Missions trips can be hard to summarize. But I’ve found that one of the most helpful ways to process an experience such as the last week I spent in Sweden is to ask, “What was the best hour of the trip and why?” And for me, I’d have to say that the best hour of my trip was on Wednesday, from 5:00 PM to 6:00 PM, when we played Innebandy (Swedish Floor Hockey) at the Royal Institute of Technology.
Why? Because it was a unique cross-cultural experience… It fostered new dynamics among the team from Kent… it allowed for a creative sort of partnership with local ministry leaders… it was a way to make new friends in Stockholm… and it was just plain fun.
It can be tempting to minimize Innebandy as a frivolous, elementary-school-gym-class game. I was initially inclined to think it was something like kickball in American culture. It’s played with plastic sticks and a sort of whiffle-ball, with these teeny-tiny goals at either end of a gym floor. But from what I’ve gathered through word-of-mouth and first-hand observation, Innebandy is actually a pretty significant part of Swedish culture. A closer parallel may be summer softball leagues or H2O’s Saturday morning basketball games. These weekly Innebandy sessions are prioritized, taken seriously, and cherished as cultural experiences. Participants play hard, and they play to win. There are even professional Innebandy leagues in Sweden! So there was just something about the experience that felt so “deep cut” I was honored to give it a try.
New Dynamics among the Team from Kent
Daniel and I were the only ones from Kent who chose to play Innebandy (Lauren and Halle preferred to watch, and I consequently have them to thank for all these wonderful photographs of the experience). Even with just two of us, though, it was fun to both square off against each other and play together as teammates, in this unfamiliar sport. Daniel and I regularly do ministry stuff together, and he generally defers to me as the older, more experienced minister. Conversely, we also regularly play basketball together, and he clearly “plays down” to the level of his competition — like the way I used to do with my boys when they were younger — because he’s so much more athletic and experienced on the basketball court. Playing Innebandy, though, we were pretty equal in our ability. Afterwards, I told Daniel that it was “simultaneously irritating and exhilarating” for him to play me “like a grown man.” But I actually look forward to more and more of these types of experiences in the years to come, as Daniel (and others like him, on our church’s leadership team) grow into their own, as leaders and distinct players in ministry dynamics.
Partnership with Local Ministry Leaders
Aidan and Chelsea used to be a part of our team at H2O Kent. For the last year and a half, however, they’ve been building a ministry presence in Stockholm with a partner church called Korskyrkan. The Royal Institute of Technology is one of their primary areas of missional focus — and even though it didn’t work out for us to spend as much time doing on-campus ministry as we had initially hoped to do in Stockholm, it was wonderful to have this one hour together on campus. Aidan and Chelsea didn’t grow up with Innebandy any more than the rest of our team from Kent did, but they’ve clearly gained some valuable experience in the last year and a half of living in Sweden — so it was fun to watch the way they played and learn from them. Aidan provided a beautiful assist for one of my goals, and it just felt fun to be on the same court together, working with each other and for each other. It was a living picture of what the best sorts of global partnerships can be.
A Way to Make New Friends
Throughout our whole week in Stockholm, we were constantly looking to make new friends: in Tensta, in Södermalm, and on campus at the Royal Institute of Technology. We were excited to have spiritual conversations, whenever the circumstances allowed — but even when the topics of our conversation were more mundane, it was still fun to make connections. Aidan’s colleagues, Shen and Miguel, were great Innebandy players — but also genuinely warm and interesting people. It turned out that we didn’t get any further time with Shen or Miguel outside of that one hour playing Innebandy together, but if we had more time in town, I could totally see opportunities for getting to know them better over drinks, meals, and further time at the gym together.
Learning a new sport can be frustrating at times, but mostly I thought it was fun. Even when I was uncoordinated, the others were kind and gracious to me. I got some good exercise, and I made a few contributions to the successes of my teams. At the end of our hour of gym time, I was a sweaty mess — but a contented, sweaty mess. I don’t know if I’ll ever play Innebandy again in my life, but it was certainly fun while it lasted.