It all started in 2004 when James Oilar was teaching, coaching and evangelizing students through sports at the El Camino Academy in Bogata, Colombia. He remembered volunteering with the Fellowship of Christian Athletes in the U.S., and he felt inspired to call FCA to see if they were working internationally. After talking to FCA’s Chief Field Officer Dan Britton at the Support Center in Kansas City, Oilar was encouraged to hear Britton say, “Not yet, but let’s see what God wants to do!” Two years later, FCA Colombia was launched and became a forerunner to FCA International.
“James was our first international teammate,” Britton recalls. “He was one of the original visionaries who saw an opportunity to reach the whole world for Christ through sports.”
From Colombia, Oilar worked with three volunteers primarily through sports like basketball, soccer and volleyball to get FCA started.“My goal from the beginning was for FCA to become known throughout the nation of Colombia,” Oilar says.
Favor and Access
Over the years, Oilar persevered in ministry and became the National Director of Colombia. The fruits of his labor have since spread across every major Colombian city as well as several other countries in South America. Planting those seeds, however, was anything but easy.
In the early days of his ministry, there were virtually no FCA resources in the Spanish language and the FCA name was unknown in other parts of the world outside of the U.S. But Oilar was praying for God to give favor and access as he started to build the ministry in Colombia.
“I couldn’t tell donors that I had access to get into the schools; I didn’t have that,” he explains. “The favor and access that I was referring to was being able to reach the coaches and the athletes at the highest levels. The favor and access wasn’t using the FCA name like in the United States. The favor and access, for the most part, was because I was an American. I could make a phone call to organizations in Colombia and they would open up the door for me strictly, because I was an American and they wanted to know why I was reaching out to them.”
As Oilar assembled field staff, it quickly became clear he would eventually need to raise more support within Colombia. He approached churches and businesses for help but found that, like most Latin American countries, the resources just weren’t available.
The resources were available, however, in an unlikely place: Clark County, Missouri.
“I grew up in a rural county in Missouri of less than 8,000 people,” Oilar says. “I was back home visiting family and I shared the vision to my home church. That night a member from the church committed a large amount of money to be spread out over the next four years. That was a huge a-ha moment for me and came at a time when I wasn’t really sure if I was going to be able to continue my work in Colombia.”
Diamond in the Rough
For the first seven years, Oilar did his best to build up the ministry with three staff in Bogota, but a providential meeting in 2011 set FCA Colombia on a more upward trajectory. Oilar met a translator named Roberto Medina who, as divine providence would have it, was an aspiring sports evangelist.
Medina took notice of Oilar’s FCA Camp “Inside Out” notepad and struck up a conversation that quickly led to a friendship and, eventually, a powerful partnership. A year later, Oilar and Medina co-hosted the country’s first 3Dimensional Coaching event.
“Right away, what I loved about Roberto, and what was evident, is that he was selfless and he had a passion for sports ministry,” Oilar says. “He was able to fight through the circumstances and do the hard stuff. When things got difficult and we didn’t have the funding we needed, he was still there and I was still there.”
Before moving to Colombia, Oilar managed sports clubs with more than 100 employees at each location. He likes to think he had a knack for developing young, up-and-coming talent, which is ultimately what happened with Roberto Medina.
“He had the heart that I was looking for,” Oilar says. “He was a diamond in the rough. I knew his heart was in the right spot. I knew he had a very strong passion for sports ministry. I tried to mold that passion into what you see today. He’s an incredible guy.”
Conversely, Medina has high praise for Oilar as both a mentor and teammate.
“James helped me understand the ‘why’ of sports ministry,” Medina says. “He helped me understand my calling and trained me in the crucial topics of the ministry. He came to my life in a moment when nobody believed in my call, and then he entrusted me with the important task of helping him develop FCA in Colombia.”
As Medina recalls, much of that mentoring, dreaming and planning took place at the Buena Vista Mall in Barranquilla, which the pair dubbed “FCA Colombia Headquarters.”
Although the country’s terrain made traveling difficult at times, they worked together to expand the ministry and slowly built a team of field staff and volunteers that stretched into key cities such as Cartagena and Cali. FCA eventually spilled over into other countries such as Venezuela, Ecuador and Paraguay. Now, FCA Colombia has five paid staff and 43 volunteer leaders. The FCA name is also becoming known across Latin America.
