blog | 27.12.20
Gerald Williams was once told to keep his voice down by John McEnroe. The colourful American just one of the household names whose shots were so skilfully called by BBC tennis commentator Williams during his radio and television role at Wimbledon.
Yet perhaps Williams, who passed away in 2016, would say his most enduring legacy from those wonderful championships came from something that might have seemed insignificant and ordinary off the court at SW19 in the early 1970s. Something that actually proved to be extremely significant and extraordinary; a meeting he arranged between his friend Alan Godson and Eddie Waxer in the busy walkway between Centre Court and No.1 Court.
Godson loved sport and his displays in rugby or cricket arenas were matched in boldness by his desire to tell people about Jesus Christ. Waxer was an American who travelled the world ministering to professional sportsmen and was introduced to the well-connected Williams by former tennis world number one Stan Smith.
As the tennis crowds mingled beside them, dialogue between Godson and Waxer was underway and gathered pace quickly. Waxer wanted the United Kingdom to have a fellowship of Christian sportspeople and sought for that group, in turn, to reach other sportspeople with the good news about Jesus.
“Eddie had faith that Great Britain would in time be the most significant country in the world for the sending of athletes who know Christ to other nations,” said Williams.
In February 1976, Waxer invited a group of British, Christian sportspeople to an annual get-together of American, Christian sportspeople in Orlando, Florida. Godson was among them, so too Williams, as was Andrew Wingfield Digby, a formidable seam bowler ordained in the Church of England, who openly acknowledges he needed very little persuasion to board a plane bound for Orlando during a harsh, dark, British winter.
“For most of us the flight to Florida was an adventure, but for Godson it was five and a half hours with a captive audience,” says Wingfield Digby, referring to his friend leading an air stewardess to Christ in the sky.
The trio were amazed as they watched and listened to successful American football players talk freely and sincerely about how their relationship with Jesus Christ was the number one priority in their lives, despite all the glitz, glamour and trappings on their doorsteps. So much so, that before heading back across the Atlantic, a previously God-fearing but not yet converted Williams asked Jesus to enter his life, as Godson knelt beside him.
Talk about lighting the touch paper. Wingfield Digby recalls the mood splendidly.
“We returned to London determined to do all we could to build a Christian presence in sport in Great Britain. We could see the enormous need for sportspeople to be presented with the challenge of Jesus and we could see more clearly than before that the impact of the testimony in word and deed of Christian athletes is great indeed.”
On 19 June 1976, Godson, Williams, Wingfield Digby and others organised the first gathering of Christian sportsmen and women, of whom there were 80, fittingly on the eve of the Wimbledon Championships. Another followed in 1977 and again in 1978 with now 400 attendees. The snowball effect kicked in and in 1980 the charity organisation called ‘Christians in Sport’ officially began, with Wingfield Digby going on to become full-time director in 1984.
We look back on the last 40 years in wonder and gratitude at what God has graciously done through the work of Christians in Sport, as we have tried to reach the world of sport for Christ.
Over the page are three stories of people who represent thousands of Christian sportspeople who have been journeying with us over the past 40 years.
Darren Moore had a 20-year career as a professional football player; being a central defensive pillar at clubs like West Bromwich Albion and Derby County in the Premier League, as well as internationally for Jamaica.
Now Doncaster Rovers manager and playing a pivotal role in bringing fellow professionals together for online Bible studies, Moore reflects on when he put his faith in Jesus Christ in 1999 through a connection with a Christian in sport in the shape of teammate Wayne Jacobs at Bradford City.
“When I was young, I went to Sunday school,” said Darren. “But as my football career started, it was Sundays at 10 o’clock when the team bus would pick me up, so I stopped going to Sunday school and I automatically thought you can’t play football and serve God.
“It’s only when I met Wayne Jacobs (Jakes) that I realised how wrong I was, because you can serve the Lord at all times. Jakes really exemplified that. We used to travel to Bradford together and he once asked me what my family background was and if it was Christian. I said I was from a Christian family but found it very difficult to attend a church and serve the Lord because I was playing football.
