This story appears in FCA Magazine’s July/August 2017 issue. Subscribe today!
Hometown: Melitopol, Ukraine
Family: Wife – Julia
Children – daughter Amina (5), son Misha (2)
• Prepare people to take my place as coach.
• Build relationships with other leaders of Ukraine whose hearts are open to sports ministry.
• Continue to serve those who are currently in Huddles and clinics.
• Invest in leaders who will invest in even more coaches and athletes.
“Since you are my rock and my fortress, for the sake of your name lead and guide me.” – Psalm 31:3 (NIV)
Ivan Chernenko grew up viewing God as more punisher than peacemaker. But the Lord tugged on his heart until 2012, when Christ filled the nagging emptiness inside. With the help of FCA Ukraine Director Andriy Kravtsov, the wrestler turned wrestling coach grew in his faith, and he’s developed his heart towards athletes in his Unity Wrestling Club and involvement with FCA.
FCA: Why did you get into coaching?
IC: When I was training, I thought, “What would I do better as a coach?” I wanted to become a coach who changes the coach-athlete relationship and gives all glory to God.
It is important for me to understand what God desires from an athlete—not what I want from them. [FCA Ukraine Director] Andriy Kravtsov gave me a question for each situation: “What will be the most beneficial for God’s Kingdom?” This helps me stay focused. I am a tool in God’s hands.
FCA: How has your faith impacted your life?
IC: My faith has become my firm foundation in ministry to athletes and coaches. I understand God has chosen me to tell the gospel to athletes and coaches, and I believe He will give me everything needed on this road.
I can live without many things, but without faith I am dead. Jesus is my only motivation and strength. My relationship with Him is my ultimate victory; my salvation in Him is my ultimate success.
FCA: How has the Unity Wrestling Club evolved?
IC: In 2013, my wife and I were training kids three times a week. We started to understand wrestling was a tool not only good for the body, but also for the mind and soul; we wanted to have more spiritual influence on kids and their parents.
It wasn’t easy. It challenged my faith. We had no money for rent or equipment, and we had no coaches. What we had was confidence in two things: we needed to open the gym, and those who came needed to hear the Good News. Praise God for His miracles during that period. At the beginning of every practice, we circle up and pray together. At the end, when we are tired and exhausted, we turn to God’s Word and meditate on His will for our lives.
FCA: What do you hope your athletes learn from you each season?
IC: To fully trust God and be steadfast in Christian beliefs, no matter the circumstances. To be faithful in relationships, accept others and take care of them. Our athletes have started to understand that a gold medal is not the top of their dreams. You can become a true winner only by having a personal relationship with God.
I want to make true followers of Christ who will love God, sports and people. I want them to go to coaches and athletes who don’t know Christ, serve them, and—when asked why they are serving—tell them about Christ.
FCA: What has it meant to you to be part of FCA?
IC: After I visited coaches’ and chaplains’ clinics, we organized camp together with FCA, where coaches and athletes were opening their hearts to God. Our partnership made a huge impact influencing the hearts of coaches and athletes, and it boosted the productivity of practices and relationships.
It is a privilege for me to serve in an organization with such a long history. I like being a part of a movement that has changed so many lives. FCA helps reach the closed community of coaches and athletes with God’s Word.
FCA Staff Quote:
“Ivan is great humble leader of Christ. He is always ready to learn new things for his life that Jesus has prepared. Coaches and athletes, whom Jesus touches through Ivan’s ministry, know for sure that he is driven by the grace and love of our Lord.”
FCA Ukraine Multi-Area Director
Photos courtesy of Yura Tyvonchuk