Monday, October 18, 2010

Good Sports

Quite a few years ago (I can't even remember when...maybe back in the mid 90's) I spent a week to 10 days in Slovakia with an organization known as Good Sports.  I flew into Vienna, Austria and was driven to Bratislava, Slovakia where Good Sports is based.  We taught baseball skills to young kids who had never held a bat or a glove in their hand before. Of course we shared God's love with them each day (through an interpreter).  What a rewarding experience!

Over 30 years ago while serving as the Baseball Chapel leader for the Toronto Blue Jays I met Tom Johnson, a pitcher for the Minnesota Twins.  Tom was a believer, a follower of Jesus Christ, and we bonded as friends and brothers in the Lord...way back then.

Guess who is heading up Good Sports now?  You're correct!  It's Tom Johnson and his wife Debbie.  How exciting to see what the Lord is doing in the lives of these young people in Slovakia

I've included the latest news from Tom & Debbie Johnson here with this posting on Pilgrim Scribblings.

Tom writes: 

Hello Dear Friends:

What a September this has been!

It began with the insane killing of 7 people plus the gunman.  One of those killed was a 12 year-old boy, Jozef Slezak, whose family was targeted by an enraged neighbor. Jozef often attended GoodSports events, participating in Little League and this summer’s daily camp. He was Roma (Gypsy) and it will never be known what role that played in the killings, but a few days afterwards someone painted a “thank you” note to the killer on the apartment building along with a Nazi salute.

We participated in a candle-light vigil the night of the shooting and the following day gathered many of our kids and volunteers together for a time of processing and prayer.  Members of our group attended a funeral service 10 days after the killing. An old friend David Phillips, joined us and shared some meaningful thoughts about life as the group sat around glasses of Kofola following the service.


We were able to get away for a break a week after the tragedy. We wrestled with the decision to go through with it; but were convinced it was the right thing to do. It was. We returned refreshed and energized, ready for a busy fall season.


The weekend of September 24-26 found forty three young people ages 13 and up back at the campsite in Bojnice. Lots of music, games, sports and campfire/bar-b-q were on the agenda. The weather cooperated until Sunday when our chapel time centered on the senseless killings in Devinska, where violence comes from and how we personally participate in it with our words, attitudes and actions. We took time to reflect on what Jesus’ teaching and life example offer as an answer for violence. We ended our retreat by holding hands and praying for each other.  The weekend was not without challenges as we dealt with rules violations and had to haul Roman off to the hospital at 3:30 am after he fell out of bed hitting his head on the concrete floor. Amnesia and vomiting meant a 24 hour stay in the hospital. He’s ok.


Is taking shape in a somewhat unexpected way....and it’s all good (so far). The new principal has given us a large classroom - next to a back entrance and adjacent to the gym. She has requested only that we pay for utilities. It is being renovated slightly at minimal expense and by paying for paint, are free to cover the walls however we like.  Additional gym time has been granted us (for rental fees) and we have been approved for two official after-school programs.

The fall/winter schedule will look like this:

Sunday:" Teenage Boys and Girls Discipleship Klub (10-12:00) " " Floorball (1-3:30)
Monday: " Tutoring/Games in Youth Center (1:30 - 5:00) " " Gym - official after-school baseball program (3:00 - 4:30)  " " Bible Klub for 10-12 year olds (5:00-6:30)
Tuesday: " Tutoring/Games in Youth Center(1:30 - 5:00) " " Gym - 4:00-5:30
Wednesday: "Tutoring/Games in Youth Center (1:30 - 5:00) " " Gym - official after-school T-ball program (1:30-3:00) " " Bible Klub for 6-9 year olds (4:00-5:30)
" " Gym - 4:30-6:00 " " Adult Bible Study/Discussion (7:00-9:00)
Thursday: " Tutoring/Games in Youth Center (1:30 - 5:00)
Friday and Saturday are off days - except for tournaments and special events.

The “cave,” underground space owned by the Catholic Church, is still in the negotiating stage. The church has opted to extend their renovation project to include all above ground buildings. This has put an indefinite hold on any work on the cave since that space is used for storage of construction materials. However, with the school classroom, we are in a better position to negotiate with the church. Our “need” for space is lessened and the cave would only be needed for special events - concerts, drama, movies, parties.


Many of you are aware that the City of Bratislava Sports Commission awarded the Fighting Flies Baseball Club a grant of 100,000 Euros (135,000 USD) toward the renovation of the playground where GoodSports has a small baseball infield and backstop. One document is awaiting approval by the city of Devinska which will allow the project to go forward. Fall elections may be playing a part in the delay... just don’t know. We remain hopeful that construction will begin this fall and be completed in time for baseball season in the spring.  We aren’t looking to build another Target Field, just a place where kids can play.....sad to think people could be opposed to such a simple positive idea.


God is moving in lives and hearts of adult volunteers in addition to young people. Maja and Dasha have openly testified of their decision to follow Christ this summer. Both explained it as having their eyes opened to things they’ve heard about for years. They attend a new adult Bible study/discussion group each Wednesday at our apartment.  Twenty four year-old Tomas has been living with us for the past two months. He also attends the group, asks good questions, contributes to discussions and is on a journey toward a living faith in Christ. What’s also interesting about Tomas is his desire and availability to help in Devinska. He’s from the Bojnice area, going to school in Bratislava, and has been part of all scheduled (and some unscheduled) activities. The Devinska kids and volunteers have really connected with him. He also is a pitcher for the Fighting Flies Baseball Klub, giving him credibility when coaching baseball. Please pray for Tomas.

Five young adults from the Bojnice area (and this summers camp) are regularly attending a Friday night worship and prayer service. One of them plays in the worship band and also plays drums for Kubo Mello’s “garage band.” Kubo has been attending the Friday night gatherings too, and enjoying it. He is on the same journey as Tomas.

Last month we wrote that a sizable house in Devinska would be a positive addition to the program. Tomas expressed a desire for a dormitory in Devinska so he could be closer to GoodSports activities. There are four people who have had similar interests. Such a place could provide reduced rent in exchange for volunteering as tutors, coaches, leaders with the GoodSports after-school program. In addition, we could offer scheduled spiritual exercises and work duties.

We’ve looked at three houses for rent - the affordable one was gone before we arrived, the other is not an option and the third is being sold (but willing to rent for double what we are paying now - with the understanding that if it sells, we move out). We ask your help as we proceed, prayer, ideas, concerns.....resources.

Two weekly Bible clubs are being offered in cooperation with Child Evangelism and the Javornik family. The Cesta Klub for teenage boys is being joined by one for girls. Meeting on a weekly basis, they are followed by floorball games on Sunday afternoons.


The month of September served as one of those “markers” which confirmed our decision to be here. Through Jozef’s death, new life in Christ, parenting teenagers who make bad choices, counseling people in transition, and even time away we experienced His presence in profound, wonder-filled ways. We are humbled and honored that you choose to partner with us in this part of His Kingdom. Thank you! Praise God!

Serving with joy,

Debbie and Tom

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