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Sports with Compassion in Romania

Published on January 30, 2019

by Chad Bonham

As a young boy growing up in Romania, Daniel was blessed to live in a home where his parents shared their passion for God. But he and his six brothers also grew up heavily influenced by their father’s love of competitive sports—especially boxing.

“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 a kid, Daniel participated in swimming, table tennis, cycling, and most every sport available in his hometown. As an adult, that diversity led him to become a tri-athlete. At the same time, Daniel began studying theology, but for many years, he failed to see a connection between his two passions—sports and God.

That all changed in 2009 when Daniel met a professional athlete who shared with him the concept of spreading 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.”

In 2010, Daniel started holding sports camps in these small, remote villages. His first observation was that no one knew how to play sports. The only thing they knew how to do was to fight and box. 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.

Daniel3

Many of the children were orphaned in the community. Many of them didn’t have adequate clothing. All of them were extremely poor. One six-year old boy stood out to Daniel. His name was Iosca.

“Iosca couldn’t come to our camp because he had decided he wanted to be a shepherd,” Daniel said. “From early morning until late at night, he stayed out in the fields with the sheep.”

Iosca was poorer than most. His clothes were ripped up and shredded and had no shoes. One day, Daniel took his team of volunteers to find Iosca so they help take care of some of his basic needs. They left early in the evening and walked nearly six miles casing the hills.

“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.

“Jesus loves you, Iosca,” Daniel intentionally reminded the young boy.

Iosca is now a teenager who is actively involved in the church. Daniel also believes he will become one of the county’s elite runners.

Earlier this year, FCA took 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.

“I want to see the gypsy community, which is marginalized, be safe. 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.”