Fellowship of Christian Athletes Shows Those Rejected in Romania How God and Sports Intertwine
FCA International Now Has a Presence in 84 Countries Worldwide, Sharing the Gospel and Seeing the World Transformed by Jesus
KANSAS CITY, Mo.—Daniel loves sports and he loves God. But it wasn’t until he become involved with the Fellowship of Christian Athletes (FCA, www.fca.org) that Daniel learned that these two passions could indeed connect.
As a young boy growing up in Romania, Daniel was blessed to live in a home where his parents taught him and his six brothers about God. Daniel’s father also shared his love of competitive sports—especially boxing. Daniel participated in swimming, table tennis, cycling and most every sport available in his hometown.
“The way he raised us, sport was like a blanket that he put over us to keep us warm,” Daniel said. “In our family, sports meant competition. That’s what it meant to survive in life.”
As an adult, he became a tri-athlete and also studied theology. But for many years, Daniel failed to see a connection between his two passions—sports and God.
Daniel didn’t make this realization until he met a professional athlete through FCA International’s outreach and ministry programs in Romania. This athlete explained to Daniel that it was possible to spread the gospel to other athletes and coaches through sports.
“It was a natural connection for me,” Daniel said. “I already had my biblical training, but when I understood the vision of sports ministry, that enabled me to apply theology to something I already loved. That was it. That was all I needed to hear. Ever since then, I’ve been involved in sports ministry.”
Now as an FCA International leader, Daniel uses his connections in the triathlon community to share God’s love to other athletes who train and compete alongside him. But his unique heart for the marginalized Rroma people has become an even greater source of purpose.
“I’m involved in some nearby towns amongst the gypsies,” Daniel said. “We do sports and games with the children and young people. For me, that’s where life is lived.”
Nearly 10 years ago, Daniel began holding sports camps in these small, remote villages. He first noticed that few knew how to play sports, but only had knowledge of fighting or boxing. It took some time and patience, but Daniel introduced the kids to sports like soccer and volleyball. He quickly took on the roles of coach, mentor and evangelist for children in the community. Many were orphaned, most didn’t have adequate clothing, and all of them were extremely poor.
One boy stood out to Daniel. His name was Iosca, and at the young age of 6, Iosca was already training to be a shepherd and was unable to attend FCA’s sports camps.
“From early morning until late at night, he stayed out in the fields with the sheep,” Daniel said.
Iosca was poorer than most. His clothes were shredded and had no shoes. One day, Daniel took his team of volunteers to find Iosca so they help him with some basic needs. They left early in the evening and walked nearly six miles over hilly terrain.
“We whistled and yelled out his name trying to find him,” Daniel recalled. “At a far distance over the hills, he heard us yelling and he came running towards us. He was so excited. He was running barefoot over thorns and rocky terrain. He was running so hard and so fast with excitement. He hugged us, and we just celebrated being together and played Frisbee with him. It was a time that just changed my life.”
Over the next several months, Daniel continued riding his mountain bike over the hills and into the villages to visit the Rroma people—always taking his Frisbee with him so he could stop and play with Iosca in the fields along the way—and continually reminding the young boy that Jesus loved him.
Iosca is now a teenager who is actively involved in the church. Daniel believes he will become one of the county’s elite runners.
Earlier this year, FCA sent a team to Romania and observed Daniel in action. Silas Mullis, International Director of Field Support, was amazed at the scene that unfolded as Daniel approached the village in the heart of winter.
“These kids started running out of their houses to greet Daniel,” Silas said. “Some of them didn’t even take time to put on a shirt or socks and shoes. They’re running barefoot through the snow after Daniel just wanting to give him a hug. They were overjoyed to see him. Then parents came running out.”
Dan Britton, Executive Director of International Ministry, wondered if this was what it might have been like when Jesus came to a town and the people rushed to see Him asking for blessings and healing.
“That’s the kind of love and excitement we saw when Daniel walked into the village,” Silas added. “After 10 years of going faithfully on a weekly basis and investing in them and planting a church, these people love Daniel in a special way.”
While Daniel appreciates the loving relationships formed, he is singularly focused on what God has called him to do through sports ministry with the Fellowship of Christian Athletes.
“I want to see the gypsy community, which is marginalized, be safe,” Daniel said. “I want to see them come together as a community and enjoy playing games and playing sports. I want to see them come to Christ. That’s the heart of my mission.”
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.