On October 2, 2009, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) announced that Rio de Janeiro would host the 2016 Summer Olympics. It was an historic decision that brought the iconic event to South America for the first time.
As Rio made preparations, it also basked in the opportunity to host the 2014 FIFA World Cup. Something special was taking place in this culturally rich nation as it sought to emerge from its economic struggles and become a global force.
But beneath the surface, there was a burgeoning effort to awaken the concept of sports ministry in Brazil. One of the men serving this movement was Joao who started working with various organizations to share the gospel with coaches and athletes through soccer, basketball, volleyball, and other popular sports in 2011.
Back in the United States, Tom Joyner was in his fourth year as a full-time FCA staff member. He was also an avid missions trip participant and had traveled often to Central and South American countries such as Peru, Costa Rica, Haiti, and the Dominican Republic. So when Dicky Clark asked Tom to consider becoming an FCA Regional International Coordinator with a focus on Brazil, his initial response was “Brazil. Where’s that?”
“In reality, I knew where Brazil was,” Tom explains. “I was just taken off guard by the opportunity and the fact that I’d never actually been there before.”
He didn’t wait long to accept the offer. Tom quickly began working with fellow FCA staff to organize some athletes and coaches there for clinics and camps. Then in 2015, Tom was introduced to Joao during a trip to Curitiba. Joao was seeking help with his efforts and in particular was in desperate need for training and resources to accommodate a new and surprising phenomenon.
“The excitement now is over American football,” Joao says. “There are kids and men that want to play it. It’s a growing phenomenon that’s spreading across Brazil.”
As strange as it may sound, there are over 100 organized teams including a handful that are playing at a semi-professional level. Joao recalls one coach in particular who has been deeply impacted because of his relationship with FCA in Brazil.
“His name is Lucas,” Joao details. “I shared the FCA ministry vision with him and he loved it. Every week I chaplain his team and now the chant they do before every game is about Jesus. The team and the coach have been impacted.”
FCA is also seeing open doors in Brazil with soccer, basketball, and volleyball, through various coaching clinics and camps that not only include fundamental instruction, but 3D Coaching training as well. Over time, Tom and Joao (who officially partners with FCA) have collectively set up partnerships with ministries in several large cities across the country.
“Right now Curitiba is the focus,” Tom says. “We also have ministry partner initiatives going on in Rio de Janeiro, Sao Joao, Recife, and Rio Branco, along with some exploratory visits to Brasilia. There’s no such thing as campus ministry there because school sports are limited. They mainly have clubs and that’s where we spend most of our time. Joao has been instrumental in connecting us to these communities and their clubs.”
The common denominator on all fronts is the coach.
“We have a lot of Christian coaches in Brazil,” Joao says. “But they are alone in the field. They don’t have resources or a vision plan, but they have great influence with athletes. I spend a lot of my time visiting with these coaches and sharing the vision of FCA with them.”
Although chaplaincy is a concept to which most Brazilians have not been exposed, Tom and Joao are developing materials to train coaches and to empower them to serve as chaplains for their teams. They are also working with local churches to compel pastors and church leaders to operate in that ministry as well.
“Our strategy is to go and serve,” Tom says. “We want to serve alongside these coaches to help them reach the athletes. We want to encourage coaches to see a different way to motivate their athletes and to develop their programs. They’ve been hungry and excited to learn more about the 3D Coaching strategies that we’re teaching them. It’s been exciting to see how they’ve adapted that material. Many of them now can see the vision and better understand the opportunity to be a 3D Coach and serve as a chaplain to their athletes.”
With a solid foundation now laid, FCA sees discipleship as the next step towards sustainable growth. Materials are being translated into Portuguese and huddle groups are rapidly sprouting up.
“God’s presence is definitely there,” Tom says. “God is moving through Brazil. It’s my prayer that more of us can go to Brazil and help mobilize ministry across the country. I pray that God will open the hearts of the coaches and the athletes to be receptive to the Gospel. We want to disciple and teach coaches. We want them to be the hands and feet.”
For Joao, that meant getting involved in sports ministry at the Olympics—something he believes was very positive for his country. But now that that Games are over, there is uncertainty as to what happens next.
“I don’t know if we’ll have the same support,” Joao says. “We don’t have ministry resources. We don’t have enough sport equipment. It’s difficult for athletes here. I try to help them out, but they have a lot of problems because they don’t have the best conditions. Good relationships are the secret for ministry success in Brazil. I can’t walk alone. I need others to help me. I’m teaching these coaches to be Jesus on their teams. They are the church.”
The Olympic flame may have been extinguished and Brazil’s future may still be unknown, but if FCA has its say, greater things are on the horizon in Brazil.
“There’s still some momentum of excitement that we can ride,” Tom says. “It’s just a matter of us to continue aligning ourselves with leadership and ministries there and for us to come alongside them and encourage them through the process. I’m excited to see where God is leading this ministry.”
Click here to learn more about FCA serving in the Brazil Global Region: www.fca.org/brazil