When Quinn Evans describes herself as a “product of FCA,” she means that in every way possible. Her father Johnny Evans has worked for FCA for over 20 years and is currently the Eastern North Carolina State Director. She also took full advantage of FCA ministry as a student-athlete and naturally transitioned into an FCA staff role after her college graduation in 2007.
Along with her FCA involvement, Evans took part in several mission trips as a teenager and young adult. But for some reason, she didn’t see the two ministry outlets working in concert.
“I never thought that my exposure to missions would mix with my FCA work,” Evans admits. “In my mind, those were parallel things.”
That all changed in 2010 when she attended an international sports leadership school in South Africa.
“I started to learn how to do sports ministry in a global context,” she says. “That’s when the Lord really opened my eyes to the global need for sports ministry.”
Evans also met Casper and Ashley Steenkamp, a South African couple who were working with SportQuest and based in Texas. The following summer, she took eight college students to South Africa where the group partnered with the Steenkamps and Sport For Christ Action South Africa (SCAS) for leadership training, discipleship and an FCA camp.
At the end of the experience, Evans began dreaming big.
“We were all sitting around and just marveling at the wide scope of partnership and influence,” she says. “That was the first time we discussed the possibility of turning it into a longer term internship for college students.”
It was also during that gathering when the CEO of SCAS told her what David Guehring was doing in Italy. Three years prior, Guerhing (now serving as FCA Europe coordinator) along with FCA staff, Dan Britton and Barry Spofford, had birthed a concept called Impact Europe in 2008—a seven-week international sports ministry internship in partnership with FCA and Operation Mobilization (OM). In 2012, Evans and the other partners launched Impact South Africa.
While both internship programs have the same heartbeat and similar training (developing spiritual leaders, training how to do sports ministry, and having a heart for the nations), there are some differences mostly due to cultural distinctions. However, there is one similarity that was clearly evident following the 2014 campaigns: Both Impact programs have hit their stride.
Over the past six years, the Impact program has trained 132 interns, 49 from this past summer. “Investing in the next generation leaders is one of the most significant things we can do as a ministry,” Dan Britton says. “These leaders have the opportunity to impact the world for Jesus Christ.”
Impact South Africa
On June 1st, 24 interns along with the 11-member leadership team converged upon Cape Town, South Africa, for nine weeks of training, discipleship, and outreach. For Evans, one of the most exciting aspects of this year’s program was the presence of five international interns including representatives from Zimbabwe, South Korea, South Africa and East Asia.
“These students aren’t just ministering to people overseas,” she says. “They’re sitting side-by-side and training with other young people from across the globe. They become brothers and sisters with the international interns.”
A typical day incorporated classroom training in the morning, lunch, fitness sessions and outreach in the afternoon. During one particular 10-day stretch, five interns traveled to nearby Zambia where they partnered with OM Sportslink and experienced a more rural ministry environment that included leading Discovery Bible Studies for local soccer teams.
“I will never forget how the people of Kabwe challenged me to take God at His word,” intern Carly Weaver says. “My heart was broken one moment only to be filled with joy the next. The people there have complete faith and dependence on the Lord. I was struck by the way they pray. They pray like God is who He really is. They truly believe in His power. I will always remember the way they trust and have joy.”
The interns found another unique opportunity at the Drakenstein men’s prison where they ministered to the Hope Academy soccer team and enjoyed some friendly competition.
“Many of these men had already come to know the Lord since being in prison while many still did not yet know Him,” says intern Kelya Jureczki. “A few of us asked one man what was holding him back from committing his life to the Lord. He answered that it was impossible for God to forgive him of the things that he had done. It was heartbreaking to hear his hopelessness, but yet it was an incredible opportunity to share the Gospel, pray for him and encourage him with scripture.”
Along with church ministry and home stays with South African families, the Impact team led Huddle groups for local youth sports teams and ran three FCA camps in Simonsberg, Somerset West and Die Eiland. Each camp utilized the All In theme, or as the locals said, Alas en!
“Camp at Die Eiland was very impactful for the kids in the surrounding communities of Stellenbosch,” intern Michaela Rich says. “Many kids that attended understood the camp theme and committed their lives to Christ and decided to become All In for Him.”
According to Evans, asking each intern what impacted him or her the most will likely yield a wide variety of responses.
“A lot of times, this experience will restructure their perspective on God or culture or life or sports,” she reveals. “The most important thing is we want these young people to have a heart transformation and we want them to encounter the Lord in a way they never have before.”
