By Jill Ewert
Every morning, I have a routine once I get to the office.
1. Fire up the computer - 8:00 A.M.
2. Delete the spam from my e-mail account (while eating a couple pieces of toast).
3. Head to “Morning Glory,” the corporate prayer time of the FCA National Office.
4. Transition into prayer time with the Communications/Marketing Department.
5. Edit and send out the daily Impact Play e-mail devotion.
6. Start the day - 9:30 A.M.
I’ll be honest. Prior to writing this story, bullet point number five wasn’t that much of a landmark in my day. Sure, somewhere in the back of my mind I knew that it was an amazing opportunity to minister to thousands across the country. And, yes, I would pray as I’d send out each one that it would make a difference in the lives of those who would read it. But after pressing “Send,” it wouldn’t cross my mind again until the following day.
That all changed on Sept. 18, 2006. On that day, I had the opportunity to talk with one of my FCA “older brothers,” Jere Johnson. If you currently subscribe to the free e-mail devotion, you’ll automatically recognize his name as one of the regular contributing authors.
What Jere and I were chatting about that day dealt with another STV story that we were pursuing at the time. But through a series of events—no doubt orchestrated by the Holy Spirit—we wound up on the subject of the daily Impact Play.
As it turned out, Jere had recently received an encouraging phone call from a Huddle Coach in Wisconsin named Randy Rennicke, who had been significantly moved by several of Jere’s devotions. The call was simply Rennicke’s way of encouraging Jere, who had played such a significant spiritual role in not only his life, but also in the spiritual health of his family.
I asked Jere if he would mind putting me in touch with Rennicke. My curiosity had been triggered.
Randy Rennicke is an energetic family man who loves FCA. He and his wife, Judy, serve as Huddle Coaches for the local high school. Their five children—all believers—have been influenced by the ministry, and Rennicke himself grew up with FCA before going on to play professional baseball in the (then) California Angels system.
As a Christian with a competitive mindset, and as a spiritual leader, Rennicke has long appreciated the help of FCA resources. Thus, when he signed up for the daily Impact Play e-mail devotion early in 2006, he knew he had found something that would be valuable for not only himself, but also his family.
“The devotions are great tools,” he said through a thick Northern accent. “Every day you get God’s Word, you get wisecounsel from wise people, and you bring it to life. To this day we take the Impact Plays and go through them as family devotions. And what’s cool is that you can talk to kids from 21 to 7, and they love it.”
“It had actually
changed the vocabulary of seven people. It had changed their understanding of how God wanted them to live their lives.”
Twenty-one to 7 is the age range of his and Judy’s children, so finding ways to minister to them all at once can be challenging. But Rennicke was quick to share several examples of Impact Play devotions that had made a significant difference in their entire household.
“Jere recently wrote a devotion that coined the term ‘walkitude,’ which he describes as a positive view of life,” Rennicke recalled. “My kids now know walkitude as a word. I love that! And that word just says everything, doesn’t it? You wake up, you give God glory, you walk in His grace, and you hope that you make an impact on people. That’s something that my entire family is now using to help them live out their faith.”
While his own kids are appropriately the closest to his heart when it comes to spiritual development, Rennicke and his wife also are concerned about the lives of the Homestead High School FCA Huddle members, whom he also infuses with wisdom from the e-devotions.
“I’d like to see all 15 to 25 kids who come to the Huddle read their Impact Play every day,” Rennicke said, “but the fact is that not all of them are getting it. So, when something strikes me that would really speak to them, I share it in the Huddle.
“I love being able—and this may sound bad, but it’s not—to bring something to them that isn’t only Scripture. The Word of God is perfect, but when the verses are inside these devotions, they become more real to the kids. It’s a very creative way to influence them.”
Turns out that Rennicke is such a believer in the Impact Play that he’d already created a marketing concept in his mind prior to our interview.
“I’m not usually a slogan guy, but I do have a few,” he quipped. “It’s free. It’s fun. And it’s fruitful. Why wouldn’t you use it? It makes a difference in your life and in the lives of those around you.”
I felt surprisingly energized after I hung up the phone with Randy Rennicke. At first I didn’t know whether it was because his enthusiasm had rubbed off on me, or because the Holy Spirit was working in my heart, revealing new insight. Turned out it was both.
I vaguely recalled sending out Jere’s devotion that had created the walkitude buzz, but I’d had no idea what God was going to do with it when it left my computer. It had actually changed the vocabulary of seven people. It had changed their understanding of how God wanted them to live their lives. I couldn’t help but wonder just how many more FCA Impact Play subscribers had similar stories.
Randy Rennicke’s oldest daughter, Sarah, is currently beginning her senior season on the Concordia University (Wis.) softball team. At school, Sarah lives out her walkitude by leading the FCA Huddle.
As Huddle President, she regularly searches for ways to minister to student-athletes. And, in this case, what works for Dad works for Daughter.
“I do use the devotion in the Huddle,” Sarah said. “If I see one that stands out, I’ll use it as a topic-starter. I’ll bring it in, and we’ll go through the discussion questions.”
But more than just as a helpful ministry tool, Sarah enjoys the Impact Plays for what they do in her own life as a student-athlete.
“Being a Christian athlete is tough when you are surrounded by kids who aren’t pursuing God,” she admitted. “There are certain things we deal with like injuries or not playing well, and there is usually something in [the devotion] that speaks to me. It helps me focus on God and the fact that He’s the reason why I compete.
“It also helps that it is e-mailed,” she said. “Athletes are busy. So, for me, I can click on it at any time during the day. If I don’t have time to read it then, I can always go back to it later when I do have time.”
