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Updates

UKRAINE

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CLICK HERE for the photo album.

Team members are:

Pictured L-R: Jason Phillips, Mark Wible (leader), Jesse Harden, Jacob Neubert, and Blake Harden

Not Pictured: Tyler Baker and Caleb Meyer-Hagan

Friday, June 2

Jason shared the update for today's camp once they were in Kiev at the end of the day.

On the last day of camp, it didn't take long for things to get interesting. Within 15 minutes of opening the doors, the girls we had registered show up, plus some. We had one team of 13 girls, another team of 12 girls, 2 girls with the small boys, and 5 more boys showed up. We ended up getting to our registered number of 42; that's for sure!

I saw that as children continued to be added, the coaches reacted with level heads and a good team effort to get kids put on the teams and ready to go.

Caleb did a wonderful job handling 12 new girls dropped on him on the spur of the moment.

The relationship between the youth and Masha continues to flourish. She had an opportunity to hear some boys talking about how many times each one of the coaches encouraged them and how that meant something. She was the translator for Caleb's group of 12 new girls. One of the girls in this group wanted to text Masha with 5 questions she wanted to talk about.

It was great to see the hosts and their team connect with the community and the school. Masha and Kolya had a 15 minute discussion with the principal and PE teacher about how impressed they were with the camp and that our hosts could bring something like this to Borodyanka.

Jesse mentioned that it is amazing to look into the eyes of these children when you encourage them. They really soak up each and every look, gesture, and kind word directed toward them. You can see it in their eyes that it means the world to them.

Jesse had an opportunity to talk with a mom who dropped off her son yesterday during morning camp team time. He was concerned that she didn't show back up in the afternoon, but was relieved to see that the mom and her son did show back up today.

Jacob said he asked some of his older boys today what their favorite part of camp was, expecting them to say something about basketball. They said it was the conversations they were able to have with him.

With resources being stretched thin and numbers multiplying so quickly, we were short basketballs. There was a situation where a young girl was having to air dribble a ball and a boy saw this and brought his ball to her and let her use it. We continue to see the culture of these children change right before our eyes.

Along those same lines, there was a young girl who was missing a certificate and for a moment, Caleb was unable to locate one for her. While he was searching, he saw her upset and talking with her friends. When he found one for her, her face lit up.

At debrief time tonight, everyone agreed that the week went by so quickly. As we stopped and remembered this small community, we realized how impacted we were individually and as a team. We will definitely feel an attachment to the people, especially the children, of Borodyanka.

Thursday, June 1

I was invited in on the debrief via FaceTime this afternoon and got to hear firsthand reports of the day. It was sweet.

Jason did a great job leading the morning and afternoon camps. All the coaches and translators affirmed his ability to lead, although they did smile when he put a new spin on a couple of drills.

This camp started out with 18 kids, making 3 teams, which means coaches could double up. Blake had the only girl in the camp and that made their team time conversations so easy.

In the afternoon, there were 28 campers, 17 of which were repeats from earlier camps this week. Nine of these were girls. One thing that was mentioned early in the debrief was that the repeat girls schooled the boys in shooting! It was fun to see. Jason had the coaches compete in bang ‘em and the kids loved it.

Today was Day of the Child in Ukraine, and many of the 42 signed up for this camp attended the local festival. Many girls who came in the afternoon had henna tattoos of flowers on their faces.

The translators noted that the campers who were repeats were even more open than before. They also noticed how the kids had improved since the beginning of the week, not only in their skills but in their behavior towards one another. On Monday and Tuesday, when one would miss the shot, they’d be disappointed, but by today, their teammates would cheer them on and clap for them when they did well. On Monday kids were running after their own balls, and now they are giving their balls to the player on the clock and running after the player’s stray ball. They’ve become more aware of each other and act like a team.

Jesse had one mom sit in on small group and she shared openly. Jesse told her that he and his family had moved into a poor community so they could help those in need. She was impressed that someone would do that. Jesse was able to share his heart for others.

The coaching team wanted to honor the cleaning staff today and called them out to present them with a basketball and say thank you for their hard work. Three of the 4 came out and were so excited. Not 2 minutes later, another lady came out and announced that she was the cleaners’ supervisor and would like a ball too. When the fourth cleaner joined the others and was handed her ball, she jumped up and down and dribbled the ball. It was a sweet sight to see. The kids clapped for them too. It was a good lesson to see those who serve being honored and thanked for their hard work.

Masha shared near the end of debrief how thankful she, the hosts and the translating staff were for us to come to their small city and love on their children. Nothing like this had happened before. They took a leap of faith and it was rewarded.

Tomorrow morning is the last day of the third camp. We ask for those tired bodies to stay strong and press through.

Mark will fly out for Budapest in the morning at 4:15A where he’ll stay for a day to meet with our host for the camp there next month. The team will travel to Kiev tomorrow afternoon after camp. They’ll enjoy dinner, have a final debrief, and get a good night’s rest.

