May 2011 Mission-Minded Dave Pond
Georgia FCA’s Joey Potter believes in a simple philosophy: Build a church and send a missionary, and a hundred people might come. But build a sports field and put a coach or pastor on it, and you can attract thousands.
It’s a concept Potter takes to heart and has witnessed firsthand throughout his time with FCA, where he now serves as director of international missions for his region. It’s one based in a game plan designed to bring new life and hope to the world, specifically to the country of Honduras—a nation crippled by a weak economy and devastating living conditions.
“Mission trips should be more than about us taking great pictures with our arms around third-world kids giving them balls, bats and stuffed animals,” Potter said. “Instead, we need to establish ongoing ministries in a specific place that have lasting continuation.”
For about 10 days each month, Potter travels the world, leaving his Georgia home to minister to those around him through the common interest of sports. Later this year, Atlanta FCA will send missionaries into Haiti, Argentina, Brazil, Ghana and Ukraine. Already, missions teams have traveled to Kenya, introducing the locals to American-style football, and to Costa Rica, where softball has provided a platform for them to share Christ with the residents of Coronado and San Jose.
In Honduras, soccer is king. Since early 2010, Potter and his teams have visited the Central American country three times and have focused on delivering the message of Christ through the sport most dear to the heart of its people.
“Honduras has great potential for ministry,” said Potter, who served as a youth pastor for more than two decades before joining FCA. “The biggest sports need they had that we could address was a lack of support for the female athletes, which is why our team of female soccer players made such an impact. When you add to it the need for medical ministry down there, it presented huge potential.”
Recognizing that sports ministry was FCA’s niche, but that there was even greater potential through partnerships, Potter teamed up with Predisan, a healthcare organization whose leadership includes former FCA director Mike Miller, and a medical team from Community Christian Church in Baltimore, Md. Together they developed a strategy for how to best meet the spiritual, physical and medical needs of the Honduran citizens.
“Doing missions there without a medical team is like having oatmeal without milk or water; it just doesn’t go well,” Potter said. “It’s been a great help, and I give a lot of thanks and praise to those teams, because all types of things come up as far as the people we are serving.”
In forming his team for the sports ministry aspect, Potter considered the soccer focus of the mission and began searching for elite players who would be willing to lace up their cleats and travel into unfamiliar territory to further God’s Kingdom.
A door was soon opened through the local FCA’s connection to Women’s Professional Soccer and the local team, the Atlanta Beat. FCA Atlanta Multi-Area Director Shane Williamson had written devotionals for WPS, and the local FCA staff had been given the opportunity to lead several of the Beat’s team Bible studies. Through the ties, Potter was able to extend the invitation to missions to the players.
While no members of the Beat were able to travel to Honduras, they did spread word to the soccer community. Soon, Potter began hearing from players on other teams, as well as college athletes who were interested in helping establish a foothold for Christ in Honduras.
“In the United States, people believe in Jesus, but in Honduras, they depend on Him,” said Ella Masar, who led the WPS’s Chicago Red Stars with eight goals last season. “If you want to see faith, strength and hope, I challenge you to fly to Catacamas.”
For some, it literally was a challenge to go. Former Covenant College all-conference forward Kristine Solis said she had to fight past her introverted nature in deciding to take the journey. Looking back, though, she knows she made the right choice in boarding the plane.
“We got to show them love through the universal language of soccer, and there is simply nothing like it.”
– Kristine Solis
“I really didn’t know what to expect regarding the soccer aspect and training the women there,” Solis said. “Once I got down there and saw the turnout of women and how excited they were, my heart changed. I wanted to be able to teach them as much as I could about playing so that they could practice and achieve their goals.”
Solis, whose experience with FCA dates back to her high school years, was blessed to grow up in a Christian home. But not all of the athletes on the trip shared her lengthy faith history.
“We have athletes who come from all different stages of faith,” Potter said. “We’re very clear about expectations with the players, though, that this is a Christ-centered thing. We tell them we’re not going to ‘Bible-thump’ anyone, but we’re going to be straight-up about loving Jesus.”
Regardless of where the athlete-missionaries were when they arrived, they all had to adjust to their new surroundings, which were a far cry from what they’d grown accustomed to in the States.
According to Krystin Miller, a senior defenseman at the University of Illinois, the poverty was the worst she had ever seen. For her, one moment in particular seemed to capture the environment.
“After we helped feed the village of Los Ejidos, I collected the garbage to throw away,” she said. “A man motioned to help take care of the bag, but I insisted on throwing it away for him. Little did I know he actually wanted to use the garbage for his family. I was shocked. I handed him the bag filled with plastic wrappers and cardboard, realizing that the material could actually help his home. That really put things into perspective.”
The players found the Hondurans—despite their circumstances—to be a people continuously rejoicing with open arms and hearts. They were receptive to the love, teaching and care of the outsiders.
“Most of our days were spent serving in villages such as Los Ejidos or Bella Vista,” Miller said. “We would lead soccer camps with the kids, dig sewage systems, share our testimonies, or simply encourage the locals. They were incredibly grateful and treated us like rock stars even though we barely even knew each other. I had never felt so loved by strangers in my entire life.”
It was a sentiment that most agreed was rare. Solis said she couldn’t imagine Americans being as accepting to new and different people coming into their communities.
“What impressed me the most about Honduras was how pure the hearts of the people were,” she said. “They were so loving and accepting of us. Whether it was in a small church or on the field, we were greeted with hugs and kisses. It was neat to see that most of the people didn’t expect ‘stuff’ from us; they just wanted to spend time with us.”
In a unique way, the players’ visits also helped change a common misconception about American athletes. According to Masar, the mission work in Honduras helped show locals the different sides of U.S. citizens.
“Usually, all the people see are the big houses, fancy cars, money, and the overwhelming presence of men’s sports,” she said. “So, the fact that we went there, shared our stories and showed them our true hearts through this beautiful game was a lifechanging experience for all of us.”
In spite of the locals’ expectations, the missionaries did want to provide for them in tangible ways—a desire that yielded faith-building results.
For January’s trip, the medical team was set to distribute approximately 300 pairs of donated shoes to residents of Los Ejidos. But, when the masses arrived, Potter found his faith being put to the test in what his team called a “fishes and loaves” moment.
“We were bringing all these people in, and I was trying to keep up with it all in my head,” he said. “There were simply more people than there were shoes. We were going to be in trouble, and we didn’t want to come off wrong with our friends there because they love us and we love them.”
That was when Pam Harne, who had organized the shoe drive, made the statement about God’s ability to provide, referencing Jesus’ miracle in feeding 5,000 people with just a few pieces of bread and some fish.
“When we were done, every person walked out with a pair of brand-new shoes—some with an extra pair for people who couldn’t make it,” Potter said. “It just wasn’t possible. And that happened twice that week. God put shoes on every man, woman and child in that village.”
During their last trip to Honduras, the Americans worked closely with eight local soccer teams and two teams managed by an area church. They also were given the opportunity to present the gospel before thousands of fans gathered at the local arena.
“God used us to empower specifically the women of their league and to encourage them in their quest to be good soccer players,” Solis said. “We got to show them love through the universal language of soccer, and there is simply nothing like it.”
With every return to Catacamas, God continues to bless the players’ interactions with the locals, breaking down barriers that once existed between strangers separated by language, finances and culture.
“They have nothing, but I’ve never seen a more spiritually rich community in all my life,” Miller said. “They get it. The people have no wants because their true fulfillment is rooted in their true need: Jesus Christ. They’re plugged into the abundance found in the Lord.”