This is an excerpt from my journal during a recent trip to Kiev, Ukraine and Tblisi, Georgia to train sports chaplains and to make new friends toward that end in Georgia. I hope it encourages you. This form of ministry is growing all around the globe.
On 15 June, two of our FCA Midwest Region staff teammates, six coaches from the Metro-East area of St. Louis, and I returned from a tremendous trip to Ukraine. We served with our FCA Ukraine colleagues, their coaches, and Ukrainian athletes of several sports in multiple communities around Kiev and Rivne, Ukraine.
Saturday June 4, 2016
After hosting Friday evening and Saturday morning’s Saluki Football Coaching Clinic in Carbondale, I drove to the Williamson County Airport, checked in and boarded the plane to St. Louis. The Cape Air pilots somehow got our plane stuck in the mud before we even made it to the runway. The plane was grounded, and our flight was cancelled.
After learning of Cape Air’s plan to arrange for a bus to drive us to St. Louis and the hours involved, I drove rapidly to STL. Along the way, I encountered 5 mph traffic for miles on I-64 due to a wreck. I was, ironically, relieved to receive a couple of text messages from American Airlines that my flight from STL to Charlotte was delayed. I made it to long-term parking, checked in and through security quickly. The flight was delayed 1 hour. I had an easy flight in first class due to an upgrade, for which I was very thankful.
Upon arrival in Charlotte, I ran through the terminal from concourse to concourse to catch my connection to Barcelona. It was boarding as I arrived at the gate. It was a rather uneventful flight across the pond with around 6 hours of sleep. My late departure from CLT made connecting in BCN rather tight.
Sunday June 5.
I went through passport control, twice + security. I found favor with a border police officer and jumped to the front of the passport control line as my flight was scheduled to be boarding. I ran to the gate and then waited for a delayed departure to Kiev. The flight was easy and we had a smooth flight to KBP, arriving almost on time. I had an easy transition through immigration and baggage claim. No customs. Andriy, Oleg, and Nikita picked me up and we had dinner at a SOCAR gas station (trust me, it’s good). We then went to Andriy and Lindsay's home, greeted everyone and then went to bed around 10:00 pm.
Monday June 6.
I slept well overnight in Andriy’s home office. I hung out with the kids, had breakfast, and prepared in the morning hours. The FCA Chaplains School with about 35 participants started at 11:00 at a wonderful facility owned by a local church. I presented session 1, Oleg did session 2. That night Ruslan Muts hosted a talk show (panel discussion) with 3 area coaches re: the value of sport chaplains. It was very good. I got to bed at 11:00 pm.
Tuesday June 7.
I did not sleep as well last night. We loaded up early and went to Chaplains School for 8:00 devotions and breakfast. I presented sessions 1b and 3, and Oleg did session 4. We enjoyed lots of fellowship and networking after dinner. I got to bed at 11:00 pm again.
Wednesday June 8.
I slept well. I was up to shower at 6:00. I did my daily devotional reading and packing for tonight’s trip to Georgia. We were out the door at 7:30, got a double Americano, and went to the facility for devotions and breakfast. I taught sessions 5 and 6, and then Ruslan and Oleg wrapped up the conference. They sang "Happy birthday" to me, and the whole group prayed for me. We then had lunch as I enjoyed a long talk with Dr. Che.
After lunch I had a good chat with Ira Bedrai as we waited for the St. Louis FCA team to arrive from the airport. I greeted them, we had a meeting to introduce people and to orient them. We divided people and sporting gear into a couple of vans. The Rivne team left, and the Kiev team stayed. Andriy and I picked up Oleg and we drove to the Kiev airport.
As we were checking in we were informed that the flight was oversold and we needed to talk to the people at the rebooking counter. As we stood there, a supervisor, a lady about 45 years old, looked me in the eye, I smiled and said hello in Russian. She asked if we were booked to Tblisi and I said yes. She said, “I have compensation for you.” She walked us through the rebooking, ground transportation, and the cash compensation. Our flight was changed to Kutsaisi, Georgia and we were to arrive at 11:30 pm. 250 euro (7,092 grivne) compensation was paid to us for the inconvenience.
