Volunteer Chaplains – Changing Communities Worldwide


Volunteer Chaplains – Changing Communities Worldwide

Read how our AIA volunteer chaplains are impacting their communities one play at a time

Katie Neff

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Athletes in Action’s volunteer chaplains are making an impact on the lives of athletes around the world. In 13 countries including Honduras, Moldova, and Myanmar, individuals possessing a love of sports and a passion for the gospel are bringing hope to teams in their neighborhoods. Whether at universities, high schools, or with children in their community, these trained volunteers help athletes make the connection between God and sports.

The role of a chaplain is to work within local sports communities to provide spiritual support to athletes. The needs of each athlete can vary widely, which is why AIA equips chaplains to come alongside athletes in a variety of ways. Some are obviously spiritual: leading Bible studies, discipling individuals, and coaching them as they use their unique platform to share the gospel. Other methods are more practical, such as teaching life skills and sportsmanship, but naturally, lead to topics of faith.

Many of the chaplains working with local teams come from churches that have launched sports ministries of their own. In Brazil alone, AIA’s ministry reach has expanded significantly through the implementation of this strategy. What began as an outreach with just six full-time staff members has grown into a movement of more than 450 trained associates.

Meanwhile in Ethiopia, AIA’s only staff member, Tsegaye, uses the same strategy to grow ministry presence in his country. Each year, he hosts a volunteer chaplaincy training conference. Here, active chaplains whom Tsegaye has mentored teach Christian leaders from around the country how to begin and run chaplaincies in professional and local clubs.

In conjunction with this gathering, coaches from across Ethiopia are invited to skills clinics. These clinics are hosted by AIA coaches visiting from overseas in partnership with the national soccer federation. The athletic expertise these coaches offer appeals to the Ethiopian coaches. While they are developing their sports knowledge, chaplains are present, giving talks that expose the team leaders to the life-coaching courses they can provide for their teams.

Tim, an AIA staff member working with professional soccer in the U.S., has seen the success of the chaplaincy model firsthand.

“[The clinics] are working really well in opening doors in these countries with the federations and teams,” he says. “If I just went there, I could do some stuff. But now that I bring in these [professional] athletes, I have 50 coaches and the federation officials coming to us.”

In the new year, AIA hopes to further expand this impact by hosting the first Global Vision Conference in more than a decade. There AIA staff members from around the world will be trained in partnering with volunteers in chaplaincy and church sports ministries.

In total, the goal is to train, equip, and establish 1,000 new volunteer sports chaplains in 2020. Together, these efforts have the potential to impact tens of thousands of lives as athletes are introduced to a new way of competing, and most importantly, Jesus. 

Learn more about Athletes in Action’s Global Chaplaincy Ministry at aiaintl.com . Photo credit to Ted Wilcox.