Free Press sportswriter steps beyond journalist role in Portugal


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KatiePortugalGroup665edited4x6
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KatiePortugalDancing397

I stood motionless on the black expanse of the stage, waiting for the hot flash of spotlights to cue me into action. My heart drubbed in my ears and I stared down at my bare feet. The audience fixed their gaze on me and my fellow dancers. I could feel it, but I didn’t look up.

The lights came on, the music started its driving beat and I took a deep breath.

Showtime.

In life there come moments like these, so utterly surreal and unbelievable, that lead one to ask a serious of pointed questions. Namely, how did a small-town journalist from Kansas end up performing for an audience of hundreds on a stage with talented, professional dancers?

Well, that’s a bit of a long story. But I’ll try not to bore you with the details.

A few long weeks ago I felt hopeless. Life had beaten me down, sucked out my joy, stole my courage and will. I clung to a faith and relationship with God despite wondering what purpose I served here on earth.

Two bright spots of light brought me joy in those dark days. My love for my work as a sports journalist, writing features and capturing the moment of victory or defeat, and my love for serving God.

I could hardly believe it when I came across an opportunity to serve as a journalist and photographer covering the Dancelink: Portugal team of Operation Mobilization, a worldwide Christian missions organization. The program brings together teams of dancers, partnering with a local church, to share hope with the Portuguese people through community dance workshops, street performances and free shows in public venues.

It seemed like the perfect fit—with a major exception. I wasn’t a dancer. Could I handle being overseas, far from family and friends, and the only uncoordinated one on a team of 12 professional dancers or dance students?

My previous overseas experience had been nothing short of traumatic. I had no desire to see history repeat itself. But I told God that if he wanted me to go, he’d have to make it happen—and a few weeks later I looked down through my plane window at the Alps, flying out to a five-day conference in Rome before traveling to Porto, Portugal for two weeks of outreach.

I’m not sure what I expected from the Transform conference, but it sure didn’t include being welcomed with open arms and charming accents by strangers from nations all over the globe. Without even being aware of it, I began to come to life. And in nearly every conversation I answered the standard question with, “No, I’m not a dancer. I’m just a journalist.”

Or so I thought.

But, as a journalist, the experience quickly outpaced my highest expectations. I spent hours snapping photos of beautiful, talented dancers in their element, dancing to glorify God and patiently sharing their passion with foster children and teens who wandered into the studio.

When I wasn’t taking pictures, I enjoyed the finer things in life—abundant laughter with a group of dancers who quickly became like family, a sip or two of the city’s famous Port wine and copious amounts of Portuguese rolls and homemade soups, meats and pasta from our hospitable hosts.

What more could I ask? Only God knew.

I’d always wanted to be a dancer. As a child attending music theater with my grandma, I’d watch the dancers, enthralled. But dancing was for other people, not me. As many unfortunate experiences at college dances taught me, “This white girl can’t dance.”

But my team didn’t believe that, and God wasn’t buying that excuse either.

With the continued encouragement of my team and God’s unrelenting prodding, I took the plunge and joined their hip-hop workshop and contemporary dance piece.

Talk about intimidating. As I watched my instructors smoothly perform the moves I tried to imitate with all the grace of an ostrich learning salsa, I wondered why I ever thought I could learn to dance.

But that’s not the point, my teammates so often reminded me. It wasn’t about how well I could (or couldn’t) dance. It’s about glorifying God. It’s about finding the courage to venture far outside my realm of comfort and seize hold of a dream.

I spent months in a dark, quiet place. Just me and God and the silence of crushed dreams. And now, the lights have come up. The music has begun.

It’s showtime.


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