August/September 2008 Lorie Johnson
“Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly...” – Colossians 3:16 (NIV)
Randy Swearengin was a rookie FCA area representative, newly hired to a full-time position in Mississippi, when he entered a coach’s office in his district one morning armed with a box of Bibles and a heart determined to impact local coaches and athletes for Christ.
He had recently purchased the box of FCA Coach’s Bibles with his own money and was planning to hand-deliver them to every local coach as way of introducing himself. This particular coach, however, known for being tough and hard-nosed on and off the field, would have nothing of it.
“I gave him the Bible, and he got really upset with me,” Swearengin said. “He asked me to leave, basically throwing me out of his office.”
Swearengin humbly obliged, leaving the coach’s office disheartened but still praying.
“For the word of God is living and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart.” – Hebrews 4:12 (NIV)
The next day, the coach left a surprising message on Swearengin’s voicemail.
“He was apologizing,” Swearengin recalled. “He said he was sorry for the way he had acted. He told me he didn’t even own a Bible, but that he had opened up that FCA Bible and couldn’t put
it down. He said he had a lot of questions for me and asked me to come back and see him.”
Swearengin, again, humbly obliged. The coach continued to read his Bible, began attending a local church and soon surrendered his life to Christ. Not long after that, his wife sent word to tell whoever had given her husband that Bible that it had totally changed his life.
It had changed FCA’s ability to minister on that campus, too. After accepting Christ as his Savior, the coach opened many doors for FCA to minister to athletes.
FCA supporter Sidney Allen presents St. Andrew’s Episcopal School head football coach and AD, David Bradberry, with the FCA Coach’s Bible.
Also pictured are Bill Buckner (far right), FCA Huddle members and members of the football coaching staff.
“After he gave his heart to the Lord, for the first time ever I had a chance to go in and do Bible studies with the team, and some of the players got saved,” Swearengin said. “He went from being your typical hard-nosed football coach to a coach who shares how it’s not about him. His life is about serving God.”
“...So is my word that goes out from my mouth: It will not return to me empty, but will accomplish what I desire and achieve the purpose for which I sent it.” – Isaiah 55:11
According to Dan Britton, FCA’s Senior Vice President of Ministries, that is exactly why FCA is giving out Bibles.
“Our mission at FCA is to see the world impacted for Jesus Christ through the influence of coaches and athletes, and what better way to win them to Christ and disciple them as Christians than by using God’s Word?” Britton said. “We know that God’s Word does not return void and His Word will continually go forth and be used by Him. Programs, outreaches, camps—all these different things we do are important, but they have starting and stopping points. God’s Word, however, won’t disappear. If we keep God’s Word at the core of this ministry and allow it to be the rock on which we build this ministry, God is going to honor that and continue to use us to win the souls of coaches and athletes and equip them to serve Him.”
About 15 years ago, FCA began publishing themed Bibles to distribute to athletes and coaches at FCA Camps. In 2001, FCA partnered with Serendipity, a division of LifeWay Christian Resources, to create its current Athlete’s Bible, which is designed to help athletes lead Bible studies in their local Huddles.
And, according to Britton, when athletes began utilizing FCA’s Athlete’s Bible to lead Bible studies and impact their campuses, the Bible ministry “just exploded.”
FCA has continued to develop new Bibles to better meet the needs of athletes and coaches. It now produces five different types of Bibles: the Athlete’s Bible, a Sports New Testament, a Spanish Sports New Testament, the Coach’s Bible and a pocket Bible (a popular gift item). And FCA is currently working on a sixth Bible—the Competitor’s Bible, which will contain daily devotions for athletes.
Last year alone, FCA distributed 250,000 Bibles: 100,000 each of the Sports New Testaments and Athlete’s Bibles, 35,000 Spanish Sports New Testaments and 15,000 Coach’s Bibles.
“People know FCA as a sports ministry to coaches and athletes,” Britton said. “They know about our Huddles in junior highs, high schools and colleges, and they know about our camps. But what many people don’t realize is that FCA has become one of the largest Bible ministries in the country. We are handing out God’s Word in locker rooms, hallways, on the athletic field and internationally. It’s a phenomenal ministry to coaches and athletes. Many of them will read an FCA Bible when they wouldn’t likely pick up a regular Bible simply because they see the word ‘coach’ or ‘athlete’ on it.”
Indeed. Just ask Justin Graves.
“All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.” – 2 Timothy 3:16-17 (NIV)
Graves is a 19-year-old college student from tiny Soso, Miss., who is known for his Texas-sized heart and extraordinary zeal for winning the lost to Christ.
Not long ago, Graves played basketball for Soso’s West Jones High School, and he began giving out Bibles to athletes there.
Graves hadn’t been praying long about which Bible to give them when he connected with FCA’s Randy Swearengin, who told him about FCA’s Bible.
“It was just what I had been praying for,” Graves said.
He had been leading devotionals for the basketball team and was seeing a growing number of players surrender to Christ.
