More than 240 coaches took part in a coaches clinic in April.
In the Dominican Republic, baseball is king. From past legends such as the “Dominican Dandy” Juan Marichal and the Alou brothers, through 1980s slugger George Bell to recent stars such as Sammy Sosa, Vladamir Guerrero, Pedro Martinez, Alex Rodriguez and Albert Pujols, the roster of baseball legends that trace their roots back to the Dominican Republic is revered across the island. Baseball is a part of the country’s fabric and daily culture.
But, it is more than that. It is a means to an end. Baseball and other sports are a platform being used by Mike Shaheen and his FCA Dominican Republic staff to share the gospel of Jesus Christ in a country where living conditions are far different than they are in America, but the hearts of the people long for God’s love in the same way.
So, when the Fellowship of Christian Athletes and six other ministries teamed up recently in the Dominican town of Boca Chica to host a coaches clinic, baseball was the common denominator for the 260 coaches in attendance that came from as far away as the Haitian border six hours away. But half the coaches were already being discipled by FCA staff, and the other half were brought by leaders of other FCA ministry partners on the island. The idea of sport, and ultimately, coaching, as a platform for more than perfecting baseball skills, has been growing in the hearts of some of the Dominican Republic’s most influential leaders for some time.
By the time the three-day clinic was over, about 40 coaches had surrendered their lives to Christ, and many more than that had committed to use their platform as a coach to share their faith in Christ.
FCA is recognizing that the need to capture the hearts of coaches is not just a United States issue but a worldwide issue. The door to reach a coach is a universal opportunity.
“FCA is different in the Dominican Republic in that we have no sports ministry through the school system,” said Shaheen, who has moved with his wife and their two children from the Atlanta area to the Dominican Republic. “But, a coach is a coach, and a Huddle is a Huddle. Our staff and leadership are doing the same things here that the staff is doing in the USA. Walking with someone is the same no matter where you are.”
Shaheen and his staff of six Dominican nationals do face obstacles – “Our challenges are challenges that all third world nations have: electricity, communication, resources…” – but there is no denying the impact they are making.
“The coaches love that we are here to support them in whatever way possible,” Shaheen said. “Most of them have been excited to have FCA staff at their fields sharing messages of hope and grace. They also love it when FCA baseball teams come down and play their teams and share testimonies.”
FCA Dominican Republic staff meet weekly for discipleship and prayer.
To make that impact, Shaheen leads a discipleship session with his staff every Thursday morning “in order to be real with each other,” he said.
“I lead the discipleship, but we try to turn it into an opportunity for each one of us to share what is on our hearts and what we are struggling with in our lives,” Shaheen said.
The FCA Dominican staff also attends a full day seminary training for future pastors on Fridays, gaining wisdom on church leadership.
“The rest of the time, they spend at the fields in Boca Chica, pouring into coaches and players,” Shaheen said. “Each one of the staff members is assigned to a different part of the city and focuses in on the coaches in that area. It’s not uncommon for one of our guys to spend lunch a few days a week with different coaches in their assigned area.”
Shaheen said that it is vital that his staff is made of Dominican nationals.
“Long after the Shaheens and other Americans are gone, we are hoping the Dominicans are feeding and walking with other Dominicans in faith,” Shaheen said. “My hope is that my family can move to another area in the future and these six guys can continue to do the same ministry and build up other Dominican leaders in Boca Chica.”
Ideally, they will do so partnering with other ministries on the island. FCA was just one of the ministries involved in the coaches clinic, joining the Rawlings Foundation, SCORE International, G.O. Ministries, Athletics Missions International, Meeting God in Baseball and Baseball Chapel.
“I believe that the teamwork between the seven ministries during the coaches’ clinic sticks out in my mind the most,” Shaheen said, recalling the three day coaches clinic. “It was almost surreal to not only have seven ministries present working together for Christ, but the leadership from those ministries.
“It’s important that FCA partner with other organizations because we are not a ‘church’ or ‘missions sending organization’ or a ‘needs based ministry’ that provides food and water,” Shaheen said. “But we need to be part of the team that does all these things in our community. Our focus is to disciple coaches in the community, because we believe they are the most influential leaders. Our job is incomplete if we cannot work alongside a church that can feed these men that we have been pouring into.”
Worship during the coaches clinic in Boca Chica, Dominican Republic.
For Shaheen and his family, the thought of staying in one place too long is contradictory to plans to spread the gospel throughout the Dominican Republic.
“Our hope and prayer is that every three years or so, we can move to another city in the Dominican Republic and start the process of doing sports ministry,” he said. “We know that God will provide the details and the timing, but we are prepared to go wherever He wants us to use sports as a platform to glorify Him.”
If there was ever a picture of how God would use FCA’s International Ministry, Shaheen just explained it in one sentence.
Photos courtesyof Jodi Shaheen