The Global Congress on Sport and Christianity, taking place in late October on the campus of Calvin University in Grand Rapids, Mich., had a stellar list of 11 keynote speakers but offered the 220 attendees from across North America and beyond more than big names.
“We wanted the congress to be an ecumenical gathering and a space for meaningful dialogue regarding what it means to live faithfully in all areas of work and play,” said Brian Bolt, a professor at Calvin who was on the advisory group for the first congress (2016 in York, England) and instrumental in bringing the second to Calvin in 2019.
“Sport gives us opportunities to both be wary of our own desires and to delight in the good things that God has made,” he added. Bolt was a former collegiate athlete at Calvin and current Calvin coach. He co-chaired this congress with Hope College’s Chad Carlson.
Attendees heard from Tim Tebow, a Heisman trophy winner, former NFL player, and missionary kid whose address, “Find Your Purpose,” was open to the public and drew 5,000 people to Van Noord Arena on Calvin’s campus.
Loretta Claiborne, a Special Olympics athlete who did not walk or talk until four years of age yet once finished among the top 100 women at the Boston Marathon and now communicates in four languages, spoke on "God is my strength; Special Olympics is my joy."
There also was Miroslav Volf, the Croatian-born son of a Pentecostal minister, founder of the Yale Center for Faith and Culture, and author of a book that Christianity Today once named one of the most influential of the 20th century.
But there also were more than 100 workshops and breakout sessions, everything from “Taking A Knee: Tim Tebow, Colin Kaepernick and A Tale of Two Quarterbacks on Their Knees” to “Playing Straight Into God's Hands: A Comparative Study of Hindu and Christian Understandings of Play.”
Mark Lodewyk, who grew up in Nigeria and Canada as the son of Christian Reformed missionaries, has spent the past two decades as principal at Valley Christian High School in San Jose, Calif.
As the congress began, the former all-conference basketball player at Calvin said he was excited to hear Tebow but compared the event to a buffet and added with a smile: “I will try, like I did with most buffets in my life, a lