Believer vs. Follower

The 2020 global pandemic was like stepping onto a new playing field for Athletes in Action (AIA). Despite challenges, AIA helped athletes and coaches navigate adversity and turn their attention to the true source of hope, Jesus Christ. The gospel message was shared over 5,000 times and 114 athletes put their trust in Jesus.

For the sport community, the COVID-19 pandemic was a gut-wrenching loss. Seasons were cancelled, the Summer Olympic Games were postponed, and playing careers were cut short.

The deafening quiet of the courts, pitches, and fields left athletes and coaches at all levels of competition struggling to find a sense of purpose. And for those who defined their worth by playing time and performance, the uncertainty was especially devastating.

When universities shut their doors in March, Lauren, a second-year wrestler for the University of Guelph Gryphons, had already been grappling with the loss of her varsity season. Several weeks earlier, she’d suffered a concussion and the resulting symptoms were debilitating.

But Lauren’s perspective was shifting.

For months, she’d been gathering with other varsity athletes on campus for connection, discussion, and prayer. Led by AIA, these Monday night meetings explored the topics of mental health, relationships, how to deal with injuries, and what to do when sport fails you. Lauren also heard testimonies from Christian athletes and learned how to pray.

“Going to AIA meetings gave me purpose and showed me that I am more than an athlete,” she explains. “I loved the atmosphere and how I felt when I left. The meetings connected me with other student athletes and allowed me to reflect on my own beliefs and values.”

Lauren never considered herself religious. She believed in the existence of God, but did not have a connection to Him or to the Church. Growing up, she had the freedom to explore different religions and was encouraged by her Christian mother and Buddist father to pursue the path she considered ‘right’ for herself.

When COVID hit, and in-person meetings were no longer possible, Lauren received a video call from AIA staff member Becki Lee.

“I follow up with female athletes one-on-one to get to know them better, to see where they’re at spiritually, and how we can help them take the next step in their relationship with God,” says Becki. “In my 14 years on staff I have done many follow- up meetings, but never online. It felt strange to me, but I got over myself and realized that this is the reality now and I have to work with it!”

As Lauren and Becki got to know each other better online, Lauren came to a decision about her spiritual path; she chose to follow Jesus.

“Believing in God versus being a follower of Christ are two very different things,” she says.

Choosing to follow Jesus required Lauren to relinquish control of her life. For someone who worked very hard for the success she’d experienced in life thus far, acknowledging that God was at work and in control was difficult to accept.

“Giving up control was something I personally struggled with,” she says. “I’ve always been an ‘only you can help yourself’ type of person.”

Following Jesus changed Lauren’s perspective, though. As she healed from her concussion, she became more empathetic and forgiving of herself and others. She was grateful rather than frustrated by challenges, and saw them as opportunities for growth. She was also willing to share the good news of Jesus Christ with others.

“It was not necessarily a shock to my family when I chose to follow Jesus,” she says. “My 17-year-old brother was very supportive and curious, which led to us reading and studying the Bible together.”

Several months later, Lauren’s brother also decided to follow Jesus.

While Lauren’s athletic career is on hold, she continues to find encouragement within the AIA community and is currently being discipled by Lisa, a 4th-year volleyball player.

“As COVID continues, it is hard to stay positive and hopeful that my season will eventually resume. However, having the support of AIA and others in my community has made me grateful for what I’ve experienced,” she says.

“When I reflect and look at the bigger picture, I know that God is the giver of good gifts and it is our job to use them to the best of our ability.”

Gospel Presentations 5,157
Decisions for Christ 114
Follow-Up Appointments With Varsity Athletes 192
Varsity Athletes Journeying Towards Jesus 148