I love receiving Christmas cards with letters of family updates and reflections on what God is teaching others throughout the seasons. Perspective plays such a crucial role in our understanding and experience of life, and stepping back to gain a broader view is of great value. We are programmed to tend to the immediate and the urgent, when really the consistent and the important are the necessary anchors. This is why God calls us to remember. Here is a look back over our 2021.
In the Nations
Sports Friends workers continue to pour the love of God into families and communities that suffer from economic, relational, and spiritual poverty. The passion of the Spirit to reach everyone everywhere with the good news that God longs to draw them close and that Jesus has opened the way drives our leaders and coaches to press in and press on. Relief work is ongoing. Expansion is picking up speed across North and South America, Asia, Africa, and Europe. The last two years have redefined society and social geography with pandemic, poverty, persecution, and power struggle. Sports Friends accepted this as opportunity to feed the hungry, welcome the refugee, encourage the lonely and bring hope into the darkest places… and now we are doing so in five additional nations.
This is what Jesus does in response to the suffering and sin of the world. He shows up with mercy, compassion, presence, help, and hope. He shows up with packages of food and bars of soap, a family and a friend, an invitation to play ball, the promise that He is with us to the very end. He is there for it all, in it all.
Covid continues to wrack all nations. I, Mary, still play a part-time clinical role to help shoulder the burden on local urgent care/ER. Burnout among both international mission workers and domestic healthcare workers is very high. It’s difficult to watch. I always want to be able to do more than I can, and often think of Jesus’s reminder to His disciples that the [sick] will always be with you, and we have to guard time “off” to deeply be with Him.
In the Office
In 2002 a finance guru from Charlotte and a skilled soccer coach, both passionate to spend their lives on the assignment God would give them, moved their families to Ethiopia to begin something new. They cast vision among Ethiopian churches according to the Biblical model of the church impacting its local community to the ends of the earth. They also knew the influence of good coaches on young people and saw how kids everywhere flocked toward a soccer ball. God blessed and empowered the humble leadership, undeterred faith, and diligent labor of these men and the many He called to join them. This same model of church-centered sports ministry is now at work in 11,600 local churches and church planting sites. There are more than 13,200 volunteer coaches currently engaged with young people in their communities… and the refugee camps, prisons, restricted access locations, and schools God has given them to serve.
This year marks the 20th anniversary of the Sports Friends ministry. As part of the communications team, we are creating a publication to tell this story, and we hope you will celebrate with us as it is released this spring. Again, to maintain perspective we must commit to remembering and rejoicing over what God has done and is doing, especially when it’s beyond our immediate point of view. The incredible numbers in these reports reflect His vastness and sovereignty, but each individual life tells the story of the humble intimacy of Jesus.
As the ministry expands to new nations and new depths, there is always increasing work for the international support team. Thank you so much for allowing us to fill our roles and continue to equip and encourage the church around the world. We are truly a Body all working together for all to hear.
There is also heavy work of learning going on in our home office. Mary continues full-time graduate studies in Psychology through Regent University online, working towards a PhD in trauma and crisis response. What all God intends to do with this remains to be seen, but the direction is clear. Just as in medical studies, creation tells of the Creator, the fall, the redemptive work of God within the psychological realm. And once again, from the complexity of a neuron’s firing to the effect of social situations on decision-making, if science teaches us anything, it is how little we really know about anything. There is always infinitely more. We are wise to stay small in our own eyes, learn (from reliable sources) continually, and ever look to the Author.
On the Home front
2021 was an eventful year for the Fichtinger family! Here’s the quick recap:
Habiba turned 21 and spent her first year on her own! She has an apartment in Charlotte with three roommates, works in a cafe, and is beginning pursuit of a dental hygiene degree. She is so courageous, creative, and kind.
Fetya turned 18, worked hard to finished high school early, and moved in with a friend to begin her pursuit of independent young adulthood. She is smart as a whip, driven to succeed, and a woman of influence.
The boys are still at Providence Classical School. They all played middle school soccer last fall, participate in extracurricular activities, are engaged in church/youth group activities, and love being with friends.
Samuel (almost 14, 8th grade) is an intelligent and introverted thinker; he’s a great friend, fights for moments of solitude, and is a servant leader (he was team co-captain and won defensive player of the year for the soccer team… his brothers even voted for him).
Abe (13, 7th grade) remembers every name, date, or story he hears, loves to laugh (and make others laugh), and is a delightful blend of growing character and goofy giggles. He is ridiculously social and can talk with people of all ages about most anything.
Eli (11, 6th grade) loves relationship and playing games; he is incredibly creative with lego architecture, marker art, and story lines enacted with action figures or neighbor kids. He raked leaves around the neighborhood to buy himself a punching bag on Black Friday, and declared he wants to be either a professional boxer, an NFL player, or a teacher.
Anna is 4 and began kindergarten early (also at PCS). She seems to be a blend of all the others; she carries great courage, assertive zeal, a sharp mind, constant drive for social interaction, and a wild imagination. On any given day she may be a cat/dog/penguin/rabbit/tiger, a ballerina, a warrior, any Disney princess, a doctor/vet, teacher, mother, or singer/dancer. But she is always fancy, always an artist, always wants to give a live unicorn as the perfect gift for anyone, and is always in charge of her world.
Shiloh, (a golden retriever) was our new addition in May. We adore her but are glad she’s outgrowing many puppy behaviors. She is training toward therapy dog certification. She already is a comfort and companion within our home, and encourages many in public (people love her and she loves them back).
Whatever comes in 2022, may you seek and find the presence of God with you, draw deeply from His grace, and carry the peace and power of Christ for each moment on earth as it is known in Heaven.