A VERY SPECIAL SPORTS CAMP
July 11-17, 1993
HOW I FOUND JESUS
at the age of 20
I would have liked so much to go do a tennis camp with the ÖH1, but I didn't have enough money for that. Then my friend Sigrid told me about a poster she had seen at university. It talked about a sports camp that included tennis. She had ordered the brochure, but discarded the idea again, when she read that a Christian organization2 was organizing it. When I heard that, I asked her to bring the flyer anyway. While reading it I was thinking how great the price was and how the evening talks could be quite interesting after all. So we decided to go there. All we wanted to do was play tennis anyway! Even though the deadline had already passed, it was no problem at all to still enroll.
After a 6-hour drive we arrived a little late in the middle of the first evening talk. The talk was quite interesting, and purely psychological. Their Christian faith was only audible a couple of times. The following day, as we had more contact with the other people, I felt a little uneasy in their company. I sensed how fulfilled their lives were through their love for God, and I envied them a little bit. I was most afraid of the leader. He literally shone with the love of God, and in his presence I felt so guilty not being a practicing Christian. So I avoided him. On the night of that Monday Sigrid and I decided to go listen to the talk again. After dinner Sigrid wanted to spend some time with her friend who had also come to the camp, while I went to our room.
Minutes before the beginning of the talk, I was already waiting in the conference room. I did not sit down so that I wouldn't have to reserve two seats. But when the program began without Sigrid having showed up, I sat down by myself. I felt so uncomfortable among all those "saints". To make things worse, I sat on a seat in the third row that did not have a seat in front of it in the second row - of all seats - so that I was in best view of the speaker. The program started with a song. There I was in the midst of those singing people, my mouth shut, feeling very uncomfortable. At the same time my anger was rising more and more minute by minute. A second song followed, then a prayer and another song. Only then, after half an hour, the talk started. It was about our family of origin. By then my anger towards Sigrid had erected a high and thick wall around me. All I wanted was to leave, but I did not want to be noticed any more than I already felt noticed. After a couple of minutes they handed out papers to fill out about your family, and I took it reluctantly. So I was sitting there the paper in hand and waited for them to continue, while the others were writing. I was only thinking, Sigrid, what have you done to me, while you're having fun! The speaker's following words were, "Now discuss what you wrote with your neighbor." That did it! I got up, but the chair was jammed, and so I was only able to leave the room in slow motion. I didn't want to go to my room yet, and so I went for a walk in the neighboring woods for an hour and 15 minutes. When it started getting too dark, I turned around. I had come to the conclusion to not forget easily what Sigrid had done to me. She would have to have a good excuse!
Back in the room, Sigrid was not there yet. She came a little later with her friend and asked, "And how was the talk?" That made me so angry I pretended not to hear her since I had my headset on. In that moment I decided not to talk to Sigrid anymore until she'd apologize. All she'd have needed to do was to come with the words, "I'm sorry, I forgot the time while talking with my friend", and after a short conversation everything would have been fine again.
The following day we hardly spoke with each other, only the unavoidable, and on Wednesday it was the same. Tuesday night I could not enjoy anything at all any more and all I wanted was to go home. So I went to my room after dinner where I did some reading and studying.
Wednesday morning my mood hit rock bottom. Not even playing tennis was enjoyable any more! I suffered from isolation that I had in some way imposed on myself. They were planning a fun night for that night, and I was wondering whether I should even go there, since I hardly knew anyone. And I was also thinking they'd probably sing and pray all night. But since I didn't want to spend another "great" night in my room, I decided to attend. But first they had a barbecue, which is why we sat outside for dinner. Next to Sigrid and me there were two girls from the ÖSM who asked me questions that were very uncomfortable. And still, they wouldn't let go, and somehow I thought it was really nice of them to be that interested. Immanuel, a guy in our tennis team, also sat at the same table, but on the other end. His neighbor asked him how he had come to know the ÖSM, but unfortunately I could only hear a few words. So I decided to ask him the same question at one point. The little I had heard had sounded very interesting.
