Sixteen-Year-Old Texas Softball Player Opens Doors in Eastern Europe

EASTERN EUROPE—Keeley Stewart* is a shy, 16-year-old softball player from Granbury, Texas. Three years ago, she and her father traveled to Eastern Europe with their church, Lakeside Baptist, on a short-term mission trip. In partnership with IMB missionaries Jim and Stacy Andrews,* Lakeside hosted a baseball camp. There, they built relationships with baseball players and their families.

At the baseball camp, Keeley met Nadia,* another 14-year-old camper. Like many Eastern Europeans, Nadia is nominally Orthodox. She knows about Jesus, but really knowing Jesus, having a personal relationship with him, is an unfamiliar concept to her. As the only girls at the camp, the two became fast friends. “I feel like she is one of my best friends,” Keeley said. “We had baseball talks and Jesus talks.”

Teenagers in Europe ¬– Two teen girls look at a device as they sit on the side of a street in Volterre, Italy. Southern Baptists are grateful for their relationships with European teens and their families and are asking God to reveal himself to them and through them. (IMB Photo)

The bond the girls formed has lasted over the years and over the miles. When Keeley came back to Eastern Europe in 2018, Nadia’s family invited Keeley to stay with them the next summer. One journeyman, Elizabeth Kneal,* says that in Nadia’s culture, “being in someone’s house is . . . the ultimate sign that they have welcomed you into their lives.” And Nadia’s family has not only welcomed Keeley into their lives, but they refer to her as their daughter.

This past summer, Keeley stayed even longer than the rest of her team, living with Nadia and her family for a week. At the end of the week, Nadia’s family had Jim and Stacy over for a homemade, traditional meal. When everyone had finished eating, the conversation between Jim and Nadia’s father, Zivko,* turned to spiritual things. As they talked, Zivko listened with interest as Jim presented the gospel.

“We would’ve not had this opportunity had it not been for the friendship between Nadia and Keeley,” Stacy said.

The next week, Keeley served with Jim, Stacy, and other IMB missionaries in the area, continuing to share the gospel. “It was so cool getting to stay by myself because I felt like I was more responsible,” Keeley said. “I could go out and reach people on my own, and really see what the lives of missionaries were like. . . . It showed me I really need to be intentional about doing what they do, but [at home].”

Keeley and the rest of her team have been intentional to build relationships with Eastern Europeans that last long after they have left. “This particular church partnership has been a blessing to us and our ministry here,” Stacy said. “There are people from Lakeside who come year after year and have deep relationships with the people here. . . . [They have] spent time with them in their homes and keep in touch throughout the year. We value their partnership, investment, and commitment.”

Short-term missionaries are such an integral part of Jim, Stacy, and their team’s ministry that many of their contacts came from relationships begun by short-term teams. Because of short-term workers, longer-term workers like Willie Bradley,* a member of Jim and Stacy’s team, are able to intentionally follow-up. “These teams . . . typically are very engaged in meeting people, sharing the gospel, and connecting us to people who are seekers,” Willie said. “Most of my ministry is comprised of relationships originally formed by short-term workers. I think my colleagues here can say similar statements.” Another team member, Isabelle Moore,* agreed, commenting that 75 percent of her relationships came from contacts of short-term missionaries.

“Most of my ministry is comprised of relationships originally formed by short-term workers.”

Not only are short-termers making a huge impact in Eastern Europe, but Eastern Europeans themselves are making a huge impact on short-termers. “You think you are going to change the lives of everyone around you, which is true. But you have no idea how much the lives of the people will change you, and how much God will impact you,” Keeley said. In fact, the majority of the longer-term missionaries on Jim and Stacy’s team are there due to their experience on short-term trips.

Isabelle commented, “Their friendships have been what has made me fall more and more in love with [this country] and the people. . . . And oddly enough, it’s . . . the lostness that has made me desire and love being here more. Not that I am the answer, but that I am a tool and an outlet for them to hear the answer.”

  • Please pray for Nadia, who is now reading the Bible every day, her family, and the many others who have heard the gospel this summer. Pray that the Lord will draw them to himself.
  • Please pray for Jim, Stacy, and other co-laborers in the area to continue to develop the relationships begun by short-termers this summer. May they be faithful and bold to share the gospel.
  • Please pray for God to send many more workers to the harvest in Eastern Europe.
  • Please pray that God will continue to bless the friendships between church members in the States, IMB missionaries, and Eastern Europeans.

* Name changed