Chad and I, with support from our mission community, coach lacrosse for a premiere prep school of 1500 boys in New Orleans. There are 105 on our team of three squads, along with over a dozen assistant coaches. Conservatively, we’d say that over 100 of them are culturally religious at best, while some are admitted secularists, pagans, and atheists.
For some Christians this is a nightmare. For us, it’s a harvest field. We wouldn’t want it any other way. We get to invest in these young men and their families, and through a sport no less! Through thick and thin, grade problems, divorces, even deaths, we are the “pastors” – the “priests” – they call upon when life goes crazy.
Why? Is it because we coach them in a sport? No. It’s because we love them fiercely and sacrificially like Christ. We have so many opportunities to meet needs through the lacrosse team.
Recently the father of a player who graduated last year committed suicide. A second player is currently watching his dad die from terminal cancer. His brother, who graduated three years ago, still comes by to talk as well. Several divorces muddy the water for some.
One boy’s dad is far away and has little to do with him, yet he longs for a dad to believe in him. Every time I simply affirm him with a pat on the shoulder, he brightens. During the stretching prior to conditioning this summer, I asked him “When is the last time you spoke to your dad?” He stood up, looked me in the eye, searched his memory, and replied, “I actually don’t know.” My response was to the effect of “I need to adopt you, boy.” Without a moment’s pause he retorted, “I’d really like that, Coach.”
And our field isn’t limited to the players. Fellow coaches and parents struggle just as much as their children. One of our coaches can’t find a job to sustain him. Several parents regularly download life to us as if we are their confidants, their confessors. One mom discusses failures she is just recognizing that are producing character flaws in her son. Another parent aches over an adopted son who still carries the baggage of a bad past. Another discusses personal alcohol struggles. One dad laments being a solo parent with a fourteen-year-old son and not having adequate space and time for him. He’s grateful we are an extended family.
We embrace the opportunity to impact the single most influential secondary school in our area. Most of our players are fine young men from accomplished families—the sort who will one day be captains in industry, law, medicine, education, and government—they simply have not met the living God.
We love these athletes and their families. We build trust and, from there, speak into their lives. Sometimes our role is that of a priest one who stands in the gap, interceding between them and God. Sometimes we’re subversives who infiltrate their world and their lives, infecting them with God’s Kingdom virtues, values, and behaviors. It’s funny (and great) to see varsity "jocks" begin and end practice by hugging their coaches. We pray for them daily and, since theirs is a parochial school, we pray with them too.
Through all this we’re seeing them come to know God afresh—apart from class, religiosity, and cultural baggage. They are coming to know a living God who sees them, cares for them, and is with them. There is so much work to be done, and we are honored to play this part.
New Orleans, Louisiana