March 2010 Clay Meyer
For the past 55 years, the Fellowship of Christian Athletes has been on a mission to spread the name of Christ in the athletic community. Its vision: “To see the world impacted for Jesus Christ through the influence of athletes and coaches.” It’s a quest the ministry has been pursuing with a Godbreathed success that has led to spiritual growth throughout the sports community. Yet, to this point, FCA has largely been focused on the United States. Last summer, those borders got a little bit wider.
Through the work of a specialized ministry task force assembled to achieve and expand the ministry’s mission and vision, FCA is entering new international territory.
“The international task force was put together to take FCA around the world,” said Barry Spofford, FCA’s executive director of international ministries, who is working in ministry partnership with members of the global missions organization Operation Mobilization. “Our potential to impact people for Christ worldwide is limited only by our obedience to God and carrying out His game plan. There are billions of people who haven’t heard the gospel and, in their culture, may not unless it is through the world of sports.”
Are you interested in serving the Lord and competing in your favorite sport internationally? Check out fca.org/international for more information on each of these and other opportunities, or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org and your message will be directed to the international department.
2010 Impact Sports Ministry Internship—Bobbio Pellice, Italy: For college athletes and recent post-college athletes (June 1 through July 29, 2010). Interns will gain a global perspective of international sports ministry while developing character and leadership skills in a cross-cultural learning environment that combines classroom teaching with hands-on training and outreach. Only 20 candidates from FCA will be selected (10 men and 10 women). The cost is $4,000, which includes airfare.
For more information, call Barry Spofford at (443) 223-0189 or e-mail him at email@example.com.
European Sports Challenge 2010:
For those who want an experience similar to the Impact internship that is shorter in length, this provides a unique option. From June 28 through July 18, college students or recent graduates will train in all sports, lead sports camps across Europe and discover their potential in international sports ministry.
Visit fca.org/international or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org for more information.
Israel and the West Bank—Summer 2010:
For the tenth year, FCA Area Director Mike White and a team from West Virginia FCA will travel to Israel and the West Bank to hold basketball, football and swimming camps for local coaches and athletes. Trip planners are currently recruiting (American) football and swimming coaches as well as male and female college-caliber athletes who are 18 and older to help with the sports camps and play in exhibition games.
Visit wvfca.org to see photos of past projects, and contact Mike White at email@example.com for more information.
World Cup Soccer Outreach Internship:
FCA, OM SportsLink and Sports for Christ Action South Africa (SCAS) are partnering to bring college athletes and recently graduated college-athletes to work before and during the 2010 Soccer World Cup near Cape Town, South Africa. Internship opportunities vary in duration ranging from two weeks to two months or longer with the cost increasing accordingly.
For more information, contact Internship Coordinator Kate Randall at firstname.lastname@example.org.
With the ability to transcend language barriers and cultural distinctions, sports serve as an international bonding agent—one that, when brought under Christ, can change the world. And with its new international initiative, FCA is praying for a way to capitalize and maximize for the sake of the gospel.
In one of its first official international ministry efforts, FCA and OM broke new ground in the summer of 2009 by hosting their first international sports ministry internship. Designed to train studentathletes to do international ministry, which, according to task force members, is starkly different than ministry in the States, the program gave 15 athletes the opportunity to be instructed, stretched, broken and ultimately connected to God in a powerful way. And because of their work and training, the world will never be the same.
Set among the scenic hills of Bobbio Pellice, Italy, the internship assembled a diverse team of student-athletes, mostly from the U.S., at the OM facility of Forterocca, which means “solid rock.” Some had planned for months to complete the internship; others had responded to God’s call mere weeks before the registration deadline. Yet, despite the last-minute rush to raise funds, pack and travel, the late-comers were in the same boat as the early planners. Everyone was equally in the dark about the program and much of what they would experience.
Each was given a bare-bones description of the seven-week training. They only knew they would study character and leadership-development skills in a cross-cultural environment, while learning about international sports ministry through classroom and hands-on training.
“We didn’t try to steer them in any direction, but just teach and prepare them for international ministry,” said OM’s David Guehring, who served as the internship’s director. “God chose to use those seven weeks to prepare each of them for their futures. It wasn’t the program that changed them, but God.”
