This article appears in the Spring 2021 edition of the FCA Donor Publication. The FCA publication is a gift from our FCA staff to all donors giving $50 or more annually. For more information about giving, visit here.
Ester Alencar has a gentle soul with a fierce competitive spirit.
She’s a go-getter who plays for the Curitiba Silverhawks, the best female American football team in her home country of Brazil. Her love of the game also led to her coaching a men’s football team and today, she passionately volunteers for FCA, recognizing the lasting and transformational opportunities coaches have on athletes’ lives.
LOVE OF THE GAME
Alencar grew up with a love of Jesus that evolved over the years and an ardor for sports that eventually led her to focus on football at age 11 when her brother began playing. At one point, she considered volleyball, but her sights shifted in 2014 when she set foot on the field with a women’s football league at age 17.
The sport of American football isn’t as widely popular in other countries compared to the United States, but Alencar fell for the rhythms and rush of the game, and it became a huge part of her life. When she first signed up for the league, she started out as a wide receiver, but when her team found itself in need of a quarterback, Alencar got the nod. With a history and knowledge of the sport that stemmed from watching and playing with her brother, she was willing, although hesitant, to take on the position.
“I didn’t want to be QB at first; there was too much responsibility,” she recalled. “But I decided to do what was needed for the team and embraced it. I found out that I loved being responsible.”
ATHLETE TO COACH
With newfound charge over her team, Alencar’s leadership skills continued to grow, and she soon began stepping into coach-like roles.
“It started with a need,” Alencar said. “The team started falling apart in 2015—coaches and players left. My teammate and I decided we were either going to stop playing, or we needed to start from scratch, which led me into a coaching position.”
Her new role didn’t only bring out her gifts, it eventually introduced her to the idea of earning a living by coaching football.
Alencar had been previously introduced to FCA in Brazil when she played for the Silverhawks, but in 2018 when she traveled to the U.S., she experienced FCA Camp in Atlanta firsthand. As she tossed balls and ran plays with the student-athletes and met other coaches, she sensed God leading her to return to Brazil and coach a men’s team, Paraná HP, to which she already had connections through her history with the Silverhawks. But the jump wasn’t easy.
“When I was in the U.S. visiting camps, it was difficult because I realized how hard it was as a woman to choose this path,” she said.
Although intimidated by the male-dominated area, Alencar examined her position and what she sensed the Lord calling her to do. She also identified what coaching style would best resonate with her athletes.
“I couldn’t go around yelling like the other coaches; that wouldn’t work,” she said. “I had to find my own style and methods. How do I speak? What is my posture? What are my actions?”
After returning to Brazil and taking on the coaching role with Paraná HP, it didn’t take long for Alencar to gain respect, largely through her outstanding work ethic. She also connected with another coach who shared her faith in Christ and drew strength from times in which they would pray and talk through the joys and challenges of the job.
"I was amazed at her hunger for the game. She constantly asked me questions about the QB position. I was impressed with her ability and her leadership. She has a passion about her and was mature beyond her years. She is a committed Christian and has a servant's heart."
-Phillip Ironside, Worth County Head Coach (Sylvester, Ga.) and FCA Brazil Trip Coach
SPORTS AS A MINISTRY
A year later in 2019, a group of college football players from Southeastern University in Florida visited Brazil, and Alencar was reintroduced to FCA. This time she connected with FCA Brazil Director Paulo Wescher. Alencar translated and helped at practices, outings and Huddles, and she was reminded of how sports could be a platform for faith.
“I always knew I had to share my faith, but I didn’t see sports as a ministry,” she said. “I played for God, but I didn’t see how I could impact others through my faith. When FCA came here, I was exposed to different cultures and strategies. I listened and learned.”
Since Alencar’s coaching career had begun around the time she connected with FCA, the ministry’s strategy of “To and Through the Coach” quickly took root.
“When FCA teams visited Brazil, I saw a peace; I saw God working,” she said. “FCA changed my vision. I wanted to give my all.”
As a passionate athlete-turned-coach who loved both football and Jesus, jumping into FCA was a natural move. She began volunteering with Wescher and helped start Huddles. She translated FCA’s Bold and Beautiful study into Portuguese, and in 2020 started leading a group of female athletes through the course via Zoom. It was something that, like coaching, pushed her out of her comfort zone yet helped her realize something new about herself.
“I used to run away from ministry because it was a lot of responsibility and I shied away from it, but I’ve learned it’s more about what I’m doing for others,” she said. “How do I truly show my testimony and bring my faith into what I’m doing?”
As Alencar has continued to meet and serve alongside FCA teams who visit Brazil, her calling continues to stir.
"When FCA teams visited Brazil, I saw peace; I saw God working. FCA changed my vision. I wanted to give my all."
“I really, really love serving people and being around football,” she said. “When I was with the teams from FCA, I was running around like crazy to translate and be in meetings and practices, but I loved it and thought, ‘Maybe that’s my calling.’”
FCA agrees, especially Tom Joyner, FCA Coastal Plains GA International Advancement Coordinator, whose U.S. region is aligned in FCA ministry with Brazil.
“Since our first trip to Curitiba in 2015, it has been a privilege to watch Ester mature in her faith and her passion to coach and play American football,” he said. “As she has translated for our teams, I’ve seen her compassion to train others develop, along with her own skills within the game. We are blessed to have many Georgia staff and coaches who are encouraging Ester with her coaching and playing skills while discipling her to grow in her faith.”
The encouragement and affirmation Alencar has received from FCA has been life-giving.
“Tom was the connecting point,” she said. “I saw God’s love for us through his prayers. It felt like they all cared about me and my future in football.”
Paying attention and nurturing the desires of her heart has helped Alencar discern God’s voice amid transitions that have taken her in and out of seasons in which she serves as an athlete, coach and FCA volunteer. The relationships built through football have deepened her commitment to serve Christ through sport, and FCA has provided a platform. Alencar hopes to continue playing and coaching in the future, and she senses God has more in store.
“I’m truly grateful for FCA,” she said. “The need for sports ministry exists. It’s not about always being super ready; it’s not in my hands. He wants to use me. I play and coach because I love it, and now there is a deeper purpose behind it.”
HOW TO PRAY FOR FCA BRAZIL:
• God’s favor and protection over Brazilian sports leaders, coaches and athletes as they return to serve safely during COVID-19 challenges.
• Brazilian Sports Partners as they continue to raise support. Visit gafcaintl.org to learn more about Georgia’s partnership with Brazil.
Photos courtesy of Ester Alencar