The mission of Fellowship of Christian Athletes is “To lead every coach and athlete into a growing relationship with Jesus Christ and His church.” The concept works great as long as churches are open to recognizing the role that sport can play in influencing others for Christ.
In many countries around the world, the concept of sport and God together is not easily accepted. For Julio Bautista, he has been working tirelessly to change the way churches in Argentina view sport.
After his parents divorced and later both passed away, Bautista was raised by his grandmother. Out of fear that something bad would happen to him, he was not allowed to play outside with the other children. His world consisted of school, church and chess, which he played alone. This small, enclosed world left Bautista isolated and lonely.
When a high school classmate saw Bautista was left-handed, he took interest in teaching him how to play basketball. Bautista was hooked on the sport, which alleviated his loneliness.
During half-time of one of his basketball games, he saw people share the Gospel.
“I started to see how God could use me through sport,” shared the FCA Argentina Director. “I learned many values from basketball that impacted my life, and I understood the mission God has given me.”
Raised in the church, Bautista felt called to the work of the Lord and saw the natural fit of combining his two passions, God and basketball, together.
Excited to share that concept with his local church, Bautista met with church leaders and explained how they, too, could use sport to share the Gospel.
Unfortunately, the church leaders immediately turned down the idea for fear of an unhealthy influence to the faith.
“My local church told me I had to stop playing because I was a bad example of a Christian playing basketball,” explained Bautista. “I thought it was important to stop playing because I didn’t want those around me to feel bad about playing their sport.”
Choosing between God and sport was crushing, yet he forged ahead for 25 years teaching around Latin America in churches without his beloved basketball.
“The churches only saw sport as competition and play, not as opportunity to reach 60,000 plus people at a game,” said Bautista.
By first connecting with sports clubs and sharing the vision and using the tools provided by FCA, Bautista helps teams ground themselves with values they want their players to exhibit. The value lessons then open the door to share devotionals and further conversation that involves the Gospel.
This seemed to pave a new way into the sports community as Bautista eventually transformed the narrative and caught the attention of churches.
Today, Bautista has one full-time staff member and seven volunteers who are all dedicated to bringing the Gospel through sport to the young men and women in Argentina. Bautista is reunited with his two loves, sport and God, together again.
The road to building his team and a reputation for sound leadership has been hard, but Bautista is quick to recognize God’s hand through it all.
“God placed key people in churches where we could be the ministry and began to see results,” he said. “There were kids who left the streets to participate in our ministry programs, families who began going to church because of seeing the change in their children, and slowly the vision of the sports ministry established in churches.”
By equipping local leaders and churches with FCA resources, the vision that sports can be used as a ministry tool continues to grow. In fact, the Florida Region sent gifts to several of the sports clubs in Argentina. This was an opportunity for Bautista to share with them that one of the values of FCA is Serving. Because the sports clubs appreciate the values shared through FCA, the clubs are intrigued to learn more.
One of Bautista’s volunteers began a Huddle with his teammates and after some time, one of his teammates asked to go to church with him. He is now integrated into the youth group and the church now wants to work with FCA!
For a country that was once resistant to the thought of sport and God coexisting, Bautista and FCA Argentina have proven they do indeed belong together.
FCA Argentina is in need of support to purchase printed materials to hand out to sports clubs, and funds for flights to visit the United States for further staff training. In addition, they seek prayer for introductions to key leaders they can connect with to share the Gospel around their country.
Please consider supporting Bautista and his team to further equip leaders to share the Gospel with the sports world in Argentina.
Photos courtesy of Julio Bautista