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Changing the Game

Published on May 08, 2023

Sarah Freymuth

A Welshman born and bred in Wales, UK, Owen Hughes grew up in an environment crazy for rugby and soccer, or ‘football’ as it’s called in most countries. A multi-sport athlete, he couldn't get enough.

While attending university, Hughes discovered American football and took his rugby experience to the field as an outside linebacker and safety. Despite growing up in a Christian household, he faced something common to many college athletes: he went his own way. He loved the party life and lived for himself. But after his first year, Hughes recognized something was missing in his life. At the suggestion of his mother, he signed up to help with a hosting a group from the U.S. visiting their church.

There, God got a hold of his heart, and Hughes went all in on faith.

“I went from being the party-goer to evangelizing in bars,” he laughed.

Back at school, Hughes maintained his athletic momentum and it carried him all the way to his senior year. Poised to be defensive captain, he was ready. But in preseason, Hughes suffered an ACL tear and quickly encountered the underside of high-level competition.

“My coach didn’t want anything to do with me at that point, because he figured I was never going to play for him again,” Hughes shared.

Disappointed, Hughes’ heart began spinning our a series of questions with God as to why his injury happened  during his final year and what He was doing in the process.

With football still in the forefront of his mind, Hughes remembered the partnership between the group of Americans in Louisiana and his church in Wales, and a burden fell on his heart for other young football players like himself who were experiencing similar pressures and situations. Hughes received an invitation for a year-long internship to coach high school football in Louisiana, and his decision was easy.

6rOiYBQk“In America’s deep south, football is king,” he said, “Athletes who are 14-to-18-years-old have tremendous pressure to perform on the field. I really wanted to support them.”

Hughes flew across the pond and began coaching linebackers for a freshman team, helping with the varsity at a Five-A school and doing student ministry.

While there, he was introduced to FCA through a campus Huddle and FCA partner Hollis Conway, while also working in student ministry. He was impressed by the environment while also seeing the need for positive influence in the lives of young people.

After a year of coaching and doing part-time student ministry, Hughes wanted to continue in the States, especially since he’d met Caitlin, his now-wife. But, visa stipulations required him to move back to Wales. As he and Caitlin worked to file documentation to get Hughes back to the U.S., they both felt a check in their spirits: Maybe they should consider a life in Wales.

As they prayed about their future as many months progressed, God confirmed what they’d sensed. He opened a door for Hughes to work part-time at a local church and part-time at a missions organization. Hughes and Caitlin got engaged, and she moved to Wales not long after.

The couple was getting excited, setting up for a new life, but six months later, COVID-19 arrived and changed direction once again. Hughes didn’t feel the same calling to local church ministry.

“I was like, ‘Okay, God, what are you saying?’” Hughes said. “My degree is in sport business management, I really missed coaching and I felt I was doing more admin ministry than actually being out there with young people.”

As Hughes discerned his next steps, God gave him a vision for sports ministry. He wanted to help coaches and athletes reach their potential and change the way they approached their sport. For the next year and a half, Hughes was on reset and asking questions about his future.

Curious about sports chaplaincy, Hughes met with his neighbor, Steve Jones, who happened to be the chaplain for the Ospreys wheelchair rugby team in Neath, Wales. Sensing his passion for coaching and seeing his desire to find his place and calling, Jones directed Hughes to FCA. Hughes, who had many connections in the U.S. between his coaching experiences and his wife’s nationality, thought it was a good idea that showed promise.

“I’m looking forward to that moment when we are seeing kids and coaches in Wales having their lives completely changed.”  -Owen Hughes 
Hughes was balancing a lot: He had picked up a head American football university coaching position, he was going to school and he was working part-time as a youth pastor. But, he wanted to keep learning more about sports ministry and FCA.

Jones connected him with Andriy Kravstov, FCA VP of North Global, and in February 2022, Hughes traveled to Texas for FCA’s International Capacity Conference (ICC) to get an up-close view of the ministry and seek clarity on God’s call. After meeting FCA staff and gaining information and intrigue, Hughes and his wife felt it confirmed in their hearts: FCA was part of their path.

“It was the perfect match for us,” Hughes said.

After the conference, Hughes managed his responsibilities and began learning what it means to join FCA staff. Five months after traveling to the ICC, he joined FCA staff. He’s jumped headlong into fundraising, building up volunteers and networking with potential partners for 360 Global Sports UK, known as FCA Sports Wales.

Hughes has his work cut out for him in his home country, but he’s up for the challenge.

Wales is a sports-crazed country with half the population weekly participating in athletics at some level and only 2% of the population consider themselves Christian.

“We’re nuts about sports and we live in a post-Christian culture, so sport is basically a religion here,” Hughes explained. “There’s massive opportunity for us to connect with coaches and athletes on the fields or sidelines.”

RygBd5HrThere’s a strategic beginning Hughes has noticed, paying attention to what’s already happening. When considering FCA’s pursuit of reaching coaches and athletes in club and league sports, Hughes already sees opportunity.

“There’s a soccer club in one town near me that has around sixteen teams in every age group, with over six hundred kids. That’s just one town!” he said.

Hughes has already secured funding for the first year of ministry and he is envisioning what things will look like as the year progresses. He’s streamlined his roles, now focusing on his role at FCA and is planning coaching workshops for those already in a similar mindset.

“We have some exciting opportunities to resource coaches,” he said. “That's one area we’re really looking to grow, because if we can influence coaches, we can influence athletes.”

They are also working on developing discipleship through the Wales Christian Football League, helping coaches and leaders of each team use these opportunities for discipleship within the league.

What Hughes looks forward to is witnessing the life change he knows will come when coaches and athletes encounter the living God and learn what it is to live in step with Him.

“I’m looking forward to that moment when we are seeing kids and coaches in Wales having their lives completely changed,” Hughes said.

Many kids in Wales lack hope and opportunity, but Hughes believes God’s called him to Wales and into partnership with FCA and 360GlobalSport to change that narrative. He said, “

“We need a shift; we need to completely change the landscape of things here in Wales where we radically love the people of Wales so much they have to ask: ‘Why are you so different?’”

Ministry in Wales is just getting started, and there are many ways you can get involved! Support Hughes and the ministry in Wales.

Contact information: ohughes@360globalsport.com

Please pray for God to move in Wales, for the right connections with coaches and athletes, finances, fundraising and joining the Home Team, and for God to grow the team of staff, volunteers, and those who can buy into the vision for the country.