Fellowship of Christian Athletes Continues to Make Incredible Impact in Philippines More Than a Decade After Inception
FCA’s Ministry in the Philippines Has Exploded Over 11 Years, Thanks to a Dedicated Leader and His Zeal for Leading Coaches and Athletes to Christ
KANSAS CITY, Mo.—More than a decade after beginning sports ministry in the Philippines, the Fellowship of Christian Athletes (FCA, www.fca.org) continues to make incredible impact in this Southeast Asia nation. But the foray into the Philippines wasn’t necessarily a well-developed game plan, but rather, a seemingly happenstance encounter—that was indeed divinely orchestrated—at the 2008 Final Four in Detroit.
Today, coaches and athletes across the Philippines have experienced true life change through FCA International Camps, Huddles, training events and more. Eleven years ago, however, Filipino coach and sports minister Gary Visitacion hadn’t even heard of FCA.
Visitacion was roaming the convention floor at the annual National Association of Basketball Coaches conference in 2008. Dan Britton, FCA’s Executive Director for Field Ministry, International, was manning an FCA booth.
“Dan caught my eye and started talking to me,” Visitacion recalled. “He segued right away into sharing the Gospel. I let him continue, because I was trying to observe him.”
After a few minutes, Gary felt guilty for his covert charade and leaned over the table.
“Excuse me,” he said. “I’m a believer. I just wanted to see if you were the real deal.”
“Why didn’t you stop me?” Britton exclaimed.
The two shared a laugh and became instant friends. Before exchanging information with his new acquaintance, Visitacion explained he wasn’t even aware of FCA’s global impact but had spent several years working with Sports Ambassadors, a ministry that sends basketball teams around the world every summer to share the Gospel.
“Gary was captivated by our ministry model,” Britton said. “He wanted to know more about Camps and Huddles and our approach to ministering to coaches and athletes.”
At that time, FCA had already been looking into ministry opportunities in the Philippines but nothing had been solidified. Perhaps Visitacion was the missing piece for which they had been searching, Britton thought.
The chance encounter led to a meeting the following week to gauge Visitacion’s interest in helping FCA establish a ministry in the Philippines. Visitacion agreed to partner with FCA during the 10 months of the year when he wasn’t committed to Sports Ambassadors. His involvement with FCA quickly escalated.
“The work was getting bigger and bigger and the vision was to put FCA chapters all over the country, which meant I would need to travel all over the country,” Visitacion said. “It wasn’t fair to be doing two things at the same time.”
Britton agreed, and Visitacion became a full-time staffer with FCA. And the rest, as far as Britton is concerned, is FCA history.
“The ministry has exploded,” Britton said. “Gary has been the catalyst. He has been a visionary doer. He casts vision. He has a big dream. He gets stuff done. As a result of that, we’ve seen ministry rapidly grow through his leadership.”
Getting started, however, wasn’t easy. First, Visitacion had to take a long, hard look at the unique nature of his home country. The Philippines, with a population of 100 million, is composed of 7,641 densely populated islands. Travel can be expensive and time consuming. The best way to tackle the enormous challenge was build a core team around him and then begin establishing ministry across the nation’s 146 cities—one at a time.
“It was difficult at first,” Visitacion admitted. “Logistics are very important in raising funds, but we focused on those areas where I had connections.”
Some of the first leaders to come aboard included Assistant National Director Jojo Villa and his wife, Janet, and Regional Director Tata Merced. As the team took shape, Visitacion and Britton devised a new strategy that divided the Philippines into six regions and assigned full-time staff in key cities.
Coach Tata, for instance, was charged with the task of seeking out ministry within 16 cities within his region, while Coach Jojo was given 19 cities to develop.
“It makes my job easier to just deal with the regional leaders and some specialized leaders throughout the Philippines,” Visitacion said. “Delegating is biblical. It’s given me more energy and more focus. The Lord is opening doors for us. He has been so gracious. He has given us the best leaders that we needed.”
Ministry in the Philippines has also been buoyed by support from the FCA Rockies Region here in the U.S. For the past six years, Mike Sanfratello, Vice President of Field Ministry, has marveled at Visitacion and his team’s strident growth.
“It’s very clear who the leader in the Philippines is, and that’s Gary Visitacion,” Sanfratello said. “The team responds well to him. He’s a good team builder. He’s a good networker. He’s a good leader.”
Many of the FCA Philippines staff and volunteers are coaches, teachers and former athletes. Because of their collective influence and the Filipinos’ love of competitive sports, it’s been relatively easy to organize community events—mostly basketball in a nation that has been in love with the sport since Christian ministries like Sports Ambassadors first introduced it into the culture during the mid-1950s.
According to Visitacion, the vast majority of Filipino youth participate in sports at some level. Basketball hoops, for instance, are on nearly every street corner.
“That’s their hallmark,” Sanfratello said. “It’s a lot of Camps and clinics and leagues that draw kids into a place where they’re experiencing the Gospel and learning more about Jesus.”
That’s something Visitacion never could have imagined while walking the convention floor at the Final Four.
“It’s been a long journey with FCA already, but it’s been exciting and fun,” he said. “I’m the type of leader who loves to build and then delegate and empower others to take over. That’s how the Lord wired me as a leader.”
And as Aaron Frude of the FCA Rockies Region can attest, Visitacion has become a living testament to FCA’s ministry methods: “Engage, Equip, Empower.”
“He engages coaches and athletes. He gets to know them,” Frude said. “He equips them with some structure and with the resources of FCA. And he empowers them. They’re held accountable. They’re able to grow throughout the Philippines and connect in key cities. That model has been a game changer for the longevity of FCA’s ministry and the sustained growth throughout the Philippines.”
This summer, upwards of 700 FCA Camps that will reach close to 100,000 are underway globally—including about 300 Camps outside the U.S. in 50 countries for more than 30,000 campers.
For more than six decades, FCA has focused on building up coaches and athletes around the world through its successful and impactful Camps program each summer. Those who love both sports and Christ can choose from several different types of Camps that serve as a time of “inspiration and perspiration” for coaches, athletes and teams.
FCA Camps worldwide this summer will focus on the theme of “Let’s Go,” based on the Bible verse from Matthew 28:18-20, in which Jesus says, “I have been given all authority in heaven and on earth. Therefore, go and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. Teach these new disciples to obey all the commands I have given you. And be sure of this: I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” Meant to be said with emphasis, “Let’s Go” is not only the rally cry for many athletes, coaches and teams, but it also should be the goal of Christians when they consider Christ’s call to the Great Commission.
To find FCA Camps in specific areas or to inquire about volunteering at an FCA Camp, visit www.fcacamps.org. Read more about Fellowship of Christian Athletes here, visit FCA’s website at www.fca.org, its Facebook page at www.facebook.com/fcafans or its Twitter feed @fcanews.