Pioneers take Gospel and basketball to Poland, Lithuania

The Wayland Baptist University Pioneers basketball team took some time out this summer to spread the gospel and the good news of basketball to people in Lithuania and Poland.

Five members of the Pioneers team, Danny Storey, Michal Polanowski, Zach TeGrotenhuis, Lee Berend and Jason Griffin, along with head coach Robert Davenport and assistant coach Quinn Wooldridge, spent the first half of the summer working odd jobs around the community in order to raise money for the trip. With the money raised and the generous donations of people in the community, the Pioneers were able to travel to Europe where they held a week-long basketball camp in Vilnius, Lithuania, the last week of July.

The Pioneers were working with Athletes in Action. The group usually runs two camps in Vilnius each summer. What made the Wayland camp different, however, was that team members accompanied the coaches and worked the camps. Generally, it is usually only coaches who attend the camps.

“We kind of personalized the camp for the kids because our players were there,” Davenport said.

It took the group a little time to adjust to Lithuania’s long summer days. The sun comes up at about 4:30 a.m. and sets around 10:30 p.m. The group reached Vilnius around 11 p.m. on a Sunday night and started the camp at 10 a.m. Monday morning. Davenport said the time difference and jet lag took its toll on the group, but they managed to adjust.

The Pioneers spent several days with the campers teaching them the fundamentals of basketball and sharing their testimonies. Most of the kids spoke fluent English and the ones who didn’t knew enough English to communicate.

“It was really neat to watch the relationships between those kids and our kids,” Davenport said. “It’s just like our camps here, the kids get attached to them. There were about 35 kids in the camp and probably half of them asked us to come back next year.”

After leaving Lithuania, the Pioneers headed to Konin, Poland, hometown of 6-10 junior Michal Polanowski. Davenport said the reception Polanowski received was amazing.

“Little did we know that Mike is a legend in his hometown,” Davenport said. “It is a city of about 100,000 people. Mike is the real deal there. We all thought that was pretty neat, and we gave Mike a hard time about it.”

While the Pioneers enjoyed site seeing and the mountains of food prepared by Polanowski’s parents, Mike was busy conducting newspaper and television interviews with the local media. At one point, Polanowski gave his testimony in Polish for a video that will by used by Athletes in Action throughout Poland.

“It was kind of neat to see things like that,” Davenport said. “We see Mike every day, and Mike is a great guy and does good things, but back in his home country, it’s amazing how big he is and how much of an influence he can really have.”

Davenport said the Pioneers were originally supposed to do more with the Athletes in Action group in Poland, but due to scheduling they weren’t able. However, he said the trip was very successful and he hopes they were able to plant seeds of faith with some of the kids they came in contact with.

“We were able to share the gospel with some kids who may or may not have been able to hear it before,” he said. “The Athletes in Action staff in Lithuania works daily with those kids and will have to follow up with them.”