This story appears in FCA Magazine’s July/August 2017 issue. Subscribe today!
Any successful business, ministry, team, coach or athlete knows a clear and concise vision is a must. At FCA, for more than 60 years, that vision has always been succinct: “To see the world impacted for Jesus Christ through the influence of coaches and athletes.”
However, it took until 2007 for that vision to begin to come to fruition on a truly global scale. Former FCA staff member Barry Spofford led the initial endeavor to see how FCA could serve outside the U.S. borders. Before he passed away in 2015, Spofford helped expand efforts in a handful of nations through key relationships with sports ministry leaders who all had a similar passion to reach coaches and athletes across the globe.
Slowly but steadily, FCA Camps, Huddles and Coaches Clinics sprouted up in places like South Korea, Ukraine, Singapore and Colombia. However, it didn’t take long for the pioneering directors and field staff to realize this venture would be anything but business as usual.
“It was apparent early on,” said Jim Roquemore, who started working in Latin America in 2010 and is now the Global Region Coordinator for Latin America. “I understood really quickly that there was a whole new context for sports ministry. It was a different culture. The way we did things in the United States wasn’t always going to work the same elsewhere.”
Roquemore’s awareness of this altered dynamic was cemented during a 2011 trip to Argentina with Mikado Hinson, former FCA Campus Director at the University of Houston. Hinson was there to help train sports chaplains, and—with the help of a translator—was occasionally throwing in common American sports phrases like “knock it out of the park” or “run through a brick wall.”
In that moment, Roquemore noticed the translator looking back at him with a blank stare.
“Those colloquialisms and expressions that we often use weren’t translating,” Roquemore said. “And that’s always been the biggest challenge.”
It wasn’t an easy journey or a simple problem to solve, but years later FCA has come a long way in reaching coaches and athletes outside of the States. The answer? Make context the priority over simple translation, and having all of the international leaders involved in the process from the very beginning.
CONTEXT IS KEY
When FCA first started developing resources, it was all about Bible printing. Then the focus shifted toward Bible distribution—getting those resources into people’s hands. More recently, the spotlight has been on Bible engagement—discovering how best to encourage people to actually read them and learn from them.
In 2013, FCA appointed Dan Britton to Executive Director of International Ministry. He had previously served as Executive Vice President of Ministry Programs, but an increased interest in overseas impact led to a natural transition to the new role. While the international sports community continues to clamor for more resources in their own languages, Britton noted that culturally specific devotional materials are more needed than ever.
“God’s Word is God’s Word, but we put resources within the Bibles that contextualize the athletic experience,” Britton said. “What we saw was a significant hunger for more of those Bible products—the Athlete’s Bible, the Coach’s Bible, the Sports New Testaments, and even sport-specific Bibles that really took off.
“When we started working internationally over the last 10 years, we found that FCA Bibles were huge assets that our international leaders could use in their countries. People were taking devotionals or daily sessions out of the Bibles and translating them into their own language.”
In 2006, FCA produced the Spanish Sports New Testament. Four years later, the Spanish and Ukrainian versions of the “Heart of an Athlete” devotional were released. In some cases, FCA staff were forced to use pre-existing English Bibles. Translation often took place in the field, but the bigger issue was—and always has been—context.
In East Asia, FCA’s Global Region Coordinator [name withheld due to security] initially connected with the ministry 10 years ago and officially joined the international team in 2011. The first FCA resource he received was the English Coach’s Bible. He quickly saw that many of the sports-related analogies worked—things like competition, injuries and teamwork. But it was sport-specific context within the available resources that failed to resonate with coaches and athletes because of the lack of experience in the sports featured in the American- driven resources.
“Sports are driven by economics,” he said. “American sports like football, lacrosse and ice hockey are all very expensive because of equipment. That’s why they’re not popular [in poorer areas of the world]. Soccer and basketball are popular in East Asia because they’re easy to afford.”
Just like in East Asia and Latin America, Andriy Kravstov, FCA Global Region Coordinator for Eurasia, encountered issues when he’d translate Bible devotionals from English on the spot during Huddles in Ukraine.
“Linguistically, it is mostly the same, but we’ve had some problems,” Kravstov said, pointing out that the 2010 FCA Camp theme of “Unleash the Power” didn’t translate well into Eastern European culture. “Sometimes the sports analogies are very hard for us to relate to, but when we’re just talking about issues facing the athletes and coaches, that’s universal.”
Before long, FCA faced one of those “good problem to have” situations. International ministry was expanding rapidly, which of course was a fantastic thing. But with it came a swelling problem, and what was once an isolated issue in a handful of countries had proliferated to more than 60 countries on five continents.