Another student who enjoys the ministry of the devotion is Michigan State point guard Drew Neitzel, who has been receiving the Impact Play since he was a high school senior in Grand Rapids, Mich. In fact, he was so particularly inspired by one of the devotions that he contacted the author, Jere Johnson.
“Drew originally contacted me to ask if there was any more devotion material from FCA that could help him stay focused in college,” said Johnson. “Really, I didn’t know much about him, but I sent him five or six FCA resources and a graduation card. Come to find out later, he was penciled in as the starting point guard at Michigan State.”
After their initial connection, Neitzel and Johnson stayed in touch via e-mail. To this day, the casual friendship that began through the Impact Play has been helpful to the young point guard as he strives to maintain a walk of faith.
“Jere’s done so much for me,” Neitzel said. “Not just his mentoring, but also in the things he’s sent me. He’s sent me some great reading material, and he always e-mails me to tell me that he’s praying for me.”
Now a junior, Neitzel still reads Jere’s and other’s thoughts as a subscriber of the Impact Play; and like Sarah Rennicke, he sees its benefit to the busy and stressed student-athlete.
“It’s really encouraging,” he said. “As an athlete, there are a lot of ups and downs, from day to day. This gives you the encouragement to realize that the most important thing is God, and that He’s always there for you no matter if you have 50 points or zero points, whether you win or lose. He still loves you, and He’s there for you just as much.”
It was all becoming more real and personal. Sarah Rennicke and Drew Neitzel depended on the Impact Play as part of their daily connection with God. And it certainly seemed like they valued it highly.
But here was the kicker: The devotion was helping them not only recover from discouragement, but also reach out to others. Sarah’s Huddle was actually learning together as a group based on what the Impact Play was teaching.
There I had it. I was sufficiently impassioned about the e-devotion ministry. I was fired up and ready to put it into a magazine article. But, as usual, my plans were ahead of God’s timing. (Does that ever happen to anyone else?) Apparently, I still had one more interview to do. That was obivious after the e-mail from Coach Leo Sayles came in to the firstname.lastname@example.org account on Sept. 21. It was a response to the day’s Impact Play, which addressed living for God in the moment.
“This devotion will be the focus of our team devotion today,” he wrote. “Keep us in prayer as a team, but even more that God will use this devotion and the games this weekend to teach them, and hopefully grant them the opportunity to glorify Him! Thanks again for the daily devotions. They mean a lot to me, and really help as I minister to my team.”
Having just completed several Impact Play-related interviews, my hands hit the reply button. Coach Sayles was quick to respond to my e-mail, and he agreed to chat with me about the devotion.
Leo Sayles is obviously doing something right. As the 2006 AAC Coach of the Year, Sayles, the head volleyball coach at Bryan College (Tenn.) led his team to one of the best finishes in school history. A complete 180 from 2005’s 11-24 record, the 2006 Lady Lions went 27-12 with an impressive 14-4 conference record.
But what sent an even stronger message was that the team achieved success while competing with enough integrity to be given the conference’s 2006 Champions of Character Award, which certainly didn’t come without effort by the team and its coach.
“As a coach, there’s that personal side that is always looking for ways to speak into the hearts of students,” said Sayles. A longtime FCA volunteer, Sayles rarely has to look beyond his own inbox for creative ways to reach his athletes. He, too, subscribes to the Impact Play.
“I try every day to stop and read through the devotion and pray about what I see,” he said. “If it is something that I think will hit directly with my team, I save it to my computer and bring it up later as I start planning my team devotions.”
Sayles has example after example of how God has brought a lesson to the Lady Lions through the Impact Play, but none made more of a difference to Sayles than when God followed up the day’s verbal lesson with a life lesson on the court.
“As a coach, I have developed five Ds of volleyball: determination, dedication, desire, discipline and direction,” offered Sayles. “And I will talk about each of those on a different week and pull out devotions that address that topic.
“On this particular occasion, we were talking about diligence, and one of the specific things we were talking about was doing the little things well. So, when the day’s Impact Play talked about that, it was perfect timing. It really hit home with the girls.
“But what was interesting was that we ended up having a blow-out on the court, and our girls did a great job of recognizing that their goal was to do the little things right—to really focus on those little areas that would make them a better team. And the devotion helped them to stay focused.”
I sat down at my computer this morning, months after talking with Jere, Randy, Sarah, Drew and Leo. Their words resonated in my mind. I read through the devotion a little more closely, surveying the text for any hidden misspellings or grammatical errors. This needs to be done with excellence. Someone is counting on it. By all accounts, it was clear.
I pushed “Send,” and turned to look out the window. Staring into the empty infield of Kansas City’s nearby Kauffman Stadium, I imagined the Impact Play flying through cyberspace to inboxes across the country. I prayed silently, “Lord, please let this small devotion make a big difference. Let it make an impact.”
Sign up for the Impact Play!
Feel the Impact for yourself! Sign up for FCA’s free, e-mail devotion at www.fca.org.
Some of your favorite Impact Play authors can be found in print. Both FCA’s Josh Carter and Roger Lipe, who contribute regularly, recently published devotion books. Purchase your copies at www.fcagear.com.
And for more from Jere Johnson, visit www.sportsdevo.com.
Want to know more about those featured in this story? Here are a few helpful links:
Bryan College (Tenn.)
head volleyball coach
|Drew Neitzel |
Michigan State University
Concordia University (Wis.)
*For more stories about faith and sport, visit www.sharingthevictory.com, the official magazine of the Fellowship of Christian Athletes.