Wednesday, May 31

Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one gets the prize? Run in such a way as to get the prize. Caleb challenged the team with this word today. Run with the aim to win, which means you may have to move out of your comfort zone. Push yourself and train hard.

Both sessions were fantastic, fast-paced, high-energy, last-day camps. The kids were hyped! You could feel the excitement in the air.

Mass ball handling was quick, as well as competitions. The translators ran the totals on the competitions to determine medal winners, so the coaches were without them for a few minutes. The kids were so in tune with the drills that they ran smoothly through stations without instructions from the translators. They played some competitive games at the end, and the kids just went after it! It was decided that losers had to do pushups. The kids just got it. The basketball portion closed with Last Second Hero, a huge hit every time. Several kids made the last second shot and when the coaches embraced them with loud cheers, the smiles on the faces were priceless.

The translators are amazing. They worked so well in tandem with the coaches to communicate seamlessly with the kids. They shared again today their amazement that the kids opened up so quickly to their coaches. They are stoked at the new connections made with the campers this week.

Jason is primed and ready to take on the older kids in camp tomorrow. Several of the current campers have asked if they could go through it again if there’s room in the next camp. So they’ll have a full camp for sure.

Tuesday, May 30

The first camp today had 41 kids, 7 new from yesterday. They were lined up at the gym ready to go when the team arrived, and were excited to show their coaches how they had improved in just one day. Translators even noted how quickly they grew in confidence from one day to the next. The contest scores told the same story; they were noticeably higher than the first day. One youth could hardly wait for camp to be over so he could show his coach how quickly he could solve the Ukrainian Rubik’s cube, which was a short 20 seconds!

The afternoon camp started with 47, but 4 had to leave near the beginning for training. Six new kids wanted to join, but Mark invited them back to the next camp that begins on Thursday so they can have the same 3 sessions as the others.

Today, when a coach would notice a kid doing very well in a certain area, they would point it out to the whole camp. The more the coaches encouraged the kids, the harder the kids tried to do their very best. They started encouraging each other!

Mark led the camps in mass defensive slides and the kids loved it. They caught on well with the defensive 1 on 1 turning. The younger girls nailed the 3-2-1 drill. They outdid everyone else. The afternoon camp loved the 2-2, 3-3 and knock-out. The boys enjoyed it so much that they stayed and played basketball with the coaches for almost an hour and a half after camp was over.

Mark shared that one of the proudest times in camps for him is when he walks by the teams in small groups and hears the coaches talk about life lessons. The coaches are connecting so well with the kids. Today’s discussions were deeper and more open than yesterday as well.

Translators shared again today how surprised they are that the kids are so open to the American coaches. One helper shared that the most heart-warming thing for her is to see the kids leave each day happy, smiling.

Two girls told the leaders that they normally hang out or go to a restaurant after school, but they’ve enjoyed learning basketball so much they’re going to practice each day in the gym to improve on what they’ve learned.

Jason does a fantastic job with the girls. He relates with them as a father would to his daughters, and they love having that fatherly influence. Tyler does a great job with the girls in one camp and the boys in another. He’s the tallest coach and they just love to look up to him. His servant heart was evident from the beginning when he said he would serve wherever he was needed; he came to serve. He does very well instructing the drills too. Caleb does a great job relating to the youngest kids. Their attention span is short, so he’s quick to make changes to keep them engaged. They love to take selfies with him.

Tomorrow is the last day of camps one and two. Jason who will run camp three; Thursday morning, afternoon and Friday morning. He will do a great job behind the whistle keeping everything running smoothly. Mark will leave at 4:15A Friday morning for Budapest, Hungary, where he will connect with the host of our July camp there. He will return to the group late Saturday.

We’re grateful for a healthy team who is enjoying their time together.

Monday, May 29

The team started the day off with a hearty and delicious breakfast of eggs, oatmeal, bacon, crepes and fruit juices. It works well to place the order for the upcoming meal and the time it will need to be ready before they leave the table each time.

The morning camp had 33 kids, a younger group. They were attentive and tried hard to do everything the coaches instructed them to do. Blake had the 8 girls in this camp and did a great job with them. Jacob was the lead demonstrator, and Jesse served as a floater.

The Ukrainian lunch was delicious. They had Borscht soup (beet soup with sausage and sour cream), Salo (pig fat with garlic) spread over bread, potato dumplings and smoked fruit juice. The team had not had smoked fruit juice before and couldn’t get enough of it.

The afternoon camp started with 47 kids, but 3 kids had to leave for training. Jason took the team of 12 girls and did a great job. The Ukrainian girls are precious. They’re so caring and encouraging to one another and make a great team. Jesse is fantastic with the kids too. He’s a constant encourager and loves on the campers so well. These boys were more skilled at basketball, and they worked hard to do the drills. Jacob had the older boys in this camp and enjoyed challenging them to go further with their skills. Mark introduced a new drill to this camp, first time ever, called 1-on-1 turning. The coaches are well experienced and can handle this and other changes on the fly. In fact, of this team of 7 men, 6 were division 1 athletes!

