The Kingdom and Diversity

In all that God created in the universe, from the tiniest organism to the largest star in the farthest expanse of the galaxy, there is only one thing He created in His own image; human kind. It’s an easy thing to overlook, but the implications of that are paramount in seeing God’s Kingdom alive on this Earth. In Himself, God finds diversity and community; existing in three parts, yet operating perfectly as one. As His image bearers, it is God’s desire that we reveal His image well. That is why we strive to see the diversity of God’s creation brought together and operating as one.

This month is designated as Black History Month. And while there are errors and hollowness that exist in the designation, it does give us an opportunity to intentionally reflect on some things. One of those things we want to reflect on at A4ONE is how God is using humility, forgiveness, and repentance to bring racial reconciliation to the city of Birmingham. Particularly, how He is using something as simple as this gym and athletics to accomplish His will; our unity bearing His image well.

It is no secret that this country has a tainted history in regards to race relations. To this day, there is still a need for recognition and repentance of the evils that plagued our past. We don’t seek to simply sweep those things under the rug, rather we seek to acknowledge them, learn from them, and move forward in a way that offers healing and hope. But, for as much as there is to mourn, there are also things to celebrate; like the many who gave life and limb for the recognition of their position as image bearers of God to be equally valued. The results of those sacrifices are being seen today in many ways. One of those ways we see it on a daily basis is through the relationships at A4ONE. It's one thing to have seen the desegregation of athletics over the past 75 years, and it has played a huge role in the progress of race relations, but simply playing sports inter-racially was never the end goal. The end goal was, and remains, that we would find family and brotherhood in the people to our right and to our left, no matter their race, ethnicity, or culture. That is what we witness every day; athletics creating an avenue for family and community in the midst of extreme diversity.

On a daily basis, we not only witness diverse gatherings of people, but we see those same people actively involved in each other’s lives. The true mark of that diversity is that our homes, our dinner tables, and the mundane of our everyday lives look as diverse as any event gathering we see. That’s how we know that we not only tolerate differences, but instead, celebrate them as uniquely glorifying parts of God's complete image. A part of His image that we need to experience His Kingdom on Earth as it is in Heaven.

So, as you reflect on history and diversity this month, take a moment to celebrate these things with us:

1.    That God has brought conviction and genuine repentance to those in the dominant culture. We have seen many people humbly repent for the sins of their forefathers and give up the unmerited privileges that came from them.

2.    That God has gifted the minorities in our area with a heart of forgiveness. By God’s grace, we have seen so many lovingly open their arms and welcome us into their lives, despite what they’ve seen and experienced over the years.

3.    That God is truly bringing reconciliation through repentance and forgiveness. Daily, we see the fruits repentance and forgiveness in our families and friendships, and we believe we will only see that fruit increase as Christ continues to transform us all. 

Next Generation

During the season we had a few kids on multiple occasions get in trouble at school.  One of them was our best player and by far the best leader on our team.  Many times, he was guilty by association rather than the initiator.  Nevertheless, he was a part of the group and was not taking a stand for the ones being oppressed or for himself.  We spent half of practice walking around the second time talking to him about leadership and that small decisions over a life time shape our character, who follows us, and what we sow.  Many kids grow up playing sports at the park, running around and having fun and most of them never have the intent to end up in trouble one day. One of the things we talked about is that leaders can create culture and change.  For example, a popular kid starts wearing a hooded sweatshirt, many will follow.  Another could be is that if they don't stand up for the oppressed no one else will either.  We talked about how a young girl in this case who was being made fun of because of her shirt/outfit and the teacher observed what happened and disciplined the kids accordingly.  We talked to this young man later explaining that women are a treasure and to be held in the highest regard, to be honored, and protected.  Fast forward to our end of the year at our banquet when one of our parents came up to us in tears to explain a story.  She explained a story that a young girl was getting picked on because her weave was messed up.  The young leader observed, looked at the two boys and said that they needed to stop.  They asked why, and he said because my coaches said we need to honor women and protect them and thats not what you are doing.  You will never know how far your influence goes unless you take the time to step out in faith and intentionally mother and father someone who is not your own.  Whether that be through sports, coffee, landscaping, teaching, work, or friendships.  The Lord has created many different avenues for this to take place, WE just have to listen, trust, and obey.