That brisk growth was soon reflected in an increased demand for Bible resources. Demand quickly outweighed the supply. Britton said the original approach was to take existing FCA resources and simply translate them into all the various languages. But, as more Bibles and devotional books were released, leadership collectively discovered that contextualization is, in many ways, more important than translation.
“It’s a two-step process,” Britton said. “Athletes and coaches in other countries don’t always deal with the same dynamics that we deal with in the United States. We now change the cultural content before it gets translated. That’s the harder step. We’ve realized that it takes time. We have to identify people in those cultures who can help us through the process.”
One example of an issue that arose: FCA translated resources into Thai (the official language of Thailand), but non-athletes were in charge of the translation process. When the FCA leaders there received the Bibles, they lacked the proper competitive sports context.
Now, Britton said, “we’re getting people with athletic mindsets engaged at the start of the process to help us contextualize these concepts before we even do the translations.”
Over the years, the list of resources being translated and printed has continued to grow. In 2013, the “Heart of an Athlete” devotional book was released in Chinese, along with a seven-day reading plan on the YouVersion Bible app. In 2014, FCA printed an Arabic Soccer New Testament. After releasing two more Spanish resources in 2015, including the FCA Athlete’s Bible, FCA then released seven new resources in the past two years. These include the Japanese Baseball New Testament, the Chinese Sports Devotional Bible, the Athlete’s Handbook in Spanish, Russian and Korean, the Russian Coach’s Bible and the Thai Sports New Testament.
FCA worked with Biblica to print 50,000 Thai Sports Bibles and also secured funding for FCA Ukraine to print 15,000 Russian Coach’s Bibles. Other success stories include the printing of 3,000 copies of the Chinese Sports Devotional Bible and 7,000 copies of the Japanese Baseball New Testament.
For Kravtsov, the Ukrainian Sports New Testament has had the most significant impact thus far.
“It was gone very quickly,” he said. “People were so hungry to have it. Three thousand of them weren’t enough.”
Kravtsov vividly remembers the reaction he got throughout the distribution process. It always included a personal touch.
“I went to one coach and wrote a message to him inside the Bible,” he said. “He was shocked. No one had shared a resource like this with him before. He believes in God but hasn’t made peace with the Lord. After I gave him the Bible, he started sharing stories about how his family has always believed in God. He started opening up to me and telling me these hidden God stories in his life.”
Another one of Kravtsov’s coaches doesn’t call it a New Testament. He just calls it “the book.”
“I got your book and I’m reading it,” he’ll tell Kravtsov. Or, “The book is helping me.”
Roquemore has enjoyed hearing similar stories all across Latin America. FCA staffers are seeing positive results from the most recent, reformed wave of Bible distribution. In the Dominican Republic, for instance, 75 athletes received the Bible and used the devotionals in Huddles during a team camp earlier this year.
“We have yet to meet a single pastor, chaplain or athlete whose face doesn’t light up when they see the FCA Athlete’s Bible,” said James Oilar, who works for FCA in Colombia and Venezuela. “It’s the most powerful and useful tool in Spanish that we have.”
CLOSING THE GAP
As the numbers across the FCA ministry continue to grow, so does the need for more translations and additional contextualization.
Kravtsov, for example, oversees a region that speaks 15 different languages. His next desired resource is a complete, 365-day devotional Bible. The same is true for Roquemore, who also hopes to see Spanish versions of the 3D Coaching materials in the near future. To that end, a task force has been created to develop 3D Coach and other vital resources into the Latin American context.
“It’s all about getting the right people at the table,” Britton said. “Our in-country leaders are being empowered to help develop these resources. We always make sure they are part of the development and included in the writing and editing process.”
That means bringing international leaders to the table when discussing future resources and the development of camp curriculum concepts. For Britton, having those people involved at the beginning is the key to moving FCA International even deeper into sports ministry relevance.
“When they can actually have the Scriptures printed in their own language, and they have a chance to utilize it for the first time, it’s had a huge impact,” he said. “It’s been phenomenal. They have ownership. They’re involved in the process. They’ve helped create it. It’s been awesome to see.”
FCA International Bibles & Resources
Spanish Sports New Testament
Ukrainian Sports New Testament
Spanish Heart of an Athlete Devotional
Chinese Heart of an Athlete Devotional
Chinese 7-Day YouVersion Reading Plan
Arabic Soccer New Testament
Spanish Athlete's Bible
Bookmarks: Competitor's Creed
Chinese Sports Devotional
Japanese Baseball Bible
Spanish Sports Bible Handbook
Thai Sports New Testament
Russian Sports Bible Handbook & Coach's Bible
Korean Sports Bible Handbook
Spanish Sports Bible Handbook