I (Ian) truly enjoy playing sports, especially basketball. When we first moved to Augsburg, Germany, we had so many details to take care of to get our family set up in the German community that I just had not had the opportunity to pursue any sporting activities or find an outlet to play basketball.
One evening during a conversation with a friend, he asked about my experience with basketball and whether or not I would ever play again. I replied, "I'd love to use it! I think it can be an effective way to meet men and build relationships." I mentioned that I didn't have the time right then to investigate options in Augsburg, but at some point I would eventually start the process."
My friend knew nothing of basketball or about the different sports clubs in Ausgsburg, but he did know a man who helped in a small youth club that offered various sports. He decided to contact him. As a result of that contact I got connected with a coach of one of the top clubs in Augsburg. One Friday afternoon he called and invited me to play basketball with a bunch of men that Friday night. I was excited about the opportunity to finally get some exercise and meet some people in the close-knit basketball community, but that was really all I was thinking about—the possibility that it might open doors for conversations about spiritual issues never crossed my mind.
There were 14 or 15 guys there and we finished playing around 10 pm. I thought it was late so I walked to the side of this tiny gym to get my bag of clothes and change my shoes. As I sat down on the floor against the wall, I noticed the other men congregating near a long bench on the sideline and a few other men moving another bench so that it would directly face the first. I was curious so I kept watching to see what would happen next. A few guys disappeared into a back room without their gym bags and returned with German versions of coolers. Yep!! It was after 10 pm, we were completely sweaty and tired and they had coolers full of cold beer! Quite normal for Bavaria.
I was then directed to get off the floor and come over to the benches to sit with them. As the night progressed, we got into some interesting conversations, half of which I could not yet understand. Of course, they had to ask the "outsider" where I was from and what was I doing in Augsburg. (The answer to this question has been tricky ever since we lived in Roswell, Georgia, and were preparing to move to Europe to do mission work. The answer is not typically short and always elicits some sort of response). So I tried to answer in a way that wouldn't put me in a negative light with these guys. I gave the easy answer and said that I was here to learn German—"Deutsch Lernen." Well, this, of course, was not acceptable; they wanted more details. I viewed this as an open door and proceeded to tell them in more detail about why we are here.
As the others heard snatches of my answer, they gradually stopped talking and started listening. My answer completely redirected the course of conversation. We talked into the night. At one point, one of the gentleman responded to a semi-skeptical question about my presence here in Germany with the following: "I find it interesting that we've been meeting on Friday nights for 15 years and have never once mentioned church and then this man we don't know (me) comes one time and we have been discussing the church and why none of us go to church for the past two hours!" Most of the men grunted in agreement and then sipped on their beer. Later, the guy who invited me in the first place mentioned to me that he believes in God, he just doesn't trust or feel he needs to go to church. He appreciates the role the church plays in helping South Americans or Africans, but he doesn't feel church plays any practical role in his daily life. He gets all the community he needs with these men and this basketball club. Before the night ended he invited my family and me to take part in their club's annual celebration the following day where they play soccer and have a barbecue.
The beer drinking tapered off and everyone was ready to call it a night. It was 1 am. As I was heading home my mind raced through all the events of the night and I was completely blown away with how this night ended. I was so grateful for the opportunity to be there and also to be invited into this close circle of men not only for basketball, soccer and a cookout, but for meaningful discussions too. Through various dialogues I got the feeling that this was their "small group," the circle of friends with which they '"do life together." Now I don't know how deep or meaningful the conversations are for these guys and it will take me a while to learn and understand fully (remember Deutsch Lernen), but I was totally reminded of how our heavenly Father created us for community and that we will seek it out in some capacity or another without even realizing it until this need gets filled. I was reminded that we need and long for others in our life to share our joys and pains. What a great opportunity I was given to experience this—an open invitation to join their circle of friends even though I'm an outsider! – Ian
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