At the same time, David Guehring and his staff were hosting 14 interns and coaches from a wide array of countries including Germany, Bulgaria, Hungary, Macedonia, Nigeria, Australia, the United Kingdom, the United States and Italy. In its sixth year, the training program consisted of classroom training, outreaches that stretched beyond Northern Italy into places such as Bosnia, Malta, and Romania, and relationship-building excursions with the purpose of laying the groundwork for future ministry opportunities.
For instance, in the first week, three Impact team members assisted the U-18 Hungarian National Baseball Team in its preparation for the European tournament held in Croatia. In Romania, other team members interacted with young people in a Roma community and volunteered at an overnight church camp.
Playing soccer at an FCA Impact Europe camp.
In the second week, a group traveled to the Puglia region in Italy where they facilitated sports outreach at the area parks and beaches and participated in a three-on-three basketball tournament that a local church had organized. In Germany, another group ran a five-day soccer camp through the Evangelical Church of Nierenhof.
The outreach efforts acted in conjunction with Guerhing’s sports ministry philosophy.
“Sports people in Europe are an unreached people group,” he says. “I’ve been in Italy for five years and I only know a few coaches that are Christ followers. In Italy and Southern Europe, the people don’t look at spirituality as a valuable contribution. But if you have something you can bring to the locker room as a player or a coach, you earn the right to get access.”
With that in mind, Guerhing hopes that Impact Europe will not only make a short-term impact on the region, but also serve as a bridge for athletes—particularly those from the United States—looking to use the sports they love to play well beyond their competitive years.
“A few years ago, in a conversation with Dan Britton and Barry Spofford, I wondered out loud how many athletes in the USA retire years before their peak because they are not good enough to be professional,” he says. “Those same athletes can come to Europe and play their sport and be missionaries in the sports world. Impact Europe helps them learn what it means to be disciples in a post-Christian environment. The program is designed to help athletes discover who God created them to be and to encourage and train them how to share the Gospel with others.”
Hope Cornell, a softball player from Delaware, is a perfect example of one athlete who has embraced that concept. She has spent the past three summers serving with Impact Europe and has parlayed the experience into an opportunity to play professionally in Stuttgart, Germany, next year.
“I was able to return to Hungary and continue to build relationships with the Junior National baseball team coaches and players through means of the sport and general time spent together,” Cornell says. “During another outreach in Southern Italy, I was encouraged by that church’s pastor to start a sports ministry in order to share the Good News with their community. Impact exposed me to sports ministry opportunities outside of the U.S and is now providing me the chance to continue to play softball after college.”
Markers For Success
Evans says there is no fast and easy formula for determining the fruit that comes from each internship outing. But there are markers for success. Most of those indicators come through partnerships with local churches and sports ministry programs.
For instance, one local pastor has routinely sent several kids from his church to one of the Impact South Africa camps every year. He has also sent a few youth group members to shadow the FCA leaders. Some of those young people are now serving as Huddle leaders. The following week, the team members are invited to the church where they enjoy a service exclusively dedicated to the camp experience. The kids give feedback. The youth leaders tell stories. The Impact members share testimonies.
“That’s a great example of the church body expressing how the camp has impacted them,” Evans says. “It’s a neat opportunity for moms to tell us that they’ve seen a difference in their kids.”
From there, the Impact leaders follow up with the churches and ministry partners. Evans compares the process to Huddle leaders who bring kids to camps in the United States and then help disciple them when they go back home.
“It wasn’t FCA’s idea to partner with the local church,” she adds. “That’s a biblical concept. And it works.”
For Guehring, it’s equally difficult to judge whether or not this year’s Impact program made the grade.
“You don’t know what really sticks until they go home,” he explains. “I’d be a fool to say that it was a success so soon after it ended. Sometimes this is the first time a young person thinks about their faith outside the context of their parents or their FCA Huddle. They are challenged in different ways. A lot of that needs to be ratified when they go back.”
But he does have a good idea of how things went based on at least one indicator.
“I didn’t have to run the program on a day-to-day basis because the program has produced its own leaders,” Guehring says. “We managed to do what everyone dreams of doing. After five years, we worked ourselves out of a job. We’re still coordinating the program, but this year was the first year where alumni of the program helped create the environment for the other interns.”
According to Guehring, this year’s interns really bought into Impact Europe. They experienced outreach and community in numerous cultural settings. And while evangelism is certainly a high priority for both programs, he believes that the ultimate goal is to produce the next generation of ministry leaders.
“We want people to learn what it looks like to follow Christ in a context other than their own,” Guehring says. “We want people to engage in the international sports community. But most importantly, if our interns listen to God and do what He is asking them to do, that would be a win.”
Originally published October 2014