In the iconic Bible story of David and Goliath, God uses an unlikely hero (an undersized shepherd boy) with an even more unlikely weapon (a slingshot and five smooth stones) to take down a mighty warrior and the entire Philistine army.
A retelling of that story is playing out in Barbados – except the young warrior is former star athlete Dean Squires, and his weapon is a different kind of rock.
Dean never intended to be a spiritual leader. He was looking to be a basketball star. But after working his way through the national junior ranks in his home country, a freak injury threatened to crush Squires’ dream of gaining a college scholarship.
That’s when he turned to God, albeit not for the purest of motives.
Dean Squires explaining a drill at the primary school basketball camp.
“Barbados is a very religious nation,” he explains. “I was raised in church and in a Christian home. I knew enough about God to try to bargain with Him. I told God I would give my life to Him if He would heal my body.”
It wasn’t an instantaneous healing, but within two months, Dean was able to play basketball again despite the doctor’s report that his career was likely over. Although he continued reading the Bible and attending church, he wasn’t truly committed to God as he had promised. During his studies of scripture, however, Dean discovered a startling truth: God knew his every thought, including the fact that he had merely used God for his own personal gain.
“God knew that, and He still healed me,” Dean recalls. “That left me completely confused. As I tried to make sense of it, the Holy Spirit began to tell me that this was what true love looked like. After that, I immediately wanted to pursue God with my all.”
Squires decided to walk away from basketball and give his life to ministry. In his church, that meant preaching, singing, or playing an instrument—none of which were particular strong suits for the transformed athlete.
“It left me with no options, so I thought I would settle on being a benchwarmer,” Dean says. “But as a basketball player, I didn’t relate well to that. I wanted to be in the starting five. I needed to figure out what I could do to get on the court.”
That’s when Dean sensed God was telling him to continue playing basketball.
“He challenged me to look at what was in my hand,” he adds. “That was usually a basketball. God brought me back to the rock. He wanted me to use basketball as a ministry. He told me I was going to use the rock to slay giants—not physical giants, but spiritual giants like fatherlessness and godlessness in the nation.”
Prior to 2000, sports ministry was virtually nonexistent throughout Barbados. Local churches occasionally held fun days with games and picnics, but the idea of using sports as outreach and discipleship was a foreign concept.
"God brought me back to the rock. He wanted me to use basketball as a ministry." -Dean Squires
Admittedly, Dean didn’t know what he was getting into. He simply had a passion for God and a passion for basketball. That led to a search for other people like him. Eventually, Dean found 11 fellow sports enthusiasts who had caught the vision. This band of 12 modern day disciples began spreading the gospel anywhere they could find a basketball court. Through practice games and scrimmages, kids came to Christ and Bible study groups were formed.
The group became known as Combined Faith (CF), but continued to operate with no budget and no official organization. In 2007, a United Kingdom-based outfit began mentoring them. That same year, they attended a conference for Christian global sports leaders. That helped Dean and his team of SoulJahs, as he affectionately refers to them, better understand what sports ministry was all about. It was also encouraging to see that what they were doing was happening all over the world.
In 2008, at a sports ministry training event, Dean met Bethany Hermes and others from FCA International. Bethany then came to Barbados to help CF maximize what they were already doing. That led to subsequent FCA-led visits between 2010 and 2013. The latter collaboration helped launch CF into school ministry. Following this model allowed them to reach teachers and coaches and start building up student groups of 10 to 15 that could represent several schools and communities.
“It’s a blessing to walk beside Dean and his Combined Faith SoulJahs,” Bethany Hermes says. “Their excitement for sharing the Gospel with athletes in Barbados and beyond is contagious. It’s been incredible to watch God open doors in the sports community and on school campuses for Dean to minister to coaches and athletes. Dean has a gift for making people feel loved and valued by God. I can’t wait to see what the coming years hold for Dean and CF.”
Dean and other CF representatives have since traveled to the FCA National Support Center in Kansas City for additional training, and have also attended FCA’s camp school. In 2015, CF completed the process and officially became an FCA International affiliate. While Dean is currently the only full time staff member, he has 15 committed volunteers and an additional 20 to 30 volunteers who assist at various camps and outreach events when available.
“FCA has equipped us and trained us and given us resources,” he reports. “They’ve helped us see that the vision is attainable. It’s been done in many other nations and that gives us confirmation that we’re on to something here in Barbados.”
Most of the challenges that Dean faces on a daily basis stem from the country’s nonchalant attitude towards sports. Academics are much more important to parents and people of influence (e.g., Barbados has a near 100 percent literacy rate). In addition, churches are still generally unconvinced that sports ministry is an effective evangelistic tool, and the business sector has not traditionally put much investment into athletics.
All of this is changing somewhat as technology has exposed the nation to Western sports culture. Perhaps the biggest shift has taken place as fellow Caribbean island Jamaica has generated international attention through their Olympic sports pursuits. Dean believes that these factors will eventually pay dividends in his efforts to reach Barbados’ burgeoning sports community.
Learning fundamentals at a basketball camp with FCA staff from the U.S.
And as Matt Yeager, Northwest Ohio Campus Director and Great Lakes International Coordinator for Caribbean FCA notes, “Dean has tremendous passion and vision for reaching the country of Barbados for Jesus Christ through the avenue of sport.”
It’s that passion that has led Dean to utilize his newly acquired training to impact basketball and soccer athletes. FCA Barbados is also looking to have a greater impact on popular sports such as cricket, volleyball, field hockey, and track and field. While camps will be an important part of the plan moving forward, Dean says the current focus is serving coaches, most of which are either physical education instructors or other teachers who are serving as volunteers. These relationships open the door for mentoring and discipleship.
Dean has also had the opportunity to use his coaching skills to impact athletes at the highest level. He was recently recalled to be the assistant coach for the boys junior national basketball program for a second year. Dean hopes he can set an example for other coaches to become ministry leaders on and off the court.
“We want to help them see the importance of being a transformational coach and not a transactional coach,” Dean says. “We have been presenting the 3D coaching model to many of these coaches and we want to replicate it in schools all across the country.”
In just 15 years, Dean has seen many giant-sized obstacles begin to fall. His faithfulness to an unlikely calling has yielded significant results that point to even greater victories in the future.
“Our goal is to have more local resources and more trained and equipped leaders that can help us reach athletes and coaches representing all sports,” Dean says. “We’re excited about what God is doing through FCA Barbados and expect many lives to be added to the kingdom.”
Five Facts About Barbados
1. Barbados is a sovereign island nation located in the Atlantic Ocean, east of the West Indies. With a population of just under 300,000, the vast majority of its inhabitants (90 percent) are of Afro-Caribbean descent.
2. The Barbados economy has traditionally relied on sugarcane cultivation, but within the last 30-40 years has diversified to include manufacturing, tourism, offshore finance, and information services.
3. More than 95 percent of Barbadians are considered Christians. Nearly 70 percent of those are actively involved in the Anglican Church. The next largest groups are the Seventh Day Adventists, Roman Catholics, and Pentecostals.
4. Barbados has produced several popular music artists including Grammy Award winner Rihanna, hip hop pioneer Grandmaster Flash (born Joseph Saddler), and popular calypso band The Merrymen.
5. Like other Caribbean countries that share British colonial heritage, cricket is one of the most popular sports and boasts notable cricketers such as Sir Garfield Sobers, Sir Frank Worrell, Sir Clyde Walcott, and Sir Everton Weekes. Track and field is also a growing sport in Barbados thanks to elite athletes such as Olympic bronze medalist sprinter Obadele Thompson.
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