Two years ago I felt led to pray for Nelson County. The high school’s FCA chapter there had fizzled after its leader moved away; the middle school’s FCA was trying to get off the ground (middle school FCA is inherently more challenging); and the county’s youth sports programming was dormant.
So I prayed.
Here’s what happened.
Six months later a local pastor called to say he was burdened by the county’s lack of resources for kids and was interested in starting a youth sports program. We covenanted to pray together for the county and seek ways that FCA could help the effort. After that call I sensed God was up to something in Nelson County. To keep myself in fervent prayer I stuck a note on my bulletin board, “Pray for Nelson!”
Not long after that phone call, I learned that the new volunteer FCA coordinator at the Nelson County middle school was a fellow alum of my small, beloved Anderson University (Ind.). Wes and I even ran track but had never met! If you would, file that away for a moment.
Last month I received a call from Greg, a longtime investor in Charlottesville FCA. He shared that Nelson County had restarted its junior football program after an eight-year hiatus. His co-worker’s son was on a team and the team was performing as you might expect after such a long break. They’d lost every game in lopsided fashion. They were discouraged and needed a boost. Could FCA help?
Greg worked with the coaches to plan a special practice. He Greg volunteered to tow in his professional-grade grill to cook hamburgers and hotdogs for the all the players, coaches, and parents. You’d think Greg owned a catering company, but he doesn’t. He owns a painting company. He just loves to serve and constantly serves others. I contacted my coworker and gifted speaker, George Morris, FCA chaplain at UVA, to speak with the team and I procured two boxes of FCA Bibles to give away.
George and I arrived after practice was well underway. Greg had set up his grill before practice and was already filling the air with the sweet aroma of grilled hotdogs and hamburgers. George and I mingled with parents and learned the inspiring story of how the football program and this team began. The coaches closed practice with a challenge that George had set up with them beforehand. The coaches asked each player to throw a football into a Gatorade cooler several yards away. If no one got the ball in the cooler (a fete intended to be nearly impossible), they all had to run 10 sprints. Every player made a throw and when it came down to the last player, no one had made a bucket. Before the last player made his toss, the coaches reiterated the challenge. If the player makes it, no sprints. If he misses it, 10 sprints. The throw missed the target.
The players prepared to run, but the coach interrupted and said, “Oh, by the way. Coach CJ is going to run your sprints for you. You don’t have to run.” Coach CJ began to run, but the players, not understanding, started to run with him. The coach interrupted again.
“Coach CJ is the only one running the sprints. You can just stand there.” As Coach CJ ran all 10 sprints, the players watched. Astonished.
As you’ve probably figured out by now, George never expected anyone to put the ball in the cooler. The exercise poignantly illustrated what Jesus did for all of us. After Coach CJ completed his sprints, we gathered players, coaches and parents to hear George share. As players listened (in a way uncommon for middle schoolers) they soon realized they were getting more than a pep talk about football, but also a pep talk about life. George spoke of salvation and grace and, using relatable sports terms, pointed out how our identities are not found in a scoreboard. He closed with the thought that Jesus is the One who takes our punishment—who runs our sprints—for us.
After praying George asked for anyone desiring to make a commitment to Christ to stand up. Most players stood up. And so did most coaches. Before closing George shared about FCA and encouraged players to see me if they want to be involved. Every player wanted to be involved. We then all mingled, eating our hotdogs and hamburgers. I shared about FCA with parents and answered many questions. We distributed all of our FCA Bibles and had players and parents asking for more.
When I got home I emailed my friend Wes who leads middle school FCA in Nelson County to give him a heads up, which he appreciated. The next day he was bombarded by players wanting to be involved with FCA.
It is humbling to be part of a great move of God. None of us, including FCA, had experienced anything quite like this. Moving forward, we want to be good stewards in nurturing the spiritual growth. But we need help. Wes needs a community of men to help mentor the middle schoolers. FCA Charlottesville needs encouragers, huddle leader, and coaching partners.
The spiritual awakening of an entire middle school football team started with the convergence of a prayer and a burden. This is testimony to how God works and what He uses. I’m grateful that FCA Charlottesville was in a position to be used. May it continue and may it expand. In fact, my note to “Pray for Nelson!” is still on my bulletin board.
Posted on Sun, November 13, 2016
by Kate McCollum