In August of last year, Heiden Ratner and his new wife, Neena, were ready to return to Israel from Las Vegas for Heiden’s second season playing professional basketball overseas. During an unexpected phone call, Ratner discovered he had been released from his two-year contract.
Unsure of what to do next, Heiden and Neena trusted the Lord in obedience.
“It was definitely a blow [to be released],” Ratner said. “I was unsure what was next for me. Yet, I trusted God and said, ‘Let Your will be done.’”
Later that week, Ratner received another unexpected phone call, but this time from Kentucky Christian University head coach Ron Reed, who he had met at an FCA camp in Black Mountain, N.C., a few years before. Reed offered Ratner a graduate assistant coaching job and asked Ratner to prayerfully start the first FCA Huddle at KCU.
“Neena and I prayed on it, felt peace, packed our car up and made the drive from Las Vegas to the small town of Grayson, Ky., two weeks later,” Ratner said.
After arriving in Grayson, Reed gave Ratner an FCA ministry kit and the phone number of a former football player and recent graduate of KCU, Tyron (T.J.) Young. Ratner and Young together gathered seven leaders and started meeting every week to pray and fellowship together, planning the first launch of the new FCA Huddle on KCU campus.
On October 29, Ratner and his team opened the doors in Grayson’s Life Center expecting 30-40 athletes to attend KCU’s first FCA Huddle meeting. To their surprise, God brought over 70 athletes to hear Ratner’s message on building our foundation in Jesus from Luke 6:46-49.
“People were challenged and encouraged that night, hungry to grow in their relationship with Christ.” Ratner said.
In that moment, God showed that He would be faithful to this young ministry team’s obedience to the Lord’s calling to start an FCA huddle at KCU.
But He still had more to show them.
“The next week we began our small groups,” Ratner said. “And truthfully, God did it again. As the other male leaders and I gathered in an apartment expecting 10-15 guys to show up, there turned out to be 45.”
Because God tripled the amount of people they expected, the group had to move to the lobby of the dormitory, and there, even more joined to listen.
“I Had No Idea…What I Was Getting Myself Into.”
This was not the first time Ratner had seen the Lord work in faithfulness through obedience.
When Ratner played basketball at James Madison University, before transferring to Mercyhurst College to finish his career, he met the Lord through FCA, and FCA Magazine (then known as Sharing The Victory) featured Ratner’s impact as a young disciple both at JMU and in his hometown of Las Vegas.
Not only had Ratner become a leader in his FCA Huddle as a student-athlete, but he also felt a personal challenge from the Lord to spread the gospel to his old friends. While living at home for a summer before going back to school, Ratner had just five friends who committed to attend a Bible Study, but on the first night it was held, 20 people came. For the five weeks that followed, the group continued to grow in numbers. Each summer when Ratner returns home, the group continues to meet.
Ratner described the experience of going from an FCA attendee to a campus FCA leader both amazing and humbling.
“I can still remember walking into my first ever FCA huddle back at James Madison University – I had no idea what to expect or what I was getting myself into,” Ratner said. “Five years later, I find myself leading our huddle here at KCU alongside my brother in Christ, TJ Young. I get more joy out of bringing glory to Christ through leading and helping others grow in their relationship with Him than anything this world has to offer.”
“Jesus Didn’t Go Half-Hearted”
Since their first meeting in late October, KCU student-athletes have joined in small groups, grown in their personal reading of the Bible, and sought out ways to represent Christ both on and off the court or field.
As a coach, Ratner has a new perspective on FCA that he carries out into this newly founded ministry at Kentucky Christian.
“Being on the other side of the court has definitely opened my eyes to the value of leadership and genuinely living out what you preach,” Ratner said. “I’ve been able to see firsthand the gospel-fruit in peoples’ lives just from them seeing the way my wife and I live out our faith.”
As a coach, Ratner loves to compete for the glory of Christ.
“My faith affects the way I compete as a coach because my faith affects every aspect of my life.”
Ratner encourages his players to compete with the same attitude of Colossians 3:23, which states, “Whatever you do, do it enthusiastically, as something done for the Lord, not for men.” (HCSB)
“I challenge them to compete at the highest level they’re capable, mainly because Jesus didn’t go half-hearted up the hill of Calvary,” Ratner said. “He gave His very best, all to die in our place. If He did that, how much more can we go out and give it our best in a game of basketball?
“I pray my coaching and leadership have affected the guys in a way where they not only see me as a coach, but Jesus coaching them through me.”
“God Works Through My Obedience”
Ratner’s story is an example of how God works through our obedience to Him.
Paul wrote in Romans 5:19, “through the one man’s obedience the many will be made righteous.” (HCSB) The one man is in reference to Jesus Christ and His obedience to death on a cross (Philippians 2:8). Through this obedience, God used His death to make the way to salvation for all His children and He exalted Jesus in heaven to the highest place.
As a result of Ratner’s obedience to pack up his car and drive to Grayson, Ky., two regular attendees of FCA at KCU will be baptized this spring.
“God has shown me that He works through my obedience, both as an athlete and as a coach, by the true joy that follows obedience to Christ and by the fruit that I am able to see grow from my obedience,” Ratner said.
The obedient life that Ratner and his wife Neena have shown demonstrates the fruit that comes from being doers of the word, not just hearers.
“We believe that God can open many doors for gospel conversations,” Ratner said. “Through us living the good news first.”
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