I already started the fun night with a totally different attitude. I didn't need Sigrid to go to the talks! This time I sat down in the back row, where I felt a lot more comfortable. So I waited with anticipation for the begin of the program.
The program consisted of songs, sketches and cultural contributions. Especially one song that was played on the piano and sung moved me deeply. It talked about the life of Jesus and was very beautiful. That night I accepted the love of God for the first time. There were no more walls. I had the strong desire to find God. I wanted to be like those happy people around me. I didn't want to be alone any more but to follow the call of Jesus. That night I prayed for the first time again in a long time. I spoke with God and I asked him to lead me to Himself, and I knew that the first step was to reconcile with Sigrid. So I asked God to give me strength to accomplish that. That night I fell asleep with peace and contentment and with the assurance of not being alone anymore and the resolution to never let God leave my life ever again.
The following morning I already woke up with a totally new outlook on life. I was looking forward to hearing about God again and wanted to clear up the situation with Sigrid as quickly as possible. Without a word, we each got ready to go to the early morning aerobics class. I wanted to address her while walking over to the class. I asked God to help me, to give me the courage and strength to do it. After having walked a few meters towards the main building without a word, somebody else joined us, and I had missed my opportunity. Saddened by my failure I did the workout. But I just had to clarify the issue before breakfast! So I grabbed the last opportunity after the workout and said, "Hey, Sigrid, can we make peace with each other again?" She pondered it for a moment and replied, "Oh well - but we'll have to talk about it still." "Agreed." I was happy to have taken the first hurdle.
Unfortunately the situation was exactly the same as before again after breakfast. Without a word we walked back to our room. I was thinking, I can't believe this, if I don't say anything now, I have not achieved anything at all earlier. So I asked her whether her friend had said anything to her, since I had mentioned to him what the situation between Sigrid and me was like and why.
Thanks to that question we finally started talking seriously. She was not aware of any wrong she had done, but I was still glad that everything between us was in order again. However, our relationship was only restored to what it was before after the 4-hour drive back to Vienna, when I already felt the love of God in every cell of my body.
After our short conversation we immediately went to the tennis court. It was there that I "coincidentally" had the opportunity to privately speak with Immanuel for two minutes. I had waited for such an opportunity and seized it immediately. Very casually - the same way I had heard it done the night before, - I asked him, "How have you come to know the ÖSM?" He answered that that was a long story but he'd love to tell me if I was interested. Filled with joy I said, "Yes, that would be really great!" At that moment the others returned.
As dinner was drawing to a close, I was already impatiently waiting for an opportunity to catch Immanuel alone an to ask him whether he'd have time until the evening talk to tell me his story. I had that opportunity and received a positive answer that made me very happy. Someboy I hardly knew wanted to give me all this time, just to talk with me, and even about these rather personal things. My selfworth didn't quite want to believe that. After all I was a failure, not good for anything and totally superfluous in this world. That's what I thought.
Immanuel and I sat down on a remote bench, and he started to tell me about his life and how he had finally come to find the Lord a few months previously after a long battle. He described his infinite joy when he became a Christian. He told me in such a way, as if he was living it all over again. He planted the love of God he talked about directly into my heart. My whole face started to radiate as I was captivated y what Immanuel was telling me, about Jesus, God, and the way his life had changed. It was at the latest at this point that it was a done deal that I would want to live the rest of my life only with Jesus. I didn't want to quit listening to Immanuel who emanated the love of God so tangibly, but the beginning of the evening talk was at hand, and so we went to the conference room. Arriving there I asked Immanuel whether I could sit next to him. And so we sat in the back row, this time surrounded by like-minded people and full of joyful anticipation. This time Sigrid was there too (the talk's topic was "I'm in love"), but I didn't want to sit next to her, since I'd rather had children of God around me at that moment.
The first half hour consisted of songs and prayers again, and this time I participated full of joy. I felt the love of all these people for God, and also God's love for me. I wanted to accept that love with all of my heart.