After dinner, the team had a great time of debrief. Today was Masha’s 23rd birthday, and a great time to affirm her in all she does to make things run smoothly. Happy Birthday Masha!

One translator said they’ve done many kids camps before and have never been a part of this kind of camp. It is so organized, and they love the cooperation between the Americans and Ukrainians. Another said they have been in different camps too, but have never seen the kids this open from the start.

One shared that the coaches are mentors to these kids. Many of kids are from single-parent households. The pats on the back and continual words of encouragement are something they may not get anywhere else. They told of one kid who left crying today. When the translator asked the kid why they were crying (were they hurt or sick or upset), the kid said "I've never had that kind of encouragement before. I'm crying because I'm so happy!"

It was an awesome first day of camp. Some coaches enjoyed the pool to close out the day; others just relaxed. The weather is wonderful, 50’s at night, low 70’s during the day.

Thank you for your continued support. When you hear the stories, know you are helping make a difference… one bounce at a time.

Sunday, May 28

The Ukraine team meeting started at noon today, so the team slept in a little which was nice. Mark shared the vision for Hoops for Hope with the host and his team and they were excited to hear about it and be a part of it.

The school where camps will be held is close by. The coaches started airing balls for camp tomorrow and one pump, after inflating maybe 10 balls, spit out the air hose. So one coach continued with the remaining battery-operated pump, one got out the handheld pump, and all the others started airing balls by mouth. They would inflate as far as they could by mouth, then use the other pumps to finish it off. Needless to say, this was a bonding moment for the team.

Debrief was exciting. They met 2 more translators who arrived by train today. Everyone is ready for the camps to begin tomorrow morning.

The weather is just incredible. Evenings are cool, probably in the mid 60’s.

Saturday, May 27

The team has arrived safely in Ukraine! All the luggage arrived as well. The flights were wonderful. The team, now including Tyler who joined them in Munich, walked straight through customs with no problem. Caleb, the last member, joined them there. Masha, one of the translators, met them at the airport and shared with them as they drove the hour and a half to the small city where camps will be held.

She told the team that the kids are REALLY excited about camp. The camp sponsors had hoped to get 80 in registration; they have 130! There are 23-25 year old guys asking to come! Masha explained that something like this has never happened before in their small city of 20,000 people (an American team is bringing basketball) and everyone is excited. She keeps getting phone calls from the kids asking when the camp starts to make sure they haven’t missed it.

When the team arrived at the nice hotel where they’ll stay for the week, there is a wedding going on. There are lots of people dressed up walking around the beautiful grounds.

Masha helped the team get checked in. They enjoyed traditional Hungarian pasta filled with potato for dinner, then headed to bed. Breakfast is at 9, then the team will go to the school in the afternoon to air basketballs and prepare for camps to begin Monday morning.

We are grateful for safe flights and arrivals for all the team members, as well as the luggage. (Caleb had been traveling since Wednesday in order to make this trip work financially). We ask for a good night’s rest for the team, for tired bodies to be restored, for great fellowship with new friends, and for camps beginning on Monday.

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CLICK HERE for the photo album.

FRIDAY MAY 27

Today was a wonderful last day of camps! It was fun, lively, energetic – a great ending to the week.

The team packed the equipment last night and placed all the luggage in one room so they’d be ready for today. They enjoyed their last homemade breakfast there in Svitlovodsk; eggs, toast and fresh strawberries. Then it was off to the gym.

Twenty six returned for this last morning camp. Jason ran mass ball handling today and did a great job! Stations were abbreviated so they could end with some fun new drills.

At the end of this camp, Vova came forward to speak to these young men. He shared that Mark and the team came to teach them to be better basketball players and better people. He was convinced they had done that well. Vova encouraged them to pursue truth just as he is.

Vova also wanted to give something to Mark as Mark and the team had given so much to him and the kids of Svitlovodsk. He wondered what he could give to Mark that would convey his deep love and appreciation for him. After last year’s HFH camp there, Vova’s team went to state and won 3rd place in competitions in their classification in all of Ukraine! That was quite an accomplishment. The mayor of the region honored Vova at a celebration and presented him with an award with the Svitlovodsk seal on it. He thanked Vova for all his hard work. So Vova knew no better way to honor Mark than to give him his award! There was not a dry eye among the coaches, including Mark. He was deeply touched by Vova’s gift.

