This article appears in the Spring 2022 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.
Minneapolis high school students and college football players. What’s the connection?
The dynamic relationships forming between high school and college athletes did not start in Minneapolis, and they did not begin at Bethel University or the University of Northwestern. The seeds for these relationships were actually planted in Louisiana when God gave Jordan Dornbush a heart to help young people who were born into lives of trauma and hardship.
Dornbush was playing football for Wheaton College in the Chicago area when he took a short-term mission trip to the Louisiana State Penitentiary. There, he listened to men talk about the obstacles of their upbringings, like growing up fatherless or having a parent who uses drugs. Through that experience, he began to feel the call to help teenage youth facing the same things. Dornbush began investing in urban Chicago youth until an opportunity came from back home in Minnesota. After high school, he was recruited by the Bethel University football team, but it was too close to home, and he wanted to spread his wings. Years later, Dornbush reached out to Bethel to inquire about joining their coaching staff. Bethel was grateful to bring him on board. He also joined FCA staff as an Urban Minneapolis Area Representative.
“The heart of FCA in the city is loving and supporting young athletes in Minneapolis who are coming from backgrounds that include childhood trauma, poverty, racism and fatherlessness,” Dornbush said.
Alongside his teammates and fellow FCA Urban Minneapolis Area Representatives Kyle Fox and Luke Gustafson, Dornbush began looking for ways to reach dozens of youth on a deep level and affect change, creating an intervention of sorts, to give youth every possible chance to grow in Christ and find success in life. Enter the Bethel football players.
“I want to coach football, but my heart is ultimately for training players to connect with urban youth,” Dornbush told Bethel University in an interview.
Using his unique position of influence in both sports ministry and at the university, Dornbush has introduced a discipleship program to the Bethel football players. Through group meetings, 1-on-1s and intentional relationships, Dornbush engages with and equips players to become mentors in Christ, empowering them to go make more disciples.
So far, 20 Bethel players have gone through the training. But they’re not the only ones. The program at Bethel got off to such a great start, it captured the attention of the University of Northwestern. So far, seven of their players are now following the E3 principles alongside Dornbush and Fox and getting involved in urban ministry.
“The goal is to see each of the volunteers enter life-on-life relationships with students, and through that, to see students grow to become followers of Jesus Christ,” Dornbush said.
After several years of working in the urban areas, Dornbush and Fox acknowledge there have been many wins and several challenges, but that God is moving. They say the biggest challenge is building trust with students from the urban neighborhoods, as they are accustomed to unfulfilled promises and people leaving them.
“You have to show up over and over and over again until they believe that, ‘Hey this guy actually cares,’” Dornbush said. “It takes longer, but once that trust is there, these students are really willing to open up and be real and raw about everything, even about faith.”
Once the initial relationships are cultivated and trust is built, the next phase begins. Both FCA staff and the college football players are engaging the high school students through building close relationships and modeling what it looks like to be men of God—not just during an after-school Huddle once a week but when they’re at home, running errands, playing ball, enjoying a family cookout or studying the Bible together. Recently, one of the college volunteers invited an athlete from his FCA small group at Minneapolis North to lift with him and the other guys at Bethel.
“That’s the best part of this,” Fox said. “They’re not only meeting during designated small group times, but they’re getting together to hang out outside of small group. That’s what discipleship is all about. It’s the same way Jesus did the day-to-day, seemingly mundane, parts of life with His disciples.”
The program has taken off and relationships are going deep. Even through virtual schooling, the university football players logged on to show the high school kids love. For the last few years, FCA Minnesota has organized a winter retreat with around 30 youth attending. Last fall, Dornbush and Fox recognized that some of the athletes were ready to go deeper in their relationships with Jesus because of how they had grown through the mentoring relationships with the college football players, so they invited a small group of six high school athletes to attend a summer retreat.
“They were excited for an opportunity to get out of the city and have a weekend with their buddies,” Dornbush said. “They just want to be kids and not have to worry about some of the things they have to face in normal life.”
Both FCA staff and the college football players are engaging the high school students through building close relationships and modeling what it looks like to be men of God--not just during an after-school Huddle once a week but when they're at home, running errands, playing ball, enjoying a family cookout or studying the Bible together.
As they drove out of the city, the guys’ energy levels grew. The week was full of “firsts” for many of them: first time on a lake, first time in a boat, first time tubing, first time going on a hike, first time seeing a waterfall, first time catching a fish. Far outside of their comfort zones, the athletes learned lessons about faith and how to put their trust in God. They came back with positive reports like, “They pushed me to try new things,” and “I’ve learned that God will always accept me, no matter how much I’ve messed up.” Great things are happening with the participating football players at Minneapolis high schools and the college athletes who are serving them. They’re all becoming men of God and learning how to engage, equip and empower to make disciples.
Football Player Feedback:
“They pushed me to try new things.” —Charles, high school athlete
“I learned that God will always accept me, no matter how much I’ve messed up.” —Mario, high school athlete
“The leaders helped me to open up about something I don’t really talk about a lot.” —Terrance, high school athlete
“There are a lot of thankful and driven kids within the school I visited. Just like our football team, they keep each other accountable.” —Bethel athlete
“Thanks to all the Bethel guys for keeping us accountable to things and having fun with us.” —Dom, high school athlete
“I’m happy to finally improve on how to pray, and I hope that will help me to say a prayer in a group with confidence.” —Josh, high school player
“The students are looking for people to look up to: They really want to see things done the right way so they can get on the right track.” —Bethel athlete
Photos courtesy of FCA Minnesota and Bethel Athletics