(EDITOR’S NOTE: Second in a two-part series on what God is doing at Fellowship of Christian Athletes Camps this summer.)
Hundreds of athletes traveled short and long distances alike to become better at their sports before the important fall season. But many may have been surprised by the way God moved in their hearts.
Across the country and around the world this summer, the lives of coaches, athletes and entire teams are being changed through upwards of 700 FCA Camps.
One such Camp in early July at Kutztown University in Pennsylvania was just one example of what God is doing at FCA Camps.
“As we begin to wrap up the final few weeks of FCA Camps season, we have witnessed God’s perfect will and incredible guidance through FCA Camps nationwide and around the world,” said Chris Rich, Vice President of Field Ministry for the Mid-Atlantic Region. “Coaches and athletes have been transformed through the truth of the Gospel and lives have been changed. Now, this fall and long after, a bold generation of young athletes will be catalysts for change in the sports community.”
Rich also reported that this year’s attendance at the FCA Camp at Kutztown topped 540 athletes, with about 900 total in attendance including coaches, staff, Huddle leaders, speakers and volunteers. Participants hailed from 14 states to sharpen their skills in several sports, such as tennis, volleyball, football, softball, and track and field, among others.
The keynote speaker for each of the evenings during the weeklong camp was Heiden Ratner, church planter and senior pastor of WALK Church in Las Vegas. Ratner said he “first met Jesus through FCA” and hopes thousands of athletes this summer will be able to do the same.
Ten years ago, Ratner was featured in FCA's Sharing the Victory magazine while he was a standout Division I basketball player at James Madison University. He then received a bachelor’s degree in religious studies from Mercyhurst College (now University) and a master’s degree in church planting from Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary. After four years of college basketball, he also played a season of professional basketball in Israel. After another season of coaching college basketball in Kentucky, Ratner sensed God calling him to move his family back to his hometown of Las Vegas to plant WALK Church.
Each evening at the FCA Camp at Kutztown, Ratner focused on the 2019 Camps theme of “Let’s Go”—the rally cry for Christians to follow Christ’s command to make disciples.
“I’ve been speaking to the students a lot about identity, to help them recognize that they can find their identity in Christ and experience freedom in Him—so ‘Let’s Go’ do that.”
Among other truths, Ratner told the campers that God is big—big enough to take on all of their sins—and that Ephesians 3:20 is real: “…Now to Him who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within us, to Him be glory…”
Ratner said his life came full circle through FCA. He never went to church as a child or teenager, but when he started playing basketball at James Madison, a friend invited him to an FCA meeting in 2008—and everything changed. He gave his life to the Lord, and soon after, during his freshman year at James Madison, he served as a Huddle leader at Black Mountain FCA Camp in North Carolina.
While there, Ratner said, he had a watershed moment as he was listening to an evening speaker.
“I felt called to do something like that, to minister to athletes who are broken, who need hope,” he said.
As he looks back more than 10 years, Ratner can see the circle that God has completed.
“How about the Lord?” he exclaimed. “Here we are!”
Traveling to Pennsylvania from Las Vegas was also Ratner’s youth director at WALK Church, Jorge Hernandez. On another evening at the Kutztown FCA Camp, Hernandez shared his powerful story about losing his legs in a car explosion. Athletes, coaches, staff and volunteers were equally moved by his testimony.
“God is moving at this camp,” Ratner said. “There’s a lot of hurt, a lot of brokenness. Students are experiencing freedom.”
Ray, 18, a recent high school graduate from North Philly, is just one of the campers who said he learned even more about God this summer, especially after hearing a new concept from Pastor Ratner—that he should be “FAT” in order to seek and meet God’s will by being Faithful, Available and Teachable.
Ray, a triple-threat on the playing field, with skills in basketball, baseball and football, made his second trip to the FCA Camp in Kutztown this summer. He said one of his favorite times during Camp are the Huddles, when he can witness his Huddle leaders connecting, listening and talking with athletes, reminding them that when they are hurting, God steps in and takes on their hurt for them.
Next year at FCA Camp in Kutztown, Ray, who aspires to be a firefighter, hopes he can return to be a Huddle leader himself.
A separate but equally important part of the FCA Kutztown Camp was an evening marriage panel when couples made up of either one or two coaches could hear about how to strengthen their marriages and deal with the unique challenges coaching families face. The panel consisted of longtime married couples, newly married couples and couples with toddlers and adult children, as well as single coaches, both male and female, who spoke of their marriage goals in the future and what interacting with and being mentored by Christian coaching couples had impacted their outlook on relationships.
Like the participants at the FCA Camp in Kutztown, tens of thousands of Camp participants are focusing on the ministry theme of “Let’s Go,” based on the Bible verses from Matthew 28:18-20. 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.