Lena, Benjamin’s wife, also presented each coach with gifts. She watched them over the week and gave them something appropriate to what she saw in them. Here’s the rundown:

• Andy – a new tube of monkey juice, the cream he had used daily on his aching knees, because he didn’t let his pain slow him down

• Jason – chocolate with a pic of an Ukrainian hero on it, one that reminded her of him as a hero to the kids

• Cody –a bag of German coffee, for his perseverance through the pain… and because he likes coffee

• Trey – green and black tea, for his gift of encouragement to the kids

• Mike – chocolate, because he’s sweet

• Mark – a really really long shoe spoon, because… Well Mark noticed this 2.5’ long shoe spoon in their home and used it every day to put on his shoes. Not once did he tie his shoes. It was a neat gift, even though she told him it was for OLD people, made so they don’t have to bend over to put on their shoes. He’s crazy about it. What more can I say?!

It’s hard to top a sweet finish as this.

They all enjoyed lunch at a typical Ukrainian restaurant. The wait staff dressed in colorful attire – a treat to see. The menu included beef steak, pork chops with candied apples, perogies with chicken or beef, rice and veggies. Perogies filled with cherries were the delectable dessert. It was wonderful.

After their goodbyes, the team traveled to Kiev for the night. Tomorrow they will sightsee with one of the camp translators. It will be a well-earned day of relaxation. They will return to Waco around 5:00P Sunday afternoon.

We are grateful to everyone who partnered with us this week. It was awesome! We couldn’t do this without you.

THURSDAY MAY 26

Breakfast once again was a hit! It was 2 eggs, sausage and fresh strawberries. The team mentioned today that each one of them brought an abundance of snacks as backups, not knowing what the food would be like. The food here has been so plentiful and so good that the snacks are coming back home! Who needs them?!

Today began Camp 3, ages 15-18. This camp is so different from the others. With age comes basketball experience and these guys knew basketball. There were 33 present, which included 2 from Camp 2 who watched from the stands until they found out they could go through camp again. Two of the participants were very tall; one 17 year old was 6’11” and a 16 year old was 6’8”. Their arms were long enough to reach 106” high! That’s practically 9’ high!

Since this group was older and more skilled, typical camp was over more quickly. This afforded the coaches to teach more in depth concepts of defense and fast breaks for the last 35-40 minutes.

Andy stepped up his station by added pitching-and-catching a tennis ball while dribbling. The NBA combine, taught by Mike, was a success. Jason worked them through offensive/post moves. The campers worked really hard improving rebounding moves, taught by Trey. Cody said it was a real joy to help the participants refine the fundamentals of basketball at every station, including his station of shooting.

These older participants were more engaged in team time as well, making it more productive. They were very inquisitive and asked great questions.

After lunch of potato soup and garlic toast, they geared up for the second session. Seven participants had a school program to attend so the afternoon camp had only 26, but a hard-working 26! At the end of this session, they played dribble knockout and had a blast.

Again, the small group questions were great.

The team settled down for the evening after dinner of lasagna and salad, and a cupcake for dessert.

Tomorrow will be the last session of Camp 3. The team will go to lunch, then head for Kiev where they’ll check into the hotel for the night.

We would like to share this unsolicited post on FaceBook that touched our heart.

Yaroslav Fomichov

Yesterday at 9:53pm

Scrolling through my timeline and seeing photos of Hoopsforhope Intl team working out with kids I'm my hometown is great. Last year I had an amazing opportunity to take part in this camp. Talking honestly I was amazed by how the coaches were dedicated to there job. They worked really hard sending a massage of hope to the kids of different ages, teaching them how to become both better player and person. I used to come to the camp as early as I could to work out with Zach Amundson who worked out with me whenever he had spare time and I'm very thankful. The whole crew was great Jesse Harden Blake Harden Spencer Smith Jonah Erbe Mark Wible Mike Remusand Benjamin Morrison Jason Maddox Unfortunately this year I'm not able to observe how this organization works but I'm happy they found time to fly overseas to a small town to help kids to take there game to another level.

WEDNESDAY MAY 25

After a wonderful breakfast of crepes with either fruit, yogurt, walnuts or honey and cream of wheat, the team made their way to the gym for the last day of camps 1 & 2. These are always difficult; savoring the last hours together before saying good-bye.

They went early so the translators could have time to write each participant’s name on their certificate. Again today, the kids and parents lined the gym ready to get started. The coaches changed the camp structure a bit today. After team pics and mass ball handling, they went into contests, which was a big hit yesterday. The coaches motivated the kids to work really hard and it’s possible they could move from being out of the running for a medal to taking one home. Everyone tried harder than typical, but two kids received medals by going from 4th place to 2nd.

Each goal was allotted 25 min of fun time, according to the coach’s preference. Some played knock-out, others Bang ‘em. The kids really got into this and had a blast. To close out the basketball portion of the camp, they ended with Last Second Hero. There were 5 kids in the morning and afternoon camps who made that last second shot and our coaches did a great job making them feel like the hero! It was a great time.

When lunch of Ukrainian red borscht soup and a salad was finished, they headed back over to the gym. The afternoon camp began with the customary introduction of each camper to the coaches as they entered the gym. The camp structure was similar to the morning camp.