Unfortunately that half hour was far too short, and the talk was also over far too quickly because it was so interesting. I admired the two speakers, how the were living their lives with God and passed on their knowledge and understanding to others.
After the program, Immanuel and I continued our conversation. After all he had told me, I now had the desire to tell him about me. So we sat there talking until 1 am. While my body was tired, my mind was awake and wanted to continue this conversation forever. My face was radiating with the love of God like it hadn't done all the twenty years of my whole life together. All the other things of my life were unimportant to me. I just wanted to "follow Jesus", as was also the title of the book that I had purchased at the book table that night. As I went to bed that Thursday night, I thanked God with tears in my eyes that he had not given up on me but that he'd led me to Himself so unexpectedly and invisibly, to give me His love and make me one of His children. From the depth of my heart I asked God to never ever let go of me again and to take the rest of my life into His hands.
The following morning I felt like a newborn. That feeling of happiness was very foreign to me. I was euphoric, as if high on this new love of God for me. I could hardly wait to talk to Immanuel. I was hoping he could find a little more time for me.
When I came back from playing tennis that Friday afternoon, I was in hurry so I could read as much as possible in my new book before dinner time. So I went to the conference room, thinking I'd have it to myself. However, a Bible study group was going on there. At first I listened in involuntarily, but I got so interested, I ended up listening more than reading. I really regretted having missed those daily Bible studies.
I was hoping to get to talk to Immanuel again after dinner, and he had said he would, but apparently other people also wanted to talk to him. How selfish of me to think that he'd now spend every minute he'd have to talk with me!
Again I sat next to Immanuel during the talk. The topic was "I'm loved", and it was about the love of God. I have to say, that topic came at just the right time. I wanted to hear as much as possible about it, and so it seemed to me that the talk only lasted 5 minutes rather than 90 minutes.
After the talk I had the strong desire to talk to Beth, the speaker, to tell her what had happened to me and to get her advice. Immanuel wanted to talk to someone else, and so I was waiting for Beth to finish her conversation with someone else so I could talk to her. While waiting I continued reading my new book; that night I then bought another book.
Finally I gathered all my courage together and asked Beth whether she'd have some time after her conversation to talk with me for a moment. She said yes, and so I didn't have much longer to wait until I was sitting facing her. I had been so afraid that I wouldn't be able to utter a single word, but it turned out to be unsubstantiated. Beth gave me some advice and encouraged me for the road ahead. After that I kept talking with Immanuel for a very long time, and from one to two in the morning we sat with a few other people talking. We were all a bit sad (maybe tired also!?), since it was our last night together. I didn't want to go to bed either so that the beginning of the following day would be delayed as much as possible. But time did not stop.
The time for the big good-bye came the following morning. Everyone wanted to add another week. I said good-bye to these extraordinary people I had met here; to Beth who gave me a few encouraging words for teh road; to the leader, regretting very much not to have talked to that visible child of God. It was only Immanuel who I couldn't say good-bye to the way I had wanted to. I wanted to thank him for the time he had devoted to me and for the words he had spoken to me. But unfortunately only a "good-bye" from the distance was possible.
After the big good-bye, Sigrid and I went down to the lakeside one more time to enjoy it as long as possible. And there I ended up talking to the leader after all. And so my last wish was also fulfilled, and I was given the address of the church where an outreach was taking place the following two weeks. In that moment my biggest fear was to return home to my parents and realize that everything was the same as before. But the exact opposite was the case. I noticed how the love of God was changing me. Because of that love I was able to do things I would not have thought possible in the past. I saw how many little miracles Jesus did in every day life. Since I had not had a Bible, I could hardly wait to start reading it. I would have never thought that I could find that much time for that, but every day the time I spend speaking with God gets longer and more precious. I know that I'm still a spiritual baby but I do my best to grow up.
After only a couple of hours my family was wondering what had happened to me. Now they know, but as is the case with many other people, they cannot understand it, unfortunately. I pray to God that they all will one day.
Vienna, July 30, 1993