The church in the amazon

"Our trip to the Amazon is based on a desire to love, and know Jesus deeply in areas and spaces that exist within the United States, and also in faraway places. The kingdom of God expands far beyond our scope and spectrum that exist within our local spaces. When going to Columbia and Brazil we get to experience the work of Jesus that is taking place through the people of God within that context. For us we get to see and love brothers and sisters that are a part of our family. To sit with them and encourage them as they encourage us by the lives they have chosen to live and the life we have abandoned when following Jesus. It’s always amazing to see that God exist through the walls and barriers of language and his spirit can work and move by our obedience to him. Getting to sit down and weep, cry, plead for God in our different languages while praying for one another and stirring one another to continue choosing Jesus is such a beautiful picture. These people who we call family have given their lives to the poor, and the neglected within their city. We are united with them in Spirit and truth, and testify of the Lord and his goodness. That his kingdom would take root in the foundations of our lives so that others would see the life and resurrection of our king lived out and displayed through his people. Our family is growing and extends throughout Leticia, Benjamin Constant, and into indigenous tribes deep within the Amazon Jungle. These are a people that we cherish, and hold strongly to. They encourage us and are symbols of strength, hope, endurance, and perseverance in the faith."

Myles

Rehumanization

Rehumanization is simply the restoration of human dignity. This is one of our biggest desires in life. We long to restore what has been taken. We have a few boys on our football team who really struggle with this. They can't receive compliments and they feel like they're total failures when they make a mistake on the football field. Instead of making a mistake, realizing what went wrong and doing the correct thing the next time, they will shut down completely. Some cry. Some are too afraid to cry because they've been taught that they're not allowed to cry. There is one boy that struggles with this more than anyone else on the team. We had a major breakthrough a few weeks ago at practice. He made a common mistake that he has made 50 times this season. He got beat to the outside when he was supposed to keep outside containment and force the offensive player to the middle of the field where the linebackers would make the tackle. Not a huge deal in practice, it's the perfect time to make the mistake and learn how to do it correctly. He finally picked his head up, and with the proper encouragement of coaches who have taught him and cared for him over the past 10 weeks he didn't shut down. He didn't cry. He didn't get angry. He was frustrated, but he stepped right back up and did it correctly the next play. We were so excited to see this happen. Though it may seem small to some, this is a big deal. For the first time he was able to see what it was like to overcome the odds. To feel the joy of fighting feelings of shame and inadequacy. Over the past 10 weeks we have sought as coaches to restore the dignity of these kids. This is part of the kingdom. Jesus came and melted the cold hearts of people by his interaction with him. He touched them. He looked at them and loved them. Even when they rejected him. This is one of our roles. We thank Jesus for doing this to our hearts. He has made us alive. He has restored our dignity. 

The Kingdom

Diversity (Autism, sexual abuse, addiction, brokenness and survival) was the only thing to describe what I saw when I looked around our indoor facility a few days ago. The Lord has provided a space where all are welcome and brought in to see the love of Christ through a simple avenue of a workout facility and his people being present.  One of our primary roles as the people of God is to welcome people into the kingdom of God.  In that kingdom there is value, worth, justice, redemption, equality, love, and worth and that is our longing daily in our space.  There have been 2 members that have lost over 40 pounds in the last 6 months, have experienced value and friendships, and a place where they can be confident in who they are despite any brokenness they might be walking through at that time.  One of my favorite books is called "flesh" by Hugh Halter and he says the following: The kingdom of God means that God is making things right: people get help; they have food on the table, protection from enemies, healing for diseases; and they will get a fresh start. The kingdom means that abuses stop, the poor are cared for, and everyone can be accepted into a true community of meaning and substance. For Jesus, it is about the kingdom of His Father bringing heaven to earth, adopting people into the family of God, calling them sons and daughters and friends. In God’s kingdom we are not just people He saves but fellow heirs of all that the King has. We inherit everything, including the privilege of working with Him to see His kingdom win the day. Now that’s good news!"

This is why we seek to create natural spaces for people to come in to and I am thanking the Lord daily for the opportunity of the work he invites us into with him.

 

-NC

Experience with Cross Training

When you are considering joining a gym, especially a gym that works out in a small group, one of the first things we think is will I "fit in?" I had that same thought with A4One. I'm a very outgoing person, but I think my fear stems from doubting if people really care about me and my health, so, if I'm thinking this then others are too. A friend of mine had already been working out at the facility for a few months so I was just accepting his invite to check it out. My first day I was nervous (keep in mind I'm letting fear get to me), I walk in about 15 minutes late, so I didn't even get the chance for my friend to introduce me to anyone. I stick my head in (literally I just peeped my head in) and immediately I hear, "You must be Chase, jump in and I'll show you what to do." The workout was hard, yet fulfilling. It was fulfilling because people that didn't know me at all were encouraging and pushing me the whole time. I could tell their encouragement was genuine and authentic on the first day. So on my first day that fear was transformed into a hope that there are people who care about me and my health. Now almost five months from my first day I can still say that I have confidence and new friendships that push and encourage me to be a better me for me and the world around me. Not only am I getting great exercise, but I'm also getting people that care about me, and that's hard to come by nowadays. 

