Ultimate family


Ultimate Frisbee is often described as a cross between American football and netball. The offensive team attempts to score by catching the frisbee in the end zone (like a try zone in rugby). But like netball, players are not allowed to run with the frisbee when in possession of it. It is non-contact and the defensive team has to stop the offensive team from completing a pass either by intercepting the frisbee or forcing a turnover if the frisbee hits the ground or goes out of bounds. Those are the rules. The reality is, it is fast action and fabulous fun.

I’ve been fortunate enough to play ultimate frisbee at the highest competitive level, representing Australia on two occasions on the Open team, and most recently on the Open Masters team in Japan. It’s not quite like getting a baggy green or hearing Advance Australia Fair as you stand on an Olympic podium, but it is enjoyable and—at least in the ultimate frisbee community—a real career highlight.

I felt safe the moment I found the church. . . It was as if cultural barriers were overcome by a common bond and relationship with Jesus.

When I started playing in Sydney in 1996, within three years I knew the majority of players regularly coming to league games, as well as a number of interstate players. Ultimate frisbee in Australia has grown a lot since then. My experience is that when you meet another player whether you know them or not, there is a common bond and camaraderie that binds you in a degree of commonality and friendship. When you go overseas representing your country, these bonds often strengthen, and it’s noticeable in the wider international frisbee community that bonds of friendship are frequently formed and remain for many years. I suspect this is true of many communities of people who form clubs, associations and societies born out of a common interest in some sport, hobby, pastime or professional field.

The camaraderie in ultimate frisbee is aided by what is called the “spirit of the game”—it is self-refereed even up to world championship level. This means that players call their own fouls and violations during the game, and so it requires trust in both your own team and the opposition team members for fair play to ensue. For the most part this works really well.

Being an ultimate frisbee player and a Seventh-day Adventist has been an interesting mix. Each time I travel, I catch up with the local Seventh-day Adventist community. I choose not to participate in competition on Sabbath; instead my commitment to worshipping God with fellow like-minded believers is the priority. What I have noticed when doing this is something even more remarkable than the camaraderie I find with my fellow frisbee players, as nice as they are. That is, fellowship in the Spirit. Unlike the “human spirit”, which is flawed and even with the best of intentions can be abused as part of the spirit of the game in the heat of competition, the Holy Spirit instead binds believers as one (see for example Ephesians 4:3). This is a most remarkable and wonderful thing as a believer. I am sure I am not alone in this experience. Let me illustrate.   

My first international tournament was in Hawaii in 1999 and I attended a small community Adventist church not far from the fields where the tournament was held. On Sabbath the church held 20-30 people at most, but I was welcomed with open arms, invited home for lunch and looked after for the rest of the afternoon. I felt at home in my spirit from the moment I found the church. My soul had found rest.

Similarly, when I was competing at the World Championships in Heilbronn, Germany, in 2000, I went searching for the local Adventist church. I finally found it, was welcomed with kindness, escorted to the appropriate Sabbath School, and somebody was even assigned to translate the sermon from German to English for me. I subsequently ended up at the translator’s house for lunch and a pleasant Sabbath afternoon. We kept in touch for a few years after that, and again, there was a feeling of coming home in my spirit from the moment I found the church till the moment I left my kind host’s place.

My last international tournament in July 2012 took me to Osaka, Japan. Having checked the internet I was pleasantly surprised to find there was an English-speaking service at the central church, and also directions to find the church. As you might imagine, travelling on the subway in Japan is a bit daunting being a foreigner with limited Japanese skills, especially when changing subway lines a couple of times was required before I came to the right stop. The Osaka Adventist church is situated next to a river surrounded by a lot of medium to high density housing, but it has a large cross with “SDA” in bold letters written on top of the building, visible from a distance. When I spotted this, it was like spotting an oasis in the desert—my nervousness turned to relief, praise and thanks to God, and again my spirit felt at home. I felt safe the moment I found the church. I was again looked after with company for the afternoon and then invited out for dinner in the evening and treated most kindly. It was as if cultural barriers were overcome by a common bond and relationship with Jesus. I firmly believe the Person responsible for this is the Holy Spirit.

Although I have found friendship, acceptance (despite not playing on Sabbath) and hospitality amongst the ultimate frisbee community, there’s nothing that beats having your heart knitted together with other humans when the Holy Spirit is the Author, and this is exclusively found in the Christian community. I was again reminded of this at a recent wedding where I was reunited with many old friends from my church youth group of years gone by, and my spirit again felt at home—a most beautiful, sublime experience, and one I can only imagine is a small taste of what God actually intended “community” to be—a big happy family. When Christian believers are together in the Spirit worshipping God on Sabbath, our souls find rest. I can truly attest and thank Jesus for this rest He offers, which indeed is an easy yoke and a light burden for the soul (Matthew 11:28-30). These three occasions I found rest for my soul among my fellow believers in three different cultural groups. 

One can only imagine how good heaven is going to be when we meet not only our friends and relatives, but thousands and thousands of people who are all bound together by the Holy Spirit because of the same theme—their love for their Saviour Jesus. If it is good here on earth, imagine how much better it will be in heaven. I can’t wait for that day. 

Dr Andrew Pennington is a GP obstetrician working at Sanitarium Sanctuary, Prymont, NSW.