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Strengthening Each Team

Published on April 11, 2024

Allison Gibeson

It would have been easy for Jen Benito to have become discouraged five years ago when she was trying to establish FCA ministry at Imperial High School in Imperial, Calif.

FCA didn’t yet have a presence at the school, and her efforts to engage with the volleyball coach had yet to bear any fruit. Instead of letting discouragement take hold, Jen, who currently serves as Ambassador for the school, trusted God and persisted. The result? Ministry on the campus last year included 32 Huddles–one for each of the school’s sports teams.

Jen began by simply praying with the volleyball team, and God allowed her to build a relationship with the coaches and players over the course of a season. Becoming established with the football team also presented challenges, but ministry also increased quickly once it began.

After an initial start with those two teams, FCA began spreading acrossK5VjLqpA the campus. Other coaches saw what was happening, and students also began asking for Huddles in their sports.

“It was a five-year process of being rejected or told, ‘No,’ but still being present and building relationships with students and other coaches,” said Juan Benito, Jen’s husband and the Director for FCA Imperial Valley.

Juan said they have seen the full progression of ministry, which includes first reaching a coach, and that coach encouraging athletes to become involved in FCA, followed by the athletes then getting plugged into a local church and stepping up to serve as leaders.

Amy Riley, a recent Imperial High School graduate, initially became involved in FCA after encouragement from her volleyball coach. As a result, she connected with a church where she now regularly attends. In the process, she received her first Bible and then became a student-leader.

Leaning into community is a big lesson Riley learned through her FCA involvement.

“One time Jen texted our student-leader group chat and asked everyone to be vulnerable and share,” Riley said. “This really showed me everyone is going through something whether they show it or not. We were all able to pray for each other and encourage one another. This really stuck since I never had a Christian community up until my junior year.”

Overall, Riley said many students at the school have grown in their walks with Christ because of the FCA Huddles. And Jen is happy to provide a safe place that feels comfortable.

“We are there because some of those kids don’t have anyone,” Jen said. “When they look up in the stands, the fact that they see me is awesome. I can be that person I didn’t have in high school—the person who makes them feel safe and loves them no matter what. That’s what I was looking for in high school. My goal is to prevent kids from making big mistakes like I did because they feel so lost.”

Tavio Ayala, another recent Imperial High School graduate, said there was a time when he was frustrated with God and had a difficult time allowing Him back into his life, but FCA encouraged him through that.

“FCA helped show me that I’m not alone in that battle, and there are others in the same grade or same age group that have similar issues,” Ayala said.

Ayala said one of the biggest lessons he learned through FCA is that Christ is for everyone. He was hesitant when he first joined FCA because he thought he wasn’t worthy of God’s Word, and he didn’t know if he could understand it. FCA helped him become comfortable with God again and understand the Bible.

_FwJlLIQJuan said coaches are often moved to embrace the ministry when they see the local FCA staff’s genuineness along with their desire to be an asset to teams through a relational approach with athletes.

“Coaches see you as another tool in their toolbox,” he said.

According to Jen, many of the coaches who have allowed the ministry to flourish saw their team become closer by the end of the season.

“Even if all the athletes aren’t all believers, which the majority aren’t, the teams overall understood FCA was about making them a better person, a better team, and better individuals instead of fighting for each other’s spots,” she said.

Patience is another valuable lesson Jen has learned from the experience.

“God had to slow me down a few times, redirect me, and teach me that maybe I’m not the person who is going to reach every student, but FCA is,” Jen said. “He’s helped change my mindset to see the bigger picture.”

FCA in California’s Imperial Valley reaches 1,350 athletes on a weekly basis. Juan Benito, Director, requests prayer for continued encouragement and focus on the Lord.

Juan also asks for prayers for all the staff and volunteers in the area. There are two high school campuses where they are working to develop a presence, but they need the right people to move forward.

For more information about the ministry in Imperial Valley, visit fcaimperialvalley.org.