Life was good in Norcross, Georgia. Better than good, actually. Life was incredible
Or as Mike Shaheen describes it, “comfortable.”
For most people, that word is the culmination of their American dream. But for Shaheen, that word turned out to have a completely different meaning and led to a radical, life-changing decision.
Originally from Boston, Shaheen and his wife Jodi moved to the affluent Atlanta suburb in 2000. The plan was simple. Use his master’s degree in education and spend the rest of his career teaching and coaching. Shaheen spent the next 10 years building a solid career as a football coach, baseball coach and history teacher at Wesleyan School. In eight years as the head baseball coach, he won three consecutive state championships from 2008 through 2010.
Mike's wife Jodi, and his children Grace and Wyman Shaheen.
The plan was working perfectly in his personal life as well. After unsuccessfully having children of their own, Shaheen and his wife adopted a son and a daughter in 2008. The family’s financial stability allowed Jodi to stay home with the kids and work as a photographer in her spare time.
“The kids were doing great in school,” Shaheen explains. “We had a church that we were part of that we really loved. That time was a huge growth period in our relationship with Christ. Working at Wesleyan School was almost like my seminary. God really put some great men around me that poured into me for 10 years. That was a period of great growth as a person, as a coach and as a history teacher.”
During that time, Shaheen ventured into missions work as part of four trips to the Dominican Republic with Wesleyan School. Usually, he would go on Spring Break with students and staff, but in 2010, FCA representative Bob Wiedemann asked him to go during the summer. For the first time, that allowed Shaheen to take his family to Boca Chica.
Looking back at that experience, Shaheen and his wife now always jokingly give people some advice.
“Don’t go on a mission trip and read the book Crazy Love (by Francis Chan) at the same time,” he laughs. “We were reading that book together at the same time as we were on the trip. We were already praying about doing more. I was already feeling a pull to the Dominican Republic. I thought maybe we would come down here during the summers and over different holiday breaks. But when we were on that trip, we started to feel like maybe God was calling us to make a long-term commitment.”
When Shaheen and his family returned from the Dominican Republic, it was a clash of cultural experiences. On one hand, Shaheen was financially secure, living in a nice house, raising two healthy children and working with some of his best friends. But his comfort zone had suddenly become not so comfortable.
At the same time, Wiedemann was working alongside ministry groups like the Rawlings Foundation and SCORE International with the intention of establishing more a consistent FCA presence in Boca Chica. When Shaheen got wind of those developments, he went to Bob and told him that he and his family might want to be “FCA’s boots on the ground.”
After praying about it throughout the entire month of August and hearing some confirming messages from their church’s pastoral staff, the Shaheen family decided to make the move.
“A lot of people thought we were crazy,” he admits.
But it didn’t take long for Shaheen to see the physical proof that he had made the right decision. Thanks in great part to his faithful community, he and Jodi raised a year’s worth of support money in just six months. That allowed him to focus solely on his players before leaving after that final season at Wesleyan School.
The Shaheen family arrived in Boca Chica in June of 2011. After completing Spanish language training, he hit the ground running. Within six weeks, he already had two men—Willie Martinez and Luis Hernandez—working with him. In less than three years, Shaheen built his staff to include seven local men.
“They are amazing men that were doing FCA ministry in the same way that FCA staff in Gwinnett County, Georgia were doing it,” he says. “That blows me away. I can’t take any credit for that. God had these men here already pouring into athletes and coaches through devotions and chapels. God just connected me to those guys early on. That was huge.”
Life in the Dominican Republic fits Shaheen like a broken in baseball glove. As a longtime high school coach, he has thoroughly enjoyed the opportunity to do sports ministry in a country where baseball is by far the national pastime.
“I love using baseball as a platform for Jesus,” Shaheen adds. “Let’s face it. It’s the number one baseball country in the world. There’s no country that loves baseball more than the Dominican Republic. There’s no second sport here. They do have basketball and volleyball, but baseball is everywhere all the time on every corner. It’s 365 days a year.”