During the first weeks of the program, the athletes were instructed by experienced sports missionaries and teachers regarding the biblical basis for sports ministry and cultural sensitivity. Those lessons were followed by ones on evangelism, the models of sports ministry and the important topic of teambuilding. The classroom sessions were brought to life through a variety of physical challenges that allowed them to work out what had been worked into them.
“When they first arrived, they were all typical athletes, each performing to look and be the best,” Guehring said. “But after some time in the classroom and in team activities, they stopped performing. We focused on the quote, ‘I am because we are.’ Applying that, they grew comfortable in who God made them to be, and they were able to see their potential in the sense of community and the team.”
After completing the classroom portion of the program, the athletes were then commissioned to work in camp settings. The team hosted a one-week sports camp in Bobbio Pellice that allowed them to interact with the local children before being sent out to help facilitate sports camps throughout Central Europe. Their various opportunities included basketball and soccer camps in the Ukrainian cities of Rivne and Odessa as well as a baseball camp in Hungary and a soccer camp in Moldova. Each served as a chance for the interns to apply what they had learned about international sports ministry and put their head-knowledge into action.
“Through God and using sports to connect with the children, the team made a big impact in the valley around Bobbio Pellice and in their various camps,” Guehring said. “Doors were opened in huge ways, and I truly believe sports ministry, now, can have an even greater impact in Europe.”
This spring, the international task force is developing the second Impact International Internship, scheduled to begin in June. Its itinerary includes more evangelism and biblical training as well as teambuilding activities. Also incorporated will be similar on-the-field experiences in camps and clinics around Italy and Central Eastern Europe.
This time around, however, Guehring and the team have a year of experience to build on. Still, they plan to keep the schedule slightly flexible and remain teachable themselves.
“Last year we were learning along with them,” he said. “It was challenging to schedule around the student-athletes opening themselves up to God and what He wanted to do with their lives. It’s all part of an experience and not just a curriculum.”
Regarding the internship’s future beyond 2010, Guehring does have a dream: that there will eventually be enough interest to begin specializing in specific sports and empowering athletes and coaches to conduct a higher level of international sports ministry. It is only a vision, but it’s one that Guehring anticipates will become a reality—especially in light of a first year that he can only sum up with this statement: “God truly changed lives.”
Two 2009 interns share personal accounts from the Impact experience:
Former Eastern University Soccer Player:
“I found out about the internship really late, about a week before we were supposed to leave. Even though it was last-minute, I felt like God was telling me I needed to go.
“Through the experience, He revealed a lot of things I had been neglecting. My life back home was really chaotic, but when I got to Italy, I had the opportunity to be silent with God and just listen to Him. He spoke to me to be still and know that He would fight for me and heal things within me.
“My personal highlight was when we went to the soccer fields in Ukraine. I was told that I was going to help coach a soccer camp there, so I was prepared to help as much as I could. When I got there, however, a man explained to me that I was supposed to be the lead coach. I momentarily freaked out because I had nothing planned, and I didn’t feel qualified to coach the campers who were 14 to 17-year-old boys. There I was, a 19-year-old American girl in the middle of the Ukraine, and I didn’t
think these boys would be very responsive to what I had to say or teach them.
“The first night I prayed and pleaded with God because I didn’t feel like I was good enough for the job. But He kept reassuring me that He had put me in that position for a reason and that I needed to have confidence in what He was going to do.
“The next day I started coaching, and the boys turned out to be the biggest gentlemen I’d ever met. They were so respectful, and they helped me so much. We all had a great time and learned from each other. Being able to pass on that God-given confidence was a true blessing.”
Tennessee Wesleyan College Baseball Player:
“It was a huge leap of faith for me to even apply for the internship. The cool thing about it was that they didn’t give us a lot of details going in. We had an idea of what we would be doing, but we didn’t know for sure.
“Now, because of the experience, I have a new ‘Impact family.’ The whole group grew really close, especially right before we left for Ukraine and Eastern Europe. I loved going to Hungary for baseball camp with the 13 through 15-year-old Hungarian national team. The way we have been able to stay in touch since then has been a blessing. It has been very humbling to learn the things I did, including being a leader like Christ—one who ‘descends into power.’ Christ led from the bottom, and that is a concept that I will carry with me forever.
--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 Tanya Lang and Brian Miracle