Written by Bob Schindler, Executive Director of CEDE Partners – an Initiative of CEDE Sports
Recently, I had a conversation with Kane Gonzales. He is the Pastor of Sports Ministry at First Redeemer Church in Cumming, GA, outside of Atlanta. He told me a very encouraging story that I asked him to write out so I could pass it along. Here are his words –
Four years ago,
in 2016, we had a parent volunteer to coach. His name was Addie Wetzels. Addie and his family are from the Netherlands and have a passion for being active, particularly in soccer. At our coaches meeting that year we shared our vision for the season and coaching expectations. Our goal is to share the gospel each season and our coaches are required to have a 2-3 minute devotional during each weekly practice. With that goal, we provide the devotional and instructions each season.
Addie, a particularly well-spoken man, raised his hand and asked if that was a requirement to coach. He stated that he wanted to coach and believed in the recreation of sports, that he still wanted to be involved, but he was not comfortable sharing something that he personally didn’t believe in. He felt that he could not share or advertise something that he himself didn’t believe.
I’ll Never Forget
Standing there, feeling the Holy Spirit convict me, urging me to get this man and his family involved. We have a strict policy that yes, you must be saved and believe in Jesus Christ as your savior in order to coach. It is on every application and something that we, very commonly, turned men and women away from coaching because of it. That day I decided to allow him to coach in our soccer league, on the condition that we add another person to coach with him, that was a believer. This additional coach could share the devotional, open games in prayer, etc.
Addie was happy with the compromise and has been a faithful coach the past 4 years. Over those years, we have developed a great relationship, and he still involved every year with our soccer program. Many families know and recognize him on our fields and request that he continue to coach each season.
Fast Forward to Today
Addie emailed our office and asked me for a favor. He is on the local school council that his children attend. The school has become more diverse in the last several years with entire neighborhoods of families from India and South east Asia moving in over the past 7 years. The local school council was looking for ways to get these families engaged and volunteering at the school.
Addie asked if I would be willing to meet with the school council and discuss how we have been successful in not just including our diverse community but getting them involved and participating as coaches or volunteers. Over the past 5 years our sports ministry registrations have increasingly been more diverse. Three years ago, we even started a cricket program, to some success. He wanted me to talk about “how to make the PTO activities speak to a more diverse audience, and how to get a better representation of the schools’ demographic in their body of volunteers.
He also went on to say “At some point we brought up the fact that you had started a cricket league. I’m not sure why you organized that league, but I can make an educated guess regarding the reason”. At the meeting, someone from the school said that our leagues and our church are known in the community for being inclusive and active in our community.
I accepted Addie’s invitation
Then I was able to share why we have activities and sports at our church and how we view them as a tool to engage and reach families in the community. I told them how Jesus was inclusive in His message and our goal is to help families know and follow Him.
Our experience at Redeemer Sports for getting people involved and active in our ministry is as follows –
- We don’t force them to be excited about what we have planned.
- Rather, we try to hear what they are excited about. Then train them and equip them in a role that fits their passion.
- Once trained, we can add them to a role that they are excited about and fits their personal strengths.
This is how cricket was started. We focused on finding 2 or 3 people that had a passion for reaching their community. We used their relationships and contacts and followed their recommendation to start a cricket league.
The trick is building relationships, intentionally focusing on learning the following –
- what stage of life they are in
- what their passions are
- how they want to be involved.
It is Slow and Hard Work
It is time consuming and can be discouraging when people don’t want to be a part of what you are doing. The last thing I shared was that it takes more than just saying you want to be diverse and be a part of their community. It takes things like –
- Sitting in 4 hour long worship services where they only spoke Telugu so I could meet Christians in our community that might be interested in Cricket
- Meeting with them for lunch over an hour away because it’s close to where they work
- Trying new authentic foods, that seemed like a good idea at the time
- Getting texts and calls at 9:30 pm, because that’s when they were finally available to talk about planning
- Learning a new culture and holidays into consideration
- Learning a foreign concept that families that migrate here, often leave their entire extended family behind and are starting a new life in a new area.
Addie especially appreciated that last point.
It has been exciting to continue building a relationship with the Wetzel family and I continue to pray for Addie every week that he would accept what Jesus has done for him. At this point, he has visited our church on Sundays, his kids have been to VBS, Sunday mornings, and multiple sports. I know that God is continuing to work on me, as I have a brotherly love for Addie and will rejoice when the day arrives that he will be my brother in Christ. Addie is my personal reminder that while we often look at crowds and leagues, God always sees the individual.
Several things that stuck out to me as I heard this story –
- Even though Kane may not have known it, Addie and others were watching what he was doing – for a long time.
- What he did communicated far more than what he might have said – in this case, that he was inclusive.
- It took a long time with significant sacrifice on Kane’s part to communicate this message.
- However, this history of inclusiveness opened up other opportunities for further ministry.
With this story in mind, let me also ask you
- Who in your spheres of contact might God be prompting you to include – either personally or in your ministry?
- What sacrifices might be involved in pursuing relationships with those people?
- How might God use this pursuit to glorify Himself and change you as it has changed Kane?