China is the world’s most populous country, with approximately 1.35 billion people. For reference, that’s about one-seventh of the world and more than three times the population of the United States.
Modern-day Christianity began as a movement in the countryside. Today, well-known musicians, artists, intellectuals and athletes in and from China practice Christianity, and the movements have continued into the cities. The discrepancies between west and east and urban and rural are beginning to fade as different people groups and minority groups become more and more open to Christianity within the last decade.
In this context, there are more than 250,000 professional athletes in China who are often secluded from the rest of the population. A Chinese athlete’s life is all about training and often there is no time to participate in churches or other spiritual activities. Scattered across the country, professional teams average about one believer, and often, he or she can feel alone without access to opportunities for growth and community.
Dan Britton, Fellowship of Christian Athletes’ Executive Vice President of International Ministries and Training, was exposed to the need of a resource to specifically encourage these athletes and give them an opportunity to share the love of Christ with their friends and teammates.
“It pierced my heart,” Britton said. “We have so many English options, but we were not able to meet the needs of these coaches and athletes.”
About three years ago, Britton traveled to Beijing, China to meet with a partner publishing company. In that meeting, he confirmed that Heart of an Athlete was the best option for a Christian-based resource available to Chinese believers. That day began the two-year process of translating, contextualizing and legally publishing Heart of an Athlete in Mandarin Chinese, a process that took great faith and patience from Britton and all who were involved.
This vision seemed nearly impossible given the need to finance, translate and, more particularly, contextualize all 90 daily devotionals to be understood from an eastern perspective. The project itself would be challenging, but after all that money and time was put into the process, there was a chance that the Chinese government could decide to not even publish the resource.
Britton said that the Lord provided $15,000 through various donors to contribute to the project. Secondly, God provided a team of brilliant minds gifted for the challenge of translating and contextualizing.
“We couldn’t take the English version and just translate it over,” Britton explained. “It took extra work. For example, American football or something only based in America would not be understood in the local culture. With this, the whole set up of the devotion changes.”
Britton said that they compiled more than the needed 90 devotionals in order to leave room for completely mining out the ones that were past contextualizing. This was by far the most challenging and time-consuming step in the process. It took a full year to finish the complete version of Heart of an Athlete before the final step of government approval.
The process to print and publish the book under the required government screening took six months alone. The publishing team saw Heart of an Athlete go through an additional screening by the government before it allowed the resource to be legally published.
“Publishing takes some time,” Britton acknowledged. “But two years and great patience was demonstrated by everyone to make sure we were getting the job done.”
Into the Hands of Athletes and Coaches
On the cover of the published Heart of an Athlete is a quote by Chinese-American Jeremy Lin, an NBA superstar for the Houston Rockets, which draws in Chinese athletes and coaches. Lin’s words speak great truth: “I have learned that the true reward we need to seek after is in the Kingdom of Heaven.”
Athletes want to reach the highest level, and they are looking for ways and resources to help them get there. But, more than simply encouraging athletes’ peak performance, the resource gives each individual the means and opportunity to seek after the Kingdom of Heaven, just like Lin’s quote. Heart of an Athlete opens their eyes and hearts to a relationship with the Father.
Throughout the past year, 10,000 copies have been published and distributed into the hands of athletes and coaches in China. Heart of an Athlete offers an introduction to principals of life, such as having a positive attitude and facing adversity with teammates or through injuries. Readers will be able to learn how the Bible is directly applicable to their lives. It is a great introduction to knowing Jesus, following Him and having a healthy life.
The life of a Chinese athlete is very different than that of an American athlete. Chinese athletes are secluded from families and parents. The only voices in Chinese athletes’ lives are their coaches, and that voice is often negative and critical. The influence of a sports program can create an environment that is hard to grow in spiritually because athletes are training all day, every day, and not exposed to daily life in the real world.
Publishers have structured Heart of an Athlete very intentionally with a key Bible passage to start, a story or testimony, relevant questions, additional Scripture and a short prayer, which is identical to the English version. Not only can athletes use the devotional for spending personal time with the Lord each day, but the structure also allows for the devotion to be done in a group setting. In community, athletes can relate to the story and relate to the questions. They enjoy answering the questions and talking about their own lives in a group of people.
“To sit down with Heart of an Athlete in locker rooms, ball fields and courts in their own language is a great blessing,” Britton said.
In most cases, athletes and coaches in China are not exposed to prayer and are never taught how to pray. The short prayer at the end of each day offers a good introduction to the basic structure of prayer. All in all, each day is an invitation to engage in their personal relationships with Jesus and His Word.
Impact on a Global Scale
Ultimately, with the resource nearing the end of its first year of existence, many Chinese athletes do not yet know that this devotional exists. Heart of an Athlete can be found in some Chinese bookstores, but the hope is that government-sponsored churches would purchase the devotional to have available for members to buy or access the book through their church.
Regardless, God has already used Heart of an Athlete to impact believers in China, much like He has used the resource in other parts of the world. Previously translated in Spanish, Britton said that within the coming years, he would love to see the resource translated into 20 or 30 languages.
“The Chinese edition works as a template of the way a resource can impact a country,” Britton said. “We can utilize this as a model for other countries throughout Asia. If we can create a book, contextualize and translate something like Heart of an Athlete, then the sky is the limit.”