“James has identified and invested in key leaders,” Britton says. “As a result of that investment, they’re now in ministry positions where they can lead coaches and athletes. Instead of James trying to do everything himself, he’s making that commitment to raise up younger local leaders to go out and make a difference. It’s been awesome. He’s tapping people on the shoulder and giving them the opportunity to lead because he sees something in them that maybe they don’t see in themselves.”
To Bogota And Beyond
Since 2004, Oilar has seen significant growth in the area of Spanish-language FCA resources. But nothing has generated a bigger impact than the translation of the online 3Dimensional Coaching training material in 2019 that he and Medina facilitated. Before 2019, this training material could only be done in person and the follow-up was challenging.
“The 3Dimenisional Coaching materials in Spanish is a complete and total game-changer for us,” Oilar says.
There’s still work to be done. Most young people in Latin America don’t have vehicles and can’t get to FCA events as easily as students in the U.S. and shortened school days make it problematic for traditional campus ministry. But according to Oilar, the 3D training has become a solution to ministry challenges.
“Going forward, we need to be able to concentrate on creating resources that make it easier for disciples to make disciples and grow through multiplication,” he says.
The growth of FCA Colombia put a spotlight on Oilar’s gifts and calling. As FCA looked to grow leadership and resources across all of Latin America and the Caribbean, they approached him about using his experiences in Colombia and taking on a new role in the area of ministry resource and talent development.
“I’m excited to work with leadership in other countries to help build that foundation for favor and access, and for other countries to be able to build resources and be trained and developed as staff,” Oilar says.
In his new role, Oilar is working to create a strong mentoring process for key leaders and staff members already in place. He is helping to structure a new on-boarding process with built-in leadership and spiritual development components, which will be video-based and available online.
“That will allow us to grow both our leadership and volunteer base at a rapid level in a short period of time,” Oilar says. “Everybody needs a coach, especially our staff. They need to be mentored. That’s my favorite thing to do. I love mentoring our staff; it’s a phenomenal opportunity.”
Ultimately, Oilar sees the opportunity to discover and develop more diamonds in the rough like Medina.
“Finding leaders who are ready to fundraise is always a challenge,” Oilar adds. “As we continue to build out the FCA strategy of ‘To and Through the Coach’ through 3Dimensional training, we’re going to have a much greater opportunity to find the next leaders. We need to continue getting in front of the institutions and in front of the coaches. It’s going to become a lot easier the more FCA becomes known.”
Passing the Baton
Oilar put 16 years of blood, sweat and tears into FCA Colombia and saw his efforts expand throughout the region. Now the time has come for him to pass the baton to the aspiring sports evangelist he met in 2011. After mentoring and grooming Medina for nine years, Oilar realized FCA Colombia needed a local leader to take the ministry to the next level. So, it’s understandable that he’s waxing nostalgic and experiencing bittersweet emotions.
“Colombia will always be number one in my heart,” he says. “It’s my baby.”
“As the founder of FCA Colombia, it was a struggle to give away the local ministry to the next generation,” Jim Roquemore, West Global Divisional Vice President adds. “It was difficult for him to come to a place where he could take his hands off and give Roberto the chance to lead. So I admire James for the way he’s handled that transition.”
Roberto Medina was presented with the FCA Value Award for Teamwork in March 2020.
What Oilar’s leaving behind, however, is quite likely the product of some sagely advice he once received from his father: “James, whatever you do in life, leave it better than how you found it.”
Today, Oilar is working all across Latin America and the Caribbean with Roquemore to advance ministry, train leaders, develop resources and recruit new teammates like Medina.
“There’s no doubt I’ve left Colombia better than I found it,” Oilar says. “I’ve invested a lot of time and resources into the right people who are going to carry the ball forward and model our FCA Values of integrity, serving, teamwork and excellence. Without a doubt, Colombia is in good hands with Roberto. There are a whole lot of other countries that need the guidance and leadership I can provide. I want to be able to help them as well. I guess that’s the next chapter of my life.”