Dinner of chicken fettucine alfredo with a drumstick ice cream for dessert concluded the evening for the tired coaches.

Everyone is really excited to begin Camp 3 tomorrow. It will be tough on the kids and coaches, since there is a day between sessions in Camps 1 & 2. Camp 3 will be morning and afternoon sessions on the same day with a short break in between. They’ll be having so much fun they may not even notice!

TUESDAY MAY 24

Today’s breakfast was a special treat: potato pancakes and fresh strawberries. It was really good. Cody challenged the team to stay focused on the task at hand. Distractions come easily and quickly. Remember why you’re here so not a moment is lost.

Both sets of morning and afternoon campers were ready to go when the team arrived at the gym, so they were able to start camps early again today. The same 46 returned for the morning camp. They were excited to show off how they had improved over yesterday. The contests were quite spirited which is always fun.

Team time was extended because of the extra time. Mark passed out the pics of 5 obvious flaws and 1 not-so-obvious flaw for the kids to take with them in their small group with their coach. When they all gathered again for Mark to talk with them, everyone wanted to answer what was wrong with each picture. It was a great lead-in to pursuing the right plan for our lives. It’s what’s on the inside that counts.

Jason had some good conversations with the campers during down time after camp was over. They asked great questions. It was a solid camp.

The local TV station showed up before camp began to interview Vova, Benjamin, Mark and several kids. They videoed 20 minutes of the beginning of the camp. We’ll share that with you when it’s available to us.

After lunch of a red meat soup and salad, the team headed back to the gym for the second camp. They picked up 3 new kids over yesterday for a count of 46. They too were excited to be back. The energy level was high. During Bang “Em, one of their favorite contests, the kids went all out! The coaches had to stay alert to keep the excitement level manageable. It was great!

Perogies (filled dumplings) UK style were on the menu for dinner, along with a salad. It was delish. They are eating well!

At the end of the day, the team went to a nearby coffee shop and fellowshipped with Benjamin and his family, the cooks and translators. The team took this opportunity over coffee and/or hot chocolate to express their thanks to the cooks for their delicious meals each day, and to the translators for their help.

MONDAY MAY 23

The first day of camps began with a hearty breakfast of cheese & ham omelets and fresh strawberries. Yum. Benjamin, our host, challenged the team to keep focused this week as they teach the kids.

The team walked to the gym in the comfortable weather to find the 46 camp participants and their parents lined up against the wall to the gym! Because they were ready before camp was to begin, they were able to start 5 minutes early, which is rare.

The first day of camps is a little more difficult because of the time it takes to teach the kids what the camp routine will be. This camp is for the youngest group, ages 7-9, so the pace slowed a little because of the language barrier and the need to explain a little better.

The high energy made the mass ball handling, stations and contests go well. There were approximately 50 parents who watched the excitement from the stands.

The team’s goal today was to tear down the exterior walls that separate them and become friends quickly. That’s exactly what happened!

After a good lunch of pasta and a greek salad, the team walked back to the gym. Again, 43 campers and their parents were lined along the stairs. As the team made their way inside, they were personally greeted by the campers with a handshake and the English phrase they had learned, “Hi! My name is...” It was a great way to begin the afternoon!

Because this camp of 10-14 year olds was also so well organized, they were able to begin 8 minutes early. This camp ran smoother because of the age of the kids. During team time, the kids expressed their curiosity about the wording on the wrist bands they received from their coach. They asked what Hoops For Hope means, and their translators were able to share that as we bring basketball training to help them become better basketball players, we also bring hope to help them become better people. It was a great exchange.

After dinner of pork chops, potato salad and juice of your choice (cherry, apple or orange), the team retired to their rooms.

SUNDAY MAY 22

The Ukraine team began the day with a cold breakfast of boiled eggs, salami, ham & cheese sandwiches, yogurt and cream-filled pastries. It hit the spot.

In the morning, they met many of Benjamin’s friends and family. This included one of the translators who will work with the team this coming week. As a refugee, she left her home with her mother and brother, with only 2 pieces of luggage each. That’s hard to even imagine.

The team enjoyed lunch at the host home of chicken & rice, cucumbers and tomatoes. Afterwards, they went to the gym to prepare for camps which begin tomorrow. It was great to rekindle the friendship with Vova, the sports director of the facilities where the camps will be held. As Mark went through the drills with the team and translators, he was tickled that some of the translators from last year remembered exactly what to do (how the contests were set up and run, who to give their paperwork to when done, etc.).

From 6:00-9:00P, about 10 men enjoyed the banya (the team, Benjamin, Vova and friends). The experience consisted of getting into a hot sauna of 212 degrees for just a few minutes, following by a cold pool, then a room temperature one. It was a relaxing and bonding time.

The team finished the evening with pizza. They look forward to camps which begin tomorrow, from 11:00A-1:00P and 4:00-7:00P.

We are asking for every aspect of the camps’ first day to run smoothly.

