Sheltered from the stark contrast separating the world’s “haves” and “have-nots,” FCA Colombia Director James Oilar was living the good life as a sports club manager in Chicago.
But when a friend asked Oilar a simple question, it took him on a journey that eventually landed him in Bogotá, Colombia, to help lead FCA’s first international Huddle.
The question? “James, what has to happen in your life so you don’t consider it a failure?”
Four things came to Oilar’s mind. First, he thought about his love for teaching. Then came thoughts of coaching basketball, working overseas and the opportunity to experience a different culture—a truly foreign concept for the Clark County, Mo., native.
Fast forward two years, when a second friend asked Oilar if he’d consider becoming a missionary and shared information about a number of organizations with him. The door was opened. There was a position available at El Camino Academy, a missionary children’s school in Bogotá, Colombia, and Oilar investigated.
“I met the superintendent, and she told me that if I came to Bogotá, I could teach, I would coach basketball, I would be able to live in a foreign country and they would teach me Spanish,” he said. “Those were the exact four things I had written in my journal exactly two years before.”
Oilar made a one-year commitment to the school and began to raise funds for his trip. And when he arrived in September 2002, the Colombian people made an immediate impression on the “gringo” basketball coach.
Spotlight on Colombia
Location: . . . . . . . Northern South America
Capital: . . . . . . . . . Bogotá
Area Comparative: Nearly twice the size of Texas
Language: . . . . . . . Spanish
Population: . . . . . . Approx. 44 million
Geographic Note: . . It is the only South American country with coastlines on both the North Pacific Ocean and the Caribbean Sea.
Oilar and Alexandar
“When I arrived, all I knew about Colombia was what I had seen in the film Clear and Present Danger,” Oilar said. “But there was a real friendliness factor. The people were very receptive to me—very nice and interested in who I was.”
He also got a firsthand look at Colombia’s economic disparity. Oilar took public transportation to and from school each day, riding alongside both people and the occasional farm animal. But, he also had the opportunity to attend the Latin Telenovela Awards as the guest of a notable Colombian actress.
“Every day was an adventure,” Oilar said. “It’s very common to see a horse-drawn wagon traveling down the street following a brand-new BMW.
“I had an opportunity to see what was going on down here and really began to understand. And it just burdened my heart that there were so many people here who didn’t have the opportunities in life that I did.”
A year in Bogotá became two, and two became four, and Oilar made friends and basketball contacts while coaching and teaching at the Academy. All the while, he prayed that God would continue to open doors for him and allow him to serve wherever He would lead—in Colombia or elsewhere.
In February 2004, Oilar picked up the phone and called Dan Britton, FCA senior vice president of ministry programs, to see exactly where FCA was working internationally.
“I love sports and I love God, and I realized there was a great opportunity here to reach coaches and athletes through sports,” Oilar said. “FCA’s vision is to see the world impacted for Christ, not just the United States, so we were able to work out a partnership to bring FCA to Bogotá.”
The partnership flourished, and in August 2006, Confraternidad de Deportistas Cristianos—the Spanish translation of Fellowship of Christian Athletes—was officially formed. It was FCA’s first international Huddle.
Oilar went right to work, armed with the lure of basketball and volleyball, to attract Colombian children from the city’s poorest public schools.
“We know that 93 percent of the public schools here do not appropriate funds for extracurricular activities, especially sports, because they just don’t have it in the budget,” he said. “So, we try to bring them out and offer them something that they don’t have.”
As Colombia’s most popular sport, soccer was an obstacle, as fields were too difficult for Oilar to reserve for practice and games. However, because of basketball’s popularity in the United States, Oilar found an “in” with Colombian students.
“Because I’m a gringo, I’m automatically respected for my basketball abilities, because basketball is not something that is strongly developed here,” Oilar said. “You could take most Division I basketball teams in the U.S., and they would cream the professional teams here.”
Oilar’s original Colombian FCA Huddle began with 24 students, none of whom were Christians. While 92 percent of Colombians claim to be Christian, only 7 percent are “practicing.” Oilar found that the majority claim the faith predominantly because it is so deeply ingrained in their family lineage.
“The kids had no idea what they were getting into,” he said. “I had everyone hold hands and we prayed before and after the very first practice. They had no earthly clue that the basketball practice had anything with a religious or Christian overtone to it.”
Little by little, friendships blossomed and relationships began to flourish. A high number of Oilar’s athletes had no paternal figure in their day-to-day lives, so they were especially drawn to him as both a coach and a role model.
“It was all Christ at work,” Oilar said. “Eventually, instead of just praying at practice, we started to incorporate Bible studies and what FCA calls ‘sportologies,’ which is talking about how to integrate faith in Jesus Christ into sports and how they belong together.”
Of the first 24 students to join Oilar’s team, 22 have now accepted Christ into their lives—including Jhon Alexander, a 17-year-old athlete whose father abandoned his family when he was 3 years old. Not only has Jhon made the decision to follow Christ, he also now serves his Lord through FCA Colombia as Oilar’s assistant.
“It was a great feeling when Jhon told me he wanted to do what I do so that he could preach Christ to other kids,” Oilar said. “It all goes back to 2 Timothy 2:2, that we should teach others so that they are able to teach others.
“I cannot speak enough about the qualities Jhon has or what I have seen God do in him,” Oilar continued. “He’s really doing well, growing like a weed both spiritually and in his basketball knowledge. And I feel confident that he can teach others and will be such an important aspect of the future.”
A waiting list for students wanting to join Confraternidad de Deportistas Cristianos sits on Oilar’s desk, and the coach prays daily for both manpower and financial resources to match his team’s growing popularity. Now married to a native Colombian, Oilar says he expects to spend the rest of his life in Colombia doing the Lord’s work with his wife, helping children find hope in a desolate world.
“As long as they have a great relationship with Christ and they are learning and walking with Him, they don’t have to worry about their circumstances and what they see on a day-to-day basis,” he said. “People come to know Christ through Christians, and we want to give them that hope and that direction.”
Summer Travel Guide: FCA Camp Style
Looking for a summer destination getaway? Why not make an impact for Christ through FCA Camp while you’re at it? Of course, you can always visit one of the beautiful stateside locations, such as Flagstaff, Ariz.; Spearfish, S.D.; Salisbury, Md.; or Lakeland, Fla. Or, to expand your personal borders, consider one of the many international FCA Camp ministry opportunities. Teach soccer in Mexico, swimming in South Korea or basketball in Colombia! For information on those and other international camp opportunities visit fca.org/international or e-mail email@example.com.
INTERNATIONAL FCA CAMP PROFILES
Rio Verde, Mexico
Who: College student-athletes
When: June 21-28
Sports: Basketball, soccer,
American football, baseball, volleyball
Who: College athletes (men only)
When: June 23-28
Seoul, South Korea
Who: FCA staff, college student-athletes,
When: July 30-Aug. 9
Sports: Soccer, basketball, swimming
Who: College athletes
When: July 1-5
*For more stories about faith and sport, visit www.sharingthevictory.com