“CANNON…CANNON…”

(Highlights Of The Past Year series)

With two minutes left, Ryan says he’ll sit out the rest of the game so we can put Kenny back in.  Kenny had never touched a basketball until December.  He’s short, a little nerdy looking, and had no clue what to do on a basketball court.  My son and I have been working with him this season to give him some confidence.  But he still hadn’t scored a basket.  Actually, he could barely get the ball to the rim.

But these last two minutes are Kenny’s time.  Whatever we need to do, even lose our last game, Kenny was going to get a basket!  We designed a special play just for him called “the Cannon”.  The first few times we ran it, our bench started yelling “CANNON!  CANNON!  CAN…”  The ball came to Kenny…and he missed the pass.  The next time, Justin hands him the ball and Kenny tries dribbling… and dribbles the ball off his foot out of bounds.  Next time down, Blake makes a beautiful pass to a wide open Kenny and – zip – the ball flew right past him.

The whole gym knows what’s going on.  Parents from both teams start yelling “CANNON!  CANNON!”  Kenny misses the pass again.  “CANNON!  CANNON!”  Kenny gets the ball and shoots…and the ball somehow goes behind him.  “CANNON…”  Aaron gets the next rebound, runs the ball down the court, gets it to Kenny, who shoots…there’s a huge sucking in of breath in the gym…and it hits the rim and bounces out!  “NOOooo!  Come on, Kenny!  CANNON!…”

Our team is standing up.  Parents are yelling.  Thirty seconds left.  Nobody’s paying attention to the score.  It’s just pure fourth grade basketball mayhem!  Blake gets the ball, passes it to Justin, who hands it to Kenny who is already facing the basket!  Kenny sets, raises the ball, the defender jumps, giant sucking in of breath, Kenny shoots…

If Kenny makes this basket, who’s happier – the kid who scored his first basket ever?  The crowd cheering on the underdog?  Or two coaches who got to see the kid they have been working with for three months make the biggest shot of his life? 

By the time you read this, we’ll have a team heading to Africa for two weeks.  We’ll be training a thousand believers.  But that’s not nearly as exciting as what happens two weeks after you read this letter.  A thousand people will be back in their villages telling stories.  There will be Muslim families hearing about Jesus.  Many won’t know what to do with this.  They’ll argue, they’ll miss ideas, they’ll have questions, they’ll get confused when what they’ve been told to believe clashes with what they are hearing, and they’ll get restless in their hearts.  But these thousand followers of Jesus will keep “getting them the ball”.  It’s their time.

Do the crowds in heaven watch, cheering the names of people playing in this “game”?  Do they suck in their breath each time a story, a truth, a biblical reality is passed to them, shout “NOOooo” when it’s dropped, and then stand up to cheer them on with even more adrenaline?  How big is God’s grin when it all comes together for that one lost person, that family, and they finally get it? 

We’ll never know what happens in most of these villages until we’re in heaven and can ask people how in the world they ended up here when all the odds were against them.  But we’ll have plenty of time to hear the story.

And you can ask Kenny what happened in the last thirty seconds of our game, too.

Basics

(Highlights From the Past Year series)

My oldest son and I are coaching a fourth grade basketball team this year.  Some of the kids have never touched a basketball.  We had three practices before our first game.  The first one I was happy that most of the balls hit the backboard.  Layups looked like klutzy ballet moves.  So Brady and I had them work on footwork.  Then passing.  Then defense.  “Coach, when are we going to shoot the ball?”  Learn to dribble first.  “Coach, when are we going to scrimmage?”  Learn to pass first.  “Coach, when are we…”

At the third practice, we had them work on two things only.  When you’re on defense, keep your hands up!  When you’re on offense, spread out!  (There’s a herd effect in games, where the basketball has this sudden mysterious magnetism that pulls on the eyelets of basketball shoes and draws ten kids into a five foot square area and then causes everybody to yell, “Pass it to me!” even though they’re only six inches apart.) 

The guys didn’t like that practice.

In our first game, guess what?  We led at halftime 28-0.  It wasn’t that we were better.  It was that the guys were doing the simple things well.  All our points came because guys were spread out and passed on offense and we stole the ball on defense.

Recently I was thinking back over the past year and all the trips and training that took place.  (Hence this Highlights Of The Year series of catch up blogs!) There’s a human urge in almost anything we do to do more, better, faster, and with a bigger splash.  But I really am a believer in simple things done well.  This past year, we’ve been praying and going off the beaten path to difficult places to teach believers who are persecuted for their faith how to…tell stories?  There’s a human desire to say, “Coach God, when can we do something bigger and cooler and sounds more spiritually deep than telling stories?”  Learn the basics first.  They are important…

336In an Asian country, seven people we trained last summer went to a remote jungle village.  For two days they shared stories in the village.  Twenty-eight Buddhists accepted Christ.

In a west African country, a group from a church that went through a one day training shared parts of the Gospel of Luke through stories.  Twenty-six Muslim men stood up to say they believed what they were hearing to be true about Jesus.

From a group in Asia along a closed border that we visited, I got an email.  “The brothers are seeing more fruit than we have seen in a long time.  When can you return and teach somewhere else?”

One friend asked me last month, “How do you make the ministry better this next year?”  There are plenty of things that can be improved, but we won’t lose this perspective – do the simple things well.

All-nighter in Africa

Benin is the birthplace of voodoo.  The voodoo that is in Haiti and New Orleans can be traced to Africans brought from Benin as slaves.  Today it is still very active.  Many houses have small altars at their doorways to make small chicken sacrifices or egg offerings.  In Ouida there is a small round building with one hundred pythons that are worshiped and attended to by priests.  Once a week the doors are opened up so that the snakes can roam the village at night to feed before they return on their own to their home.  In one village nearby there is a pile of human heads from ritual sacrifices.  Voodoo is very alive.

Ode is a believer in one of these villages.  He came to the first day of training on how to use stories for evangelism in his village.  The first night we gave them “homework” to go share one of the Bible stories we had done.  But the second day Ode didn’t show up.  On the third day, he came apologizing for being absent.

“I was walking to my village along the ocean. I saw some of my friends working on nets.  They asked where I had been, why I had not gone out today.  I told them the story [of the demon possessed man].  I was asking questions, but some people came and I had to tell it again.  Then they got some friends and I had to tell it again.  So we sat on the beach talking about it.  Then they asked if I had another story.  I told them the paralyzed man.

 One of the older men said to me, ‘Why haven’t you shared this with us before!  I am very upset with you.’  They stayed until the morning.  Then they went home and I fell asleep on the beach.  That is why I didn’t make it yesterday.”