Young boys routinely practice in the morning or in the afternoon depending on their school schedule. Local coaches have great influence and therefore have become FCA’s primary entry point. In April of 2013, Shaheen and his team led a clinic for an estimated 250 coaches. Each of those coaches works with anywhere from 20 to 200 players each.
“We are hoping for 300 this April,” Shaheen said. “God willing.”
This October, FCA Dominican Republic will lead a smaller, more intensive clinic with an estimated 15 coaches.
Five (Basbeall) Facts About
The Dominican Republic
1. Cubans introduced baseball to the Dominican Republic during the late 1880s and early 1890s after fleeing their nation during a series of civil wars.
2. San Francisco Giants pitching great Juan Marichal is currently the only Dominican in the Baseball Hall of Fame. Pedro Martinez and Albert Pujols are among a growing group of Dominicans expected to eventually join him as members of that elite group.
3. The Dominican Republic has produced four MLB MVP Award winners: Albert Pujols (2005, 2008, 2009), Vladimir Guerrero (2004), Miguel Tejada (2002) and Sammy Sosa (1998). The island nation has also produced two Cy Young Award winners: Bartolo Colon (2005) and Pedro Martinez (1997, 1999, 2000).
4. There are over 475 athletes from the Dominican Republic currently playing with a Major League Baseball team or one of its minor league affiliates. Some of the most prominent names include David Ortiz, Adrian Beltre, Nelson Cruz, and Francisco Liriano.
5. There are 30 MLB academies in the Dominican Republic, 24 of which are located in Boca Chica.
Stay Connected With
FCA Dominican Republic
U.S. Phone: (404) 330-9952
D.R. Phone: (809) 519-9204
“That’s what lured me into FCA,” Shaheen says. “I know that FCA ministers to coaches and athletes but Bob Wiedemann, who mentored me, was a coaches-first guy. I could go to fields all day long and preach the Gospel and share my faith with all these kids, but let’s look at the biblical model. Jesus did go to the people but he always had the 12 with him. They were closest to him and they multiplied. That’s the same kind of approach that FCA takes with coaches. That is our approach here. We spend a lot of time with athletes too. We’re praying with them and giving them Bibles and spending time with them. We do Bible studies with athletes. But our number one focus is coaches. If God wins over a coach through us, then we have a coach that is sharing the Gospel with his players every day at the field. It makes more sense to focus on these leaders rather than try to touch thousands of athletes. That would be a very exhausting approach.”
Shaheen is also passionate about the opportunity that he and his staff have to model what it looks like to be biblical examples for the husbands and fathers throughout Boca Chica and beyond. Shaheen grew up without a father in his life and can relate to what he calls a “huge lack of male leadership within families.”
“That draws the coaches and the young men to me,” he says. “It also helps that my staff members are also family men with wives and children. We want to be father figures to the athletes and great examples for the men in the community.
Tragically, Boca Chica isn’t just known as a hub for great baseball. It’s also ranked in the top five of two shameful categories per capita: human trafficking and prostitution. This allows his wife Jodi some unique ministry opportunities of her own.
“When she goes out into Boca Chica to share at a women’s ministry event, there’s a high likelihood that she’ll be ministering to some prostitutes,” Shaheen says. “And these young men at the field, many of them probably have parents that are prostitutes. If not, they probably see it. They live in the neighborhoods where all of this is going on.”
As Shaheen and his family prepare to move to nearby San Pedro de Macoris, he has been training Martinez to take over as the area representative. FCA vice president for international ministries and training Dan Britton is excited to observe what God is doing through Shaheen in a country that has such untapped potential for sports evangelism and discipleship.
“Mike has focused on reaching the coaches and challenging them to coach biblically,” Britton says. “As a result, the coaches are now capturing the hearts of their players. Mike’s faithfulness and calling is a powerful testimony of how God can use one family to make such a big impact.”
And what seemed like a crazy decision three years ago now makes more sense every day.
“I wouldn’t change anything,” Shaheen says. “Everything was going really well for us back in Georgia. Someone in the secular world would think it was odd to walk away from that. But now we are seeing the fruit from those seeds that He planted in our hearts and in our lives.”