed as I prayed those words. I opened my eyes and saw the beautiful, green landscape with the sun peeking through the trees and an overwhelming peace washed over me. I tried again: “I feel terrible right now…but that doesn’t change how I feel about serving here. I want to come back for sure.” With that said, I doubled over in some type of spasm, completely unable to speak again. After a few moments like that, I felt almost completely fine. I sat up; I was able to talk normally; I had zero stomach pain; my eyes no longer felt heavy with exhaustion. It was incredible. Although I did fall back into sickness that night, fighting a high fever, I felt peaceful the entire time. I slept soundly and when I awakened, I was fully recovered! I had never experienced spiritual warfare before but I believe that’s exactly what that illness was: satan trying to pull me away from loving God’s work in the DR by using my biggest fear. But instead, I’m overflowing with joy, peace, and trust in the Lord, knowing that I want to return this summer for two weeks or more.
The next day I found Proverbs 16:9 in our devotional guide…
“In his heart, a man plans his course, but the Lord determines his steps”
which perfectly applies to the trip for me. I went in never planning for sickness and hoping with all my heart against it, but God had a different plan in mind. I would repeat that illness on every mission trip from here out if it meant all the other incredible experiences I and my team had could happen!
Question: How does going on a mission trip with your teammates affect your bond both on the track and off?
Katie: As a track team, we often see each other at our worst: sweaty, pain-faces on as we run, and tired. However, traveling to another country for totally different activities as a team provides a really unique opportunity to learn and grow together beyond the way we usually see each other.
Question: How does running for a team that seeks to serve and glorify God first affect your mentality towards the sport and training/racing in general?
Abby: Going on these mission trips is always a good reminder of how little track means in the grand scheme of God’s plans. In my own athletic career, God has opened doors to be able to run at this level, but it is only worth participating in when it is being orchestrated by His will. It is easy to lose sight of this in an activity that is so competitive and often times self-glorifying. That is why I am grateful for a team that gives us opportunities to put God first in order to remind ourselves of what this life is really about, loving God and His people.
Katie: I think Eric Liddell sums up running for the glory of God best when he says,
“I believe God made me for a purpose, but he also made me fast. And when I run I feel His pleasure.”
God has used running to take me many places throughout my life—including here to Lipscomb a few years ago. He’s also used running—or running injuries, rather—to teach me that life isn’t all about running. What I mean by that is it’s easy to get too caught up in the sport when we spend so much time on it daily, but I know we are called to share His word and His light through this crazy sport we do. As a team, we want conference, regional, and national successes—all things we can use to show His power in our lives.
In Spiritual Formation, we believe that the platform of sports acts as a bridge to connect people, and once relationships are established, the love and grace of Jesus has the power to change lives. Lipscomb XC/TF mission team spent 8 days in the DR serving people in need through helping re-hab their living spaces, and loving on children. God utilized the 8 days to re-hab hearts and perspective. If you would like to read more about Manna Global and their mission, check out the website at Manna Global Ministries. To learn more about Lipscomb Track & Field click to visit their website.
Written By Alex Newby, Lipscomb Spiritual Formation Grad-Student, XC/TF alumni.
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