blog | 30.12.20
On Monday 19th October 2020, Christians in Sport offered three opportunities at different times of the day for people to join together in an online gathering to give God thanks in prayer, not only for 40 years of Christians in Sport, but also for 25 years of Sports Plus camps.
Scanning the gallery of attendees and upon seeing a certain face, you could immediately be transported back in time to a memory from Repton School or Christ College Brecon, Loretto or Royal School Armagh to name a few. So many people who, for several years of their lives, had been committed to attending, leading, coaching or supporting at Sports Plus.
What was also so abundantly obvious was how each person, as they recounted a tale or a snapshot from the Sports Plus past, didn’t see it only as a place where they had served God, but a place where they had been wonderfully encouraged, fed, and developed by Him.
Some memories came from fresh-faced interns with Christians in Sport, others were offered by what you might call slightly more seasoned campaigners. But smiles; lots of smiles. And it’s not hard to understand why it evokes such happy, meaningful memories.
Sports Plus has a holiday feel about it - it’s a week long residential sports camp. That sport is serious sport, though. Specialist coaching and brilliant team competitions are on offer. But while it’s the perfect way to improve in your sport, it’s also an ideal environment to explore more about the Christian faith and what it means to be a Christian sports player.
“I'm a bit of a jack of all trades, master of none,” says Ed Fenning (top, second from the left) , whose Sports Plus journey began in 2000 and continued into leadership roles in later years.
“As a young person I did hockey, where I developed significantly in the simple ball skills that give you time to have your head up, or rugby where I got ready for pre-season training which would follow just a couple of weeks later. These days I’m a runner, and the bleep test is probably my highlight as it’s a good quality intense training session.
“I went from young person to trainee leader, then team leader and most recently a leader of trainees. It has been great to taste a variety of roles, but in all of them, the central aspect is of serving one another as we strive to know Christ better and to make Him known clearly.
“As a leader, you are there to pour yourself out in service of the young people for that week. This makes Sports Plus doubly exhausting, but also doubly blessed. It’s a huge privilege to open up the Bible with the young people. While leaders serve wholeheartedly, they are also wonderfully served by other leaders who are investing in training you.
“I’ve massively benefited from Christians in Sport’s vision of Pray Play Say: being committed to pray for your teammates and committed not only to play on the pitch with them but to share life with them (1 Thessalonians 2:8) and say something of Jesus. Each year my heart is thrilled afresh that God would save a wretch like me, and so I’m motivated to go and tell others this amazing news.
Sports Plus, more than anything else, has helped me fight to keep making Jesus known on the top of the agenda in my life.”
Another familiar face at Sports Plus, another story behind one of the windows, is Suzie Toyn who shares Ed’s experience of being refuelled and motivated by other Christian leaders.
“Over the years it was great to see many friends who keep returning. It is a real encouragement to be with other Christian sports leaders and help spur each other on throughout the week.”
When not at camp, Suzie works for the International Tennis Federation in elite Wheelchair Tennis. Like Ed, Suzie started coming to camp in 2000. From young person, to trainee to tennis coach and now head coach, she’s seen camp from every angle.
“Sports Plus was key in my journey. As a young person I found that everyone spoke a language you understood. I really discovered how sport and my Christian faith could be so interlinked.
Now as a coach, it is a real privilege to be able to share who Jesus is with the young people and help them reflect on the importance of Him in their lives, and help encourage them to keep playing for Him.”
Remarkably by God’s grace, the concept and model of Sports Plus has been taken to plenty of other countries too.
Manu Traica from Romania had heard good things about the camps when talking to people at European sport ministry gatherings; and in 2012 took the chance to experience it for herself at Brecon.
“I still remember my first visit,” recalls Manu. “Going into the chapel for the evening session and the atmosphere and energy that was created. It was fun but also serious - serious about sports coaching and serious about the Gospel. It was energetic but also intentional. It was like that verse
‘my ears have heard about it but now my eyes can see it.’ It was more than my expectations could imagine.
“I took notes each day on all aspects of the day, in order to see and pray how we could apply it in our context in Romania. In 2013 we started a Sport Plus camp in Romania, a dream which came true. A small team from Christians in Sport came to run it and a small team of Romanian leaders learned by working alongside them.
“In the second year we were again assisted by another small team of Christians in Sport leaders helping us, but each year we also tried to invest more in local leaders. We kept the model of Sports Plus camp while adapting it to our own context in Romania. Year after year we grew the team of local leaders to run it, and in 2018 I handed over to another team of leaders to lead a Sport Plus Camp.”
It is thrilling that Romania is one of as many as 19 countries outside of the United Kingdom where the Sports Plus model has been cultivated and grown; and we’re not thrilled because we want Sports Plus to look good, this is for making God look good. This is for pointing people to Jesus. For it is the true hope that Christ offers which makes Sports Plus camps tick.
The pioneers of the camps in the 1990s knew that, as do Christians in Sport who have been passed the baton since until today, to this 25 year anniversary. The people behind all those Zoom windows know it too, and it’s no surprise that understanding the good news of Jesus in a sporting context at Sports Plus has put smiles on lots of faces.
This article first appeared in Back Pages Winter 2020 magazine. To subscribe to our magazine click here.
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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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