Thursday June 9.
That went as planned and then we rode about 4 hours, partly in a small car and at 2:30 am we transferred to a van to Tblisi. At 3:41 am we arrived at a coffee shop where, were to meet our friend from Tblisi. Valeri picked us up at 3:45. Around 4:00 am we arrived at the place where we would stay the night (morning), and both Oleg and Valeri thought it appropriate that on the early morning of my 60th birthday, I would reside in a retirement home.
We were up at 9:30. I took a G.I. shower, had breakfast at 10:00, and it was wonderful. WE chatted with Valeri about sports ministry, loaded the van for a 90+ minute (30 kilometers) drive up horrible mountain roads for a service with his church family of around 30 people on the Day of Ascension. We prayed, sang, the bishop read scripture and spoke, then he invited me to speak about the ascension and our ministry. I referenced Luke 24 and the inscription beneath el Picacho in Tegucigalpa, Honduras. We received communion with bread torn from a large flatbread, and a common cup of wine. We sang another song, and then we walked down to the area for a barbecue. A fire was built, a table was set, and I was soon introduced and toasted for my birthday.
During lunch I had some red wine and wonderful cheese as well as delicious cheesbread, cake, and shashlik, pork roasted over the fire like a kabob. Wow. (For the record, I never drink anything alcoholic, but to be a gracious guest in Georgia means to eat and drink whatever is offered. I drank more red wine in two days in Georgia than I had drank in the previous 36 years.)
Due to the persistent rain, we went down the mountain to the very modest church building in Tblisi. They came out with a cake bearing two large candles and sang "Happy birthday." We walked to our van and rode to the oldest church in Georgia (4th century). We rode down to the old capital city and had dinner with friends. This was great food, tomato and cucumber salad, bread, mushrooms with cheese, red wine, espresso. After dinner, 2+ hours of explaining the McCown Sport in Ministry map, in English, translated into Russian, then translated into Georgian.
At 9:00 we took a walk around the church built in the 11th century, and then rode back to our room in the old folks home. I was in bed by 10:15 and eventually was able to sleep.
Friday June 10.
We were up at 7:00. I took a hot shower and shaved. We had breakfast at 8:00, and then we were on the road to Kutsaisi at 8:45. We traveled with Valeri to meetings and we chatted with him more about ministry in sport, en route. We made several stops including one to pick up another local pastor who had info on a former Soviet pioneer camp that is for sale and could make a camp facility. Another stop was to see their present camp site, about 16 km from Kutsaisi. Still another stop was to sign documents with the camp owner at a hotel in Kutsaisi.
We went to Prometheus' Cave outside Kutsaisi. Oleg and I took the tour of the caverns. We then stopped to buy bread as we returned to the camp facility of which Valeri was pleased to give me a guided tour. We had dinner around 6:30 with the collected set of five pastors at the camp, talking about ministry in sport and, sadly, USA politics. I was again toasted for my birthday and dinner was excellent in the finest Georgian tradition. After dinner we relaxed at the camp and used their Wi-Fi to catch up on email and social networking.
Saturday June 11.
At midnight we began the trek back to Tblisi. We dropped the pastor at his home and Sasha in his neighborhood before continuing to the airport. By 4:30 am we were checked in and drinking coffee in the departure hall. It was an easy flight back to Kiev. Vera (Oleg’s wife) picked us up, and we went to breakfast in a French style cafe downtown. We drove to the conference facility to drop me off. I jumped into Coaches Camp already underway. I tried to rest, but could not. After a dinner of Domino’s pizza, we went with the coaches to a jazz concert downtown via subway. We walked to a park area for coffee and sightseeing afterwards. We took the subway home again. Tim Casey lead a team meeting with our STL FCA teammates until 11:30. Then it was off to bed.