ASHBURN, VA – About 250,000 coaches, student-athletes and their friends have been coming together this fall for what they call "Fields of Faith." Their goal is to show that God and sports make an awesome and powerful combo. It shows that at both public and private schools across America, there's a thriving network of Christians, often meeting right on the same fields where they play sports.
Since 1954, the Fellowship of Christian Athletes – or FCA – has been a force helping about 2,000,000 coaches and students-athletes each year combine their love of sports with their desire to know God better. The biggest FCA events during the school year are Fields of Faith. On various evenings across October, some 500 athletic fields see kids, coaches, friends and family worship, pray, testify and share words from the Bible.
CBN News attended one such gathering in Loudoun County's Ashburn, Virginia. Area director Matt Diener exclaimed, "On a public school field, we get to hear the Gospel presented. And that's powerful."
FCA's Virginia director celebrated how many schools gathered in this one spot.
Derrick Ellison explained, "We've got 16 schools represented – public high schools – and they're all coming together tonight to celebrate what God's doing on their campuses."
Diener added, "So kids from all over the county can come together and see what God's doing, see there are other students just like them…that's the whole purpose of it."
Pro Player Points Young Athletes to Jesus Christ
Athletes like Washington Redskins center Chase Roullier spoke to the crowd, and he compared a life with Jesus Christ to one without Him.
"Going out and partying and chasing things you shouldn't be, you're going to be very lonely," he stated. "But if you have a relationship with God, you're going to be very full. Your heart's going to be full of Him."
Local youth pastor Lee Banton is a self-admitted sports fanatic. That's why he particularly enjoys showing up at FCA events and sharing how God changes lives.
"There are a lot of people who say they think they have it figured out, but they're still searching," Banton said. "But those who have found Christ, they're like 'I'm not searching anymore. 'I've found the truth. I've found the way to live. It's found in His Word and it's found in Him and it's the Holy Spirit that's leading and guiding my life.'"
He'll Turn the Hardships into Opportunities
Defensive safety Connor McCarthy spoke of a sports injury that would have crushed him had it happened before he came to trust in a God who's always good.
"He has a plan for everyone. If you trust His plan and really accept His grace and His love, things in life will just start turning around," the Briar Woods High School student shared. "And you'll start viewing the hardships as opportunities to get better and closer to God."
McCarthy concluded, "Having Him in the center of your life can really have a large effect on you."
Those who shared this night testified those who find Christ find hope.
"When they figure that hope out, that changes their entire life," Banton said. "It's in my own life, man, and I've seen it be real and change me."
"I would not be as at peace as I am right now," Roullier added. "I wouldn't be down the right path, and it's hard to say where that path would have gone. I just know that path that Jesus has brought me on and I'm very happy with where He's bringing me."
God Drained Player's Consuming Anger
Football player Max Skirkanich testified how the God of Peace coming into his life drained him of furious anger.
The Tuscarora High School athlete shared, "I would get at least probably two to three 'unnecessary roughness' penalties a game just because I would get angry and then I would use that as my motivation."
Skirkanich continued, "I truly gave my life to Christ when going into tenth-grade year. Then I really started realizing that playing for the Lord, I didn't need to get as angry. So I went from being a hard-hitting linebacker to a kicker."
Potomac Falls High School cross-country runner Christina Gay finds God and her sport take her to a higher level.
She said, "Running is just a way for me to worship the Lord. And I use it as an act of worship and I use it to pray and just be at peace."
'Influencers in Our Society'
Asked why he sees working with coaches and student-athletes as a mission field, Matt Diener told CBN News, "Everybody loves sports. You know, it's just in our culture. Why do we focus on coaches and athletes? Because they're influencers in our society."
Youth pastor Banton added, "I think students are the ones who are changing the world. They're the next ones to change the world. Why would I not want to impact them for Christ?"
That impact goes on at schools during weekly FCA gatherings called Huddles.
What's a huddle? Diener answered, "A time of fun and fellowship. Read God's Word. Somebody will lead a devotional or a thought. And there's some discussion. The goal is to be challenged spiritually, but also just be encouraged knowing that you're with other men or women or boys and girls that share the same faith as you."
Huddles are wide open to everyone, especially non-believers.
"However they come, we know that when they do come, the Holy Spirit's going to work on their heart through the Word of God," Diener said.
Such gatherings played a big role in Rouillier's life long before he became a Redskins center.
"Coming to events like this and hearing people speak was a big part of my testimony and growing in my faith," the pro football player shared as he looked at the hundreds gathered on this Ashburn athletic field. "So being here and maybe helping someone along in their journey in a relationship with Jesus is why I come out here."
Huddles Transforming a School
The effect of these get-togethers can be thrilling, like what Diener told CBN News is happening at one Loudoun County school in the town of Purcellville.
He said of the Huddles there, "On any given week they could have between 80 and 120 students attending. Which is close to 20 percent of the student body."
"During the week, they're praying for friends who are going through struggles," Diener continued. "So they're actually taking it from meeting once a week to actually having an impact on the entire school."
FCA's Derrick Ellison summed up, "We're all about empowering athletes and coaches to be leaders on their campuses for Jesus Christ."
What the Fellowship of Christian Athletes gives these students is an ability to not just love and care about the sports they play, but also their fellow athletes and students. It teaches them to act as leaders, but also to think like servants…of Jesus Christ.