 

- Chase M.

Post-College Identity

    For as long as I can remember, sports have been in the center of my life. Whether it was pickup football in my neighborhood, or a regional championship in college, I have always been playing a game. Since high school, the main game has been baseball. I played throughout both high school and college, and this involvement in my sport has helped shape and mold me as a person. I can truly say that playing collegiate baseball changed my life. The game beat me down and picked me up at the same time. Whenever I thought I had it figured out, the game reminded me that I didn’t. Whenever I thought I had nowhere to turn, the game was there. It taught me how to persevere, embrace challenge and fear, and accept failure. It taught me that I could love something bigger than myself, that being a teammate meant more than sharing a field. The game showed me that I could love a person like a brother, that family is more than blood. The game showed me a part of myself that I never knew existed, and taught me how to push myself beyond my limits. The game taught me that failure is inevitable, but quitting is unacceptable. To the last point, out, or buzzer, I learned that there is no excuse to quit until the game is truly over. To me, the game is more than a game; it is a teacher, a builder of character, an art, a bond between brothers. The game’s effects on both my character and me as a person far transcend the field of competition, and I grew and learned things about myself and my potential that the rest of my life had left untapped. However, for me, the game is over. The last out has been made, I’ve worn the school colors for the last time, and my cleats are destined to hang indefinitely in my room as beaten and torn reminders of where I’ve come from, and where I now have the potential to go. After so long identifying as an athlete, a hitter, and a teammate, the one thing the game didn’t seem to prepare me for was life without it. As much as it prepared me for life outside of the game and gave me skills both internal and external, it did not equip me to deal with the void that inevitably appears when an athlete’s last game is done. The feeling is hard to express, but it feels a lot like the emptiness associated with heartbreak. There’s nothing quite like taking the field with your brothers, and after our last game, we all know it. But, fortunately for me, I have the hope of Christ to fill that void. Because of my relationship with Jesus, I have not once questioned my identity, or felt lost, or wondered where my place is, or wondered if I even have a place anymore. They may not say it, but most athletes struggle with this after their careers, and sometimes they never find answers. But with Christ, I know better. My identity is in Him, I once was lost but He found me, and although I do not know exactly where I’m headed, I know that my place is forever serving Him and the people He puts in my life, wherever that may be. That is what is so amazing about A4ONE to me. Here is a group of people, all athletes of extremely high caliber, constantly pushing each other with an athlete’s competitive spirit, but who all know that the void is not truly a void when you follow Christ. They all understand the athlete’s mentality and the effects that sports can have on a person’s character and growth. And here they are, joining that with the unfathomable power of Christ. For so long, I competed and grew during my career, but it was not until I came to follow Jesus and bring Him into my career that I was able to realize my full potential and actually find direction and purpose with the gifts I had been given. A4ONE can help young athletes see that, and provide them with the ability to grow not only physically and in the realm of athletics, but they can show these young athletes the love and power of Christ through that realm. This is a powerful combination, and it has the ability to reach souls that may not otherwise be reached, and change lives immeasurably. This is a group of people that have been blessed by God with the ability to love and teach and do these things I have mentioned. I have seen it firsthand. Christ used these people to work personally in my life and to bring me to follow Him. I love the game, and it has played a pivotal role I my life; I cannot imagine having lived without it. That being said, the power of Christ in my life far surpasses that, and I haven’t known that for nearly as long as I’ve known the game. Bringing the two together and having them work together in the lives of these athletes has the potential to do wondrous things, and A4ONE has already begun serving the Lord through this work. For that I am both excited and grateful.

-Nathan Qualls

Tee Ball

Our tee ball team wrapped up the year losing in the second round of the playoffs to Fairfield.  It was an incredible year filled with intense one run games and running the bases backwards.  The Lord taught us so much about patience and that we are so not in control!!

We finished our year with a lake party and spent some time swimming, tubing, eating, and fellowship.  We also took time while eating telling the kids how proud of what they had accomplished in a year and how excited we were moving forward.  This team was made up of some incredible young boys and it was a joy getting to be with them.

 We prayed all together for friendships, protection, and unity as families as our kids grew up together.  The Lord did a lot this year and continues bring unity with time, consistency, and faithfulness.  The Lord is good and he will continue to use us if we allow Him.

Please pray as we move in to football as we will continue to be with the same kids and families we have been with for a few years now.  Please pray that the Lord continues to break down barriers and that he uses us to display his love.