“We didn’t give ear-pleasing messages,” he said. “We just told the truth.”
Dozens committed their lives to Christ in the locker room. Before one game, members of the opposing team joined West Jones players in the locker room for the pre-game devotional, and Graves led two of their players to Christ.
But already, the Lord was urging him to reach out to more athletes.
In Soso, football is the sport. The team is a regular State contender and has been ranked nationally. In Graves’ mind, while he was pleased with what the Lord was doing with the basketball team, he knew that the football team would be a big key to spiritual growth throughout the school.
“God really laid the football team on my heart,” he said. “I figured if we could win the football team to Christ, we could win the school. So, my senior year, I finally got the guts to go up to the football coach and ask if I could lead devotionals with the team. He said yes, so we started having devotionals. At the first one, God laid it on my heart to tell them about the cross, and more than 20 players got saved. We kept doing devotions and praying and preaching Jesus to them, and people kept getting saved. Then, God laid it on my heart to give them all Bibles.”
Graves had already quit the basketball team to devote more time to serving God on his campus. He began praying for money to purchase enough FCA Bibles to give one to every player on the football team. The money poured in.
“The Lord took what I needed and blew it up,” he said. “One night I was praying for $400 because that was what we needed to finish giving the football players Bibles. I spoke at a church and told them about this project, and they gave $1,200 that night—enough for the entire football team and almost the entire athletic department.”
Graves recounts story after story of people who have astounded him with their generosity upon hearing about his efforts to place FCA Bibles in the hands of athletes.
“I spoke at a Fields of Faith event, and a guy walked up and emptied his wallet and said to make sure the track team got Bibles,” he said. “Another time a lady walked up and asked me what five sounded like? I was thinking five dollars, and so I said, ‘Oh, that is great!’ And she wrote a check for $500!”
This spring Graves completed a year at Jones County Junior College (JCJC) in Ellisville, Miss. He prayed in enough money to give an FCA Bible to every athlete at JCJC. Players continued to turn to Christ. Married in June, he and his new wife just moved to Jackson, Miss., so that he can attend Mississippi College—and pass out Bibles.
“The Lord has given me a vision to give every high school athlete in Jackson a Bible,” he said. “It will take a lot of money, but I know we can do it. We serve an enormous God.”
“Your word is a lamp for my feet and a light for my path.” – Psalm 119:105
Graves isn’t the only one in the same city charged by God to distribute Bibles. Bill Buckner, FCA regional director for Alabama, Mississippi and the Florida Panhandle, is based in Jackson and has been spearheading a special Mississippi Bible Project. “We were talking together at one of our state FCA board meetings and really felt God calling us to start putting an FCA Coach’s Bible into the hands of every coach in the state.”
Buckner said they told a few people about their desire, and the money started streaming in.
“We were able to do it without using our budget. It all came from donations,” he said. “People want to help get God’s Word into the hands of these coaches.”
So far, Mississippi’s FCA has given out almost 6,000 Bibles to high school, college and professional coaches across the state.
“We’ve been going to visit head coaches in Jackson and praying with them and giving them Bibles, and we’re also hearing so many testimonies in schools in the inner city about the impact of the Bibles,” Buckner said. “It’s a never-ending project because new coaches are always coming in. We’ve heard testimonies of God doing amazing things—including marriages being saved—because a coach started to read the Bible.”
“The Word of God will save a nation of coaches and athletes who are lost ... I can’t think of a better way to fulfill our mission of impacting the world for Christ.”
– FCA’s Dan Britton
Buckner says that so far FCA has put Coach’s Bibles into the hands of coaches of nine NFL teams including the Pittsburgh Steelers, New York Giants and Philadelphia Eagles. In Mississippi FCA’s Region 7, they’ve given out Coach’s Bibles to coaches at seven colleges, including Ole Miss, Mississippi State, Southern Miss and a number of junior colleges. More than 2,000 FCA Bibles were given to coaches at the Senior Bowl and the NFL Combine by the FCA Football Coaches Ministry and other staff.
The Mississippi Bible Project has caught on in neighboring Alabama, as well, where the FCA staff there are trying to put a Coach’s Bible in the hands of every coach in the state. Buckner prays it catches on in every state in America. “The impact of putting God’s Word into the hands of coaches and athletes is huge,” he said.
To Britton, it’s simple: When you invest in God’s Word, you will always reap a great harvest.
“Sowing God’s Word into the hearts of people will have an eternal impact,” he said. “The Word of God sets people free from sin and draws them a into relationship with Christ. The Word of God will save a nation of coaches and athletes who are lost, and it will grow and mature believers to become biblical coaches and athletes. I can’t think of a better way to fulfill our mission of impacting the world for Christ.”
--For more stories about faith and sport, visit www.sharingthevictory.com, the official magazine of the Fellowship of Christian Athletes. To subscribe to STV, click here.
Photos courtesy of Christy Soloveichik.