SATURDAY MAY 21

The Ukraine Team has arrived safely along with all the

luggage! They are grateful for short lines through

security, smooth check-in's, aisle seats, uneventful

flights and safe arrivals.

When the team arrived in Svitlovodsk this afternoon, they were treated to a delicious meal at the home of the Morrison Family, our host/hostess there.

They settled in for the evening, looking forward to a good night's rest. Tomorrow they will prepare for the camps which begin on Monday, and top off the day with a visit to a local spa in the evening.

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CLICK HERE for the photo album.

SATURDAY MAY 30

The team started their touring day at 8:00am. It was a beautiful, cool day to enjoy the city. They spent some time at the site of the revolution in February of last year. Quite sobering. They toured 2 cathedrals, one built in the 1400’s and one in the 1100’s. They saw the Chernobyl site which marked the most disastrous single nuclear event in history.

They walked the mile and a half of cobblestone streets which held the city’s flea market and enjoyed shopping of course. They stopped at a café to talk about the trip and enjoy the surroundings. One coach commented that this day was the best “down day” he’d ever had.

Please continue to keep the team in your thoughts as they journey home. It’s been an impactful trip; on campers and their families, hosts, translators, sports center director, and coaches. We never come back the same.

FRIDAY MAY 29

Today’s morning session was the last one for Camp 3. After camp was over and an incredible Ukrainian lunch, the team made the 4 hour trip to Kiev. Once they arrived at the hotel where they’d stay the night, Mark tried to FaceTime with the update but the internet was so bad he couldn’t get more than a sentence or two out at a time. He ended the update with a text. Sad to say, this will be a short update.

It was a rainy, cold day in Svitlovodsk. After breakfast of scrambled eggs and waffles, the team headed to the gym for the last session. The cooler weather made it easy to be energetic and the kids were that! The same 36 kids returned for some intense drills training and fun. Because this camp was made up of older kids who were more advanced in their skill level, Mark shortened the typical aspects of training and pulled out some drills we don’t normally get to in a camp. The kids had a blast. It also helped to have fewer kids, allowing the coaches to be more hand’s on.

There were many tears in saying goodbye today. Many of the kids really hung around for a long time. The translators said they were different because we encouraged the kids so much and they saw the love in us.

The team will spend tomorrow in Kiev shopping and touring. They board a plane back home early Sunday morning and should arrive in Waco early Sunday evening.

Thank you for your faithful support!

THURSDAY MAY 28

Today began Camp 3 for 36 boys ages 16-18. The other 9 who were registered were taking tests in school and couldn’t get out of it. They may be able to join the others tomorrow morning for the last session.

Because of the age of this group, the coaches were able to teach basketball at a higher level. They went through the stations in a timely fashion. Coach Mark sums it up as, “We were refining instead of defining.” The age also fostered a quicker bonding with the coaches. And the fact that they were together for the morning and afternoon camps in the same day helped as well.

In small groups with the coaches, the teens challenged the truth Mark had shared. They asked how the coaches could know what he said was right. This led to some great conversations.

It was interesting today to see the female translators, who knew nothing about basketball before the first camp on Monday, instruct the male campers in doing the drills correctly. Dasha, one of the translators, was showing her team the right way to dribble. She shared that she would like to become a coach, not a player, so she could teach people how to be a better player and a better person.

It was overcast today with a light rain, which made the hot bean soup for lunch hit the spot even more so. Dinner was a delicious and unique dish; a potato biscuit stuffed with chicken and served with a green salad. But when someone mentioned the guys should go for pizza, they took off, wearing their jackets!

Tomorrow will be the last session of Camp 3. It’s met with mixed emotions, from sad goodbyes to high fives for what they learned.

WEDNESDAY MAY 27

Wednesday started out with a hearty breakfast of oatmeal, crepes and jelly. After team time, the team and translators made the 8 minute walk to the gym. They went 20 minutes early today and already all 61 kids were there waiting on them. They let the kids in early giving the coaches some good bonding time with the kids before camp officially started.

Camps started with team pics, then a quick run through mass ball handling. Again it’s amazing how much the kids have improved in 3 short days. Today the kids were really into the contests. It was noticeable how the campers were encouraging their teammates, something our coaches had been teaching them this week. They closed out the last few minutes with “chaotic” fun, like different cross court drills. The final contest was the last second hero. Each time the kid would make the shot, 4 or 5 of the coaches would run up to the hero, pick them up on their shoulders and celebrate their winning shot. At first, the kids didn’t know what to think; it startled them. But once they realized what was going on, they were looking for it and waited with anticipation! It was a fun ending to this portion of the camps.

Benjamin did a good job sharing with the campers at the closing.

Stories of Encouragement:

On the walk back to the gym from lunch (chicken soup with onions & carrots, and chicken crepes) a coach asked a translator if she would be interested in playing basketball if a Ukrainian Women’s Team was formed. She knew nothing of basketball before this camp, but shared that she would rather be a coach, having seen how effective it is in changing lives!