“Wayne was such a wonderful guy and didn’t force it. He asked me to do him a favour and get his ‘Word for Today’ booklet out the glovebox. He said he was driving so could I read it for him because he liked to do it each day. I started to read it and we’d discuss what was said. So, I was getting teaching and doctrine from Wayne right there and then!
“One day I was feeling low and lacking confidence. We opened the ‘Word for Today’ and God was talking in 2 Timothy about not giving us a spirit of fear but of love and a sound mind. I thought ‘my goodness’ because I was feeling a bit of fear that I didn’t belong at this level of football, and that scripture spoke right into my heart.
“Wayne told me they had a Christians in Sport group where seven or eight players gathered, including Graham Daniels. I went along. Danno would deliver a scripture, we would discuss it and have a bit of food, too.
“What I felt with that group was that we were all at different parts of our careers…in the first team or playing reserves or about to be transferred or injured. But when we came together and Danno shared scripture, we were all at the same point. God loved us all unconditionally and knew the plans He had for us and wanted to be in our everyday lives. And, of course, the Holy Spirit’s there too dwelling among us. That was really special to me.
“I felt confident and at peace and that’s when I gave my life to the Lord. God very much revealed Himself to me and said He’s very much part of my everyday life.”
Being a busy mum and part-time church worker might seem a million miles away from Darren Moore’s world, but crucially, Helen Nicholson shares the same passion for sport that Darren does; and Christians in Sport has been equally as pivotal over her journey at various hockey clubs since her days in academic study.
“I went to university in 2004, not yet a Christian,” explains Helen. “But the vast majority of friends that I made were Christians - notably a house mate and a course mate who both became involved with the small Christians in Sport university Pray Play Say group at York St John. So, I knew of Christians in Sport through them. I even went to a Christians in Sport university group meeting before I became a Christian.
“It was significant sitting in that meeting with friends who talked openly about Jesus; their love for Him and how they wanted teammates to know Him. I found it very strange sitting as they prayed out loud together for each other. However, seven days later, I returned to the weekly Christians in Sport meeting, having become a Christian the night before, and it seemed very normal to talk about Jesus and to pray for the world of sport.
“It was clear to me from day one of knowing Jesus that I have been created with the gifts to play hockey and to glorify God with those gifts.”
Helen went on to do an Internship with Christians in Sport which she “treasured”, before being involved in Sports Plus camps, Quiz Nights and other activities.
Today, life’s responsibilities mean she isn’t at these types of events as much, but she very much remains part of the team.
“I am a Christian in sport in my hockey club, Oxford Hawks, and I long to live for Jesus there,” You could say I am completely bought in on the vision of Christians in Sport - I am less in touch with all that is going on than I once was, but the vision does not change!”
That vision is once again travelling across the world. Asa Bjork is a health and fitness pastor at a church in Huskvarna, Sweden, where she lives with her professional football coach husband Thomas and two teenage children.
Ever since a visit to a Sports Plus camp in 2001, she and her family have held dear their links to Christians in Sport.
“It showed me how a good camp can be done,” said Asa. “I was so impressed how the coaches were also trained in the Bible, not just the young kids. The fellowship, love and passion made leaders and coaches use their own holiday time to come and teach at the camp. That really impressed me.
“We get inspiration from Christians in Sport. We ran our first ever Clubhouse Xtra for sporting families here in Sweden in April, and we got most of the content from the Christians in Sport website. I love the generosity that they show to the whole sports movement, and how they so generously share resources. It’s kingdom culture! We congratulate Christians in Sport for turning 40 and know that the best is yet to come. So, we keep on playing the game with our eyes fixed on Jesus!”
This article first appeared in Back Pages Winter 2020 magazine. To subscribe to our magazine click here.
Christians in Sport is a UK based charity that aims to reach the world of sport for Christ. We mainly work with sportspeople in competitive and elite sport.
Registered Charity England and Wales 1086570.
Registered Charity Scotland SCO45299.
Company number: 4146081
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