Shots Heard Around the World

What do you get when you combine a passion for kids to know Christ, a vision for international ministry and a group of people skilled in basketball? A Young Life Hoops Tour; a powerful tool used to open doors for ministry and to bring the love of Christ to kids in other countries. Talk about a way to get the ball rolling …

Chaz Fritz, longtime "Young Lifer" and a committee member in Fort Myers, Fla., played collegiate basketball for the University of Florida. After going on tour in Europe with Athletes in Action, and raising a family that loves the game, he began to dream about starting basketball tours through Young Life. As a result of his vision and efforts, the first Hoops group headed to Australia in 1971.

Fritz could not have known just how big of an impact his dream would have. The Lord used his group of high school and college students to start what is now Young Life ministry in Australia.

Now, more than 30 years later, Hoops Tours are a strategic tool used to generate energy and excitement in the local Young Life areas of the countries they visit. They create community awareness of Young Life and provide avenues to reach new kids. Hoops Tours also offer training for committee and staff through seminars held during the group’s stay.

Scoring big
In June of 2006, a group of 29 young adults and leaders went back to Australia and, this time, to New Zealand as well. They spent 28 days touring most of the countries’ Young Life areas. Bill Loy, metro director in Fort Myers, Fla., led the group. His second time facilitating a trip, Loy reflected on his experience. “Basketball opened a lot of doors that wouldn’t have otherwise been there,” Loy said.

During the days, players and staff conducted basketball clinics for kids in kindergarten through grade 12 at various schools. More than 2,200 students in 20 different schools interacted with the U.S. group. During clinics, every student involved was called by name and acknowledged in some way by a Young Life representative. At the end of each clinic, they held a cultural question and answer session, an opportunity often allowing them to share their testimonies and stories of why they were there. In the evenings, the group played exhibition games and had similar opportunities to share with others through conversation. They also ran weekend camps, participated in clubs and met for spiritual development and worship.

In one particular area, Brisbane, Ipswich, Loy’s group held Young Life club for the first time. "We had 75-80 kids show up," Loy said. "Even though kids are more reserved 'Down Under,' typically not wanting attention drawn to them, these students were wild and crazy by the third song. It was awesome."

Club and weekend camps gave kids the chance to be kids. Through laughing, singing and playing with their new American friends, kids’ hearts were softened and opened to the message of Christ’s love.

Kids in Australia and New Zealand weren't the only ones who gleaned new ways of thinking from the tour. "Kids from the United States gained a greater appreciation for the impact relationships have in ministry," Loy said. "They came away with a better understanding of incarnational ministry and of how powerful sharing the love of Christ through genuine relationships can be."

Local area staff and volunteers were energized and refreshed by the time they shared with the tour group. "Ministry is difficult in Australia and New Zealand, they face different challenges than we do in the United States," Loy said.

More than a game
Basketball is considered very important, even prestigious, in many countries and creates common ground for relationships. The game can open doors all over the world, even in Africa.

In June 2007, a group of high school and college students conducted a Hoops Tour in Dar es Salaam and Zanzibar, Tanzania. As he did during prior trips, Bill Loy led the team. Much like the groups who traveled to Australia and New Zealand, these young adults ran clinics, held weekend camps, participated in club and played in exhibition games.

But, things were a bit different this time. They also worked alongside the Tanzania Olympic Basketball team, attended a major press conference and were hosted by the country's president. At the request of the Tanzanians, this group included a drill/dance team who also conducted clinics.

The tour was jointly organized by Young Life Tanzania, the Tanzania Olympic Committee, the Basketball Federation and Basketball Dar es Salaam. Tanzanians hoped the tour would provide opportunity to strengthen and encourage existing relations between Tanzanian and American youth, as well as increase the popularity of the game in Africa.

Young Life staff and volunteers prayed the tour would build relationships and open doors at every school in the country so that every kid in Tanzania would have the chance to experience God’s love for them. God answered
those prayers.

He built deep relationships that both players and kids learned from. Several kids made commitments to Christ while others began asking important questions about the character of God. Hoops team members were stretched in their faith. Tanner Fritz, a player on the team, said, "I will remember the intimacy that I experienced on a daily basis with the Tanzanians who continuously wanted to dwell in the midst of our group. My faith was challenged by the joyful character of the Tanzanians despite the conditions they live in."

Another player, Brett Fritz, shared, "This trip challenged my faith by showing me that love truly covers all pain. So many people we came in contact with had suffered much pain in their life. By expressing our love, you could see the pain melt away. This has encouraged me to show more love to those I come in contact with back in the States."

God opened doors by pouring out a fresh, contagious excitement for the game of basketball. In Zanzibar, an area of the country that is 98 percent Muslim, four schools have been opened to Young Life by the Tanzanian president. Young Life has tried to break into this area for more than 20 years. God used two to three days of basketball to open the door.

Steve Larmey, Young Life Africa regional director, said, "The tour laid groundwork in publicity and exposure that would have taken us more than four years to accomplish."

The group was on the front sports page of the newspaper and featured on the nightly news daily. "God used us to give the local staff great exposure and to set them up for the future," said Alan Back, another member of
the team.

God also used the Tanzanians to inspire the U.S. team. "The greatest impression upon me was the passion of the Tanzanian Young Life staff and volunteers, who continuously gave of themselves in an effort to be Christ in the community," Tanner Fritz said. "They have such a heart for the rest of their country!" Ashley Fann, another player, said, "I loved working with the Young Life staff in Tanzania. They are the perfect reflection of what Young Life is all about and showed that through their service to us and the kids there."

During the team's time in Africa, kids were reached for Christ, local staff and volunteers were energized and roads were paved for future ministry in new areas. Hoops Tours are being planned for next summer, possibly in Uganda and Kenya, and in Australia. And these past tours have shown that basketball can be about more than making baskets and scoring points. It's definitely a strategic game, especially when it is played for the kingdom.