Many parents said thank you to the coaches for showing their love for our children. The camp was incredible. The impact it has had on our children is amazing. They’ve never been so encouraged by the coaches and translators.

One parent shared with Benjamin that they used to go to fellowship with friends and because of the way these coaches loved on her kids and what was shared through the camp in story time, they were going to start going again.

When Mark shared with the kids in closing today that we came to show how much we love them, and said “I love you” to the campers in Russian (sounds like yellow blue bus), a translator heard one boy turn to his friend and comment that at least someone loves him.

Lena, the hostess, sat with the parents in the stands for a while. The stands were directly behind the kids as Mark and Benjamin shared. It was as if the parents were there for the closing thoughts too. 100% of the parents were grateful for the coaches and the way they encouraged their children. They wished the coaches would come back and train their coaches how to encourage!

Vova had a “big surprise” for the coaches today and led them into the gym with their backs to the walls. When they turned around, he was proud to show them he had hung an American flag to the wall of his Ukrainian gym!

After a delicious dinner of shell pasta and meat sauce, everyone loaded into a couple of cars and went 2 miles away to a World War II Russian Memorial overlooking a huge reservoir. It was beautiful. Stars were out. Then one of the campers who lived nearby noticed them at the memorial and came to see his coach. He had his basketball with him. He brought his brother too. Then his mom. It was a moving experience.

Today was an impactful day for the coaches, translators, campers and parents! Lives were changed!

TUESDAY MAY 26

The weather was somewhat cooler today because of the clouds, Mark said. It was still hot in the gym but definitely better than yesterday. Changing the number of water breaks from 2 to 4 has made a big difference as well.

Both camps went really, really well today with all the same kids returning. On the 2nd day, the campers know a little more of what to expect, so mass ball handling, stations and competitions all go faster and transitions are smoother. Mark is grateful for such a great team of men who interact well with the kids and work well with each other.

We’ve added a new 4-prong station to the mix, called NBA Combine. Mike coaches the kids through the broad jump, vertical leap, box jump and shuffle. It’s a great addition and the kids love it.

In debrief time tonight, everyone commented on the overall improvement in the campers’ abilities over yesterday. Even the translators who know nothing about basketball mentioned that they could tell a marked improvement. That says a lot!

Lena, our hostess, shared tonight that she stopped by the gym to watch for a few minutes again today. Tears ran down her face when she saw the joy on the faces of the children. She was born and raised in this city of around 50,000 and identified fully with the children. She’s never seen anything like it. They are not accustomed to being encouraged by anyone; parents, teachers, leaders, so on the first day, the campers didn’t respond well to first bumps or high fives. They didn’t know what to think of the positive words that were spoken to them by the coaches. But today, the 2nd day, they came looking for it! They were much more open and engaging with the coaches and there were smiles on their faces, smiles that weren’t there before. The coaches saw that. Lena saw that. Huge difference.

This opening up on the 2nd day gave way for better conversations between the campers and coaches in small groups. Many of the campers were able to respond with what they had learned the 1st day.

Mark shared today about the plan for each of us, using a large blue print as an example. He asked the kids what would happen if the builder decided to use his own design to build his project instead of the blue print provided for him, giving elaborate off-the-wall examples of one’s own ideas... really bad ideas! Of course, we have been provided with the perfect plan to follow. We just have to pursue the plan and walk in it. After story time was over, Coach Vova put his arm around Mark and said, “Mark, good story!”

The team and Vova are having a great time together. Vova is in each session with the kids, and in the afternoon camp, he changes into his basketball shorts, t-shirt and tennis shoes so he can go through the camp. He does the mass ball handling, drills and competitions right along with the kids!

An exciting thing that happened this morning was the local TV station and newspaper interviewed Mark about the camps at the gym. He was able to share the purpose of this basketball skills camp and what we try to teach the kids. Hopefully we will be able to get a copy of what is published.

The meals have been wonderful there; today it was omelets for breakfast, pork meatballs with carrots and potatoes for lunch, and mashed potatoes with pork pieces and a Greek salad for dinner. Dessert was brownies and ice cream. No one is complaining!

We are asking for:

  • Continued health and strength for the team
  • An extra measure of grace as they prepare to share tomorrow; everyone will be hot and tired
  • The coaches as they share their life story with the campers
  • Benjamin as he shares with the kids and closes out both camps
  • MONDAY MAY 25

    Here’s the update from the team in Ukraine. The day began with a typical Ukrainian breakfast of pancakes (a little more like biscuits), jams & jellies, and cream of wheat. It was hearty, exactly what they needed to start the morning.

