Stop and think. My basketball coach introduced me to this concept for the first time when I was 17 years old. I didn’t like to stop; basketball was my life 10 hours a day. And I wasn’t sure exactly what to think, but my coach had interesting things to say about that — and he said it all came from his Bible.
Jesus was familiar enough to me. He was the man hanging on a cross in every Catholic church throughout southern Brazil. His name was the swear word of choice in casual conversation. But what did Jesus have to do with deep-seated peace, eternity, and my behavior? Three years into Saturday morning basketball games, my coach, ABWE missionary Dan Richner, would help me figure this out.
As a teenager, the basketball court was my refuge. After dropping out of middle school to work and bring home a paycheck for my family, the court gave me purpose in life. Then, Coach Dan showed up and began training me to be a better player. I felt like I was finally getting the leg up I needed in life. I felt like I could see a future for myself.
In the middle of most practices, the coach would have us sit down for what he called a “stop and think.” We would catch our breaths and drain water bottles as Coach would tell us about Jesus — a man he modeled his life after. I listened closely, wanting to know why this American basketball coach was here in my hometown and why he always seemed so at peace.
It baffled me. How could this book he carried around and this Jesus he talked about make me a better basketball player? One day, Coach took me out for a Coke. I asked questions, and he did his best to answer them. The next week we talked over cheeseburgers at McDonald’s and I opened up about the reasons I wanted to be anywhere but home.
A few weeks later, Coach invited me to Word of Life summer camp. I told him I couldn’t afford it, but he offered to pay my way. I still wasn’t sure I could find a way to make it work, but as we parted ways, I asked, “Will they have a basketball court?” He said yes, and I made sure I found a way.
At camp, Coach’s words finally made sense. After three years of Saturday morning basketball, afternoon cheeseburgers, plenty of conversations about the gospel, and liters of ice cold Coke, my heart finally responded to the gospel. Jesus’ truth came crashing in, and I wanted that peace that Coach had. I wanted to know this Jesus. I wanted him to change my life. And He did.
It’s been nearly 20 years since that camp, and I can’t imagine my life if I had never heard the truth of God preached through my coach. I was recently ordained, and Dan — my pastor, my coach, my mentor, and my friend — told the congregation about the journey he has helped me walk that all started on a small basketball court in my hometown.
Soon, my wife and I will be returning as missionaries to my home state of Rio Grande do Sul, where just 2 percent are evangelical believers. There are plenty of my neighbors in southern Brazil who only know Jesus as the Son of Mary, and my desire is to use sports ministry to meet a younger version of myself and help him to “stop and think.”
Will you join us in praying for the people of Brazil and for more workers to join us as we seek to share God’s love there?