Hongkai Jiang is a senior at Clayton High school. He joined Globe sophomore year. He is the review section editor for Globe. The reason he joined Globe is because most of his friends...
Fellowship of Christian Athletes
October 1, 2018
The divide between Republicans and Democrats has never been bigger. From immigration to gun control, confederate monuments to abortion rights, a broad field of topics have been absorbed into this political atmosphere. Religion has not been left out.
Religion is kept out of public schools, and for good reason, as a wider background of students join American schools. There have even been debates as to remove the word “God” from the Pledge of Allegiance, since denotes the dominant religion in America: Christianity. But what about the people on the other side of this issue, the Christians themselves?
Interestingly enough, there lies a small but strongly growing religious community within the walls of CHS. It is a community of not just Christians, but softball players, wrestlers, swimmers, and runners–all sorts of athletes.
In the swim team locker room after a tiresome practice, or perhaps on the courts before a tennis match, one may hear a vibrant voice preaching the glory of God and the gift he has given to athletes. This man is Donald “Wil” Wifley Welch, a three year state swimmer, captain of the swim team, and a leader of the Fellowship of Christian Athletes (FCA).
Welch, who is an extremely dedicated swimmer, sometimes swims for four hours a day–two at CHS practices, and another two right after at club practices. However, his dedication to FCA and spreading the word of Christ matches, perhaps even surpasses, his passion for swimming. Every since his freshman year, he has not been afraid to gather the whole swim team at the bleachers in order to remind everyone: “FCA is tomorrow!” As a senior this year, Welch has decided to expand his audience, and has moved on to actively recruiting other athletes, such as by giving a speech about FCA and its mission to the girls tennis team.
It seems his strategy has worked, since his contagious enthusiasm has now spread to other parts of the school. FCA had twenty people come for the first meeting this year; the most they’ve ever had is thirteen. “It was a big jump,” Welch remarks, “I hope we can continue to grow.”
However, connecting religion with athletics is an interesting, if not difficult, process. But for Welch, he feels that connecting Christianity with athletics is not only helpful, but necessary. “God has given every athlete gifts. So we want people who are really passionate about their sport to see that God has given them this gift,” Welch says, “we so want to direct athletes to be able to use their sport to give glory to God for giving them that gift.”
Although Welch is a devout Christian now, a few years back he was not, but a weekends retreat for FCA changed his life. “I thought it would be fun to do [FCA] when I was a freshman–something religious oriented outside of church,” Welch says, “ So I went to a guy weekends retreat camp and there is where I gave my life to Christ and my entire outlook on life changed.”
Welch says that he went into FCA thinking it was going to be a leader preaching to an audience who just listens, like at a church service. But it was the opposite of that. “It’s a discussion where everyone can contribute and speak out,” Welch says, “FCA is a supplement to church, it doesn’t replace being involved in an active church…it’s just a way to discuss Christianity.”
Although FCA is a thriving and open community, Welch says that it’s a bit difficult being one of the only religious communities in a public school, one that openly preaches the gospel to students. In a day and age where people often judge people based on religion, identity, and race, Christians are not exempted. “It’s difficult because I think there are a lot of preconceived notions of what Christianity is, what Christians believe,” Welch remarks, “It’s hard but I think it’s good for people to experience what Christianity is, people are able to choose to join or not–it’s not faith if it’s forced.”
Even in a country where Christianity is currently the dominant religion, it’s not easy. Although religion seems to be declining in the U.S., it is rapidly growing in other parts of the world and this gives Welch a lot of hope, for he is happy to see the word of God and God’s love being spread to as many people as possible. “I think [religion] is declining in America, not because people think it’s false, but because people don’t like a lot of the aspects of Christianity, like sexual integrity,” Welch says “But Christianity is thriving in other parts of the world and it gives me great hope.”
Despite these apparent difficulties, including the decline in morality of a lot of American principles, Welch still envisions a great future for FCA and Christianity in general. He envisions FCA growing and trying to bring as many people into a relationship with Christ. Thus, FCA is open to all sorts of people, but although they welcome all, they still preach Christ and Christ alone and are not changing their mission. “All people are welcome. Skeptics are welcome. I want to have a place for people who are struggling.” Welch says.
All in all, FCA is just a community of people who discuss religion, athletics, and play some games at a morning meeting over bagels, and Welch is just one component of the club. In the current environment America is, divisions have been increasingly dissenting, and people have grown more hostile towards those who don’t agree with them. But Welch says that FCA will continue to focus on their mission–“To lead people to Christ and help people see God’s greatness in both life and sports,” Welch says, “That is our goal, why we’re on campus, to show people how much God loves them.”