In the world of sports, everybody competes to become the difference maker, to get that winning goal, to make that save, to make that play that will be the difference between winning and losing. Just getting by is nobody’s dream. Someone has to step up.
Gabe Yeung wants to equip Christian varsity athletes to become spiritual difference makers on their teams. Based in Edmonton, Alberta where he serves as a campus hub director, Yeung has been on staff with Athletes in Action (AIA) for seven years, leading men’s ministry and working with the University of Alberta Gold Bears football team.
AIA PRAIRIES RETREAT
Every year, AIA held a retreat for all prairie universities – University of Calgary, University of Alberta, University of Saskatchewan, and University of Regina. The weekends provided the students from different campuses the opportunity to see AIA on a bigger scale. They got the chance to meet and connect with other athletes, to share their struggles and similarities.
In the past, the retreats proved to be real catalysts for the players’ spiritual growth by stressing the importance of their journey with God first and foremost; the students emerged with broadened views of themselves, of the ministry, and of God.
This year, the retreat was held March 21-23 at Gull Lake, Alberta. In total 40 varsity athletes attended, plus eight or nine staff. As wonderful as spiritual refreshment could be, this year needed to be a little different.
“We wanted to challenge students with ways they could minister to the world by using their platform [as athletes],” Yeung says.
A DIFFERENCE MAKER
For years, students would attend, but didn’t seem energized to make a difference for the teams they played on. “They wanted to grow spiritually,” Yeung says, “but not necessarily make an impact.”
That started to change two years ago, when one of the players, David Beard, became passionate about being that spiritual difference maker on his team.
“I first came across AIA when I was attending my first football training camp,” Beard says. “A few staff members came to touch base with the team and extend a hand for those players who were interested in meeting up to take a look at how life looks while combining faith and sport.” David knew that when those staff members showed up, it was an answer to prayer. At the time, he was looking for a faith-based community that he could get involved in.
In 2012, Beard attended his first Prairies retreat, describing it as “such a great weekend to get away from school, join in fellowship with other believers, hear some great messages, worship, compete, and set apart some significant time to just be in the presence of God with a little more intentionality than I typically had.”
For Beard, to be in the presence of God, to be in relationship with God, is the driving force behind his entire identity. “I want to impact my team by being a real individual who loves God and loves sport too,” he explains. Driven by these two passions, he began to invite others to chapel and investing in the lives of his teammates, leading Bible studies, becoming a servant leader, as well as “when I have the extra money, providing food and hangout time.” Because athletes too, can be Christ-like. Even when they’re in university.
And maybe that’s all there is to being a Christian athlete.
“I’m not sure there are many ways to define a Christian athlete,” he says, “but the way I see it is living a life that is honoring to God in everything you do including sport. It means to me that competing and using the gifts God has given me is a way I can glorify and worship God!”
After David attended that retreat in 2012, “that sparked a turning point in the ministry,” says Yeung. “From David’s initial example, we’ve seen the ministry grow.”
The chapel program grew and every year more players were attending the retreats. Key leaders, like Efe Ogolo, emerged and took point. As a result, Yeung explains that “a great shift” occurred with the players taking ownership of the ministry. Several years ago, it was the leaders who ministered to the team; now the players are the ones ministering to one other. The spiritual growth no longer comes from outside and the teams have become teams of difference makers.