    Today was the first day of camps. There were 61 kids, ages 8-12, in the first camp. They were excited and camps went very well. The coaches did a great job of teaching their stations with high energy and keeping the campers engaged: Blake on shooting, Jonah on offensive moves, Jesse on rebounding, Zach on dribbling, Spencer on agility, Jason on passing and Mike on a new training aspect called NBA Combine. There were 6 excellent translators today for the 7 teams (1 got sick and was unable to help.) Vova was a great assistant helping out where needed, from keeping score to translating Story Time. It was exciting to see 50+/- parents watching the camp from the sidelines.

    After lunch of borscht (soup with beets, potatoes, carrots and cabbage, served with sour cream… delicious) and a raisin cake with icing, then topped with sugar, they walked the 7-8 minutes from the apartments back to the gym for the 2nd camp. There were 46 kids in the afternoon camp, ages 13-15. It was another great first camp with excitement and fun. There were 10-12 parents watching this older group of campers.

    The only hurdle today was the heat. The weather outside is quite comfortable (high of 80), but there is a wall of glass on one side of the gym with only small louvered windows at the top for ventilation making it feel like a greenhouse inside. Everyone was sweating profusely. Tomorrow they will allow for 4 water breaks which should help to keep everyone hydrated. Because of the heat, they cut the skills training portion of the camp short which gave them more time in Story Time and small group time with the coaches. Story Time was great with these campers, the most attentive kids Mark has seen. The coaches reported great conversations with them as well.

    The team presented Vova with several reversible jerseys in youth sizes for use with training in the sports center and he was excited about the gift.

    Dinner was a stew of pork, rice, carrots and cabbage that was delicious. The team has definitely been eating well and enjoying every dish!

    We are asking for:

  • Continued strength for the team as they are challenged by the heat; and for them to be able pace themselves to keep their energy levels up, sleep well and stay hydrated
  • Health for Mark’s knee which locked up half way through the afternoon session
  • Good connections with the campers and workers as they interact each day
  • Health for Lucy, the 14 year old translator who got sick today. She lived a good portion of her life in England and has just recently moved back.
  • SUNDAY MAY 24

    Mark reports on today’s events.

    The team enjoyed breakfast of cereal, yogurt and sandwiches before their daily team time and orientation. Then it was off to a sweet time of fellowship with a packed house of 60-70. Vova joined them for their pizza lunch, and then they went to the gym and set up for tomorrow’s camps.

    The treat for the day was the trip to the spa in the evening. There were 15 men in the group, including Vova, and it was very relaxing and enjoyable.

    They finished the day with dinner of pork chops, mashed potatoes and cabbage prepared by Lena, Benjamin’s wife. Then it was time for bed.

    A new level of flexibility came into play this trip. We’ve always encouraged our teams to be prepared for situations to arise in which we would have to be flexible. That’s a key word in our training. This time it played out at the Houston airport as they were checking in. The team’s backpacks were weighed, something that has not been done before to this extent. Some backpacks were twice as heavy as they were allowed to be! So they called Peter, the van driver who had dropped them off, and asked him to buy another piece of luggage and bring it back to them. They had gotten out of line because of the reshuffling of clothes and other items from their backpacks (the whole process took over 2 hours). Everyone threw their extra clothes into the new luggage but it still wasn’t enough. So they started putting on one camp shirt, then another one. For the duration, Mike wore 5 camp shirts and Mark wore 3! What can you say; you do what you gotta do!

    Please ask for:

  • Good rest tonight for the team so they’ll be physically and emotionally prepared for tomorrow’s camps.
  • The team’s health, that they will stay strong.
  • The first day camp to go smoothly; it’s a learning process for the campers and everything runs slower.
  • Connections with the campers and workers to be made quickly, that they will be open to the coaches.
  • SATURDAY MAY 23

    We heard from Benjamin, our host in Svitlovodsk, that the team arrived safely in Kiev and is now headed by bus his way. They are expected to arrive later this afternoon. All luggage arrived as well.

    After a good night's rest (they are 8 hours ahead of us), they'll go to a gathering of friends with Benjamin at noon. After lunch, they will go to the gym and set up for camps to begin Monday morning. The day will close with a relaxing time at the spa.

    FRIDAY MAY 22

    The team left today headed to Svitlovodsk, Ukraine. We will let you know when they arrive.

    We are so grateful the ticket agent in Houston was able to resolve the issue with Mike Remus' ticket and he will now travel every segment of the trip with the team!

    Please continue to remember these needs listed below.

  • For the team members and their health: Mark Wible, Mike Remus, Jesse Harden, Blake Harden, Jonah Erbe, Zach Amundson, Spencer Smith, and Jason Maddox.
  • For safety on the road to/from Waco & Houston, to/from Kiev & Svitlovodsk, and in flight.
  • That Blake Harden will make the connection from Albuquerque, and that all other connecting flights go smoothly.
  • For the luggage to make it, complete and undamaged.
  • For the health of the host and his family receiving us. His kids got sick last weekend.
  • For those our team will meet and work with through the camps, for doors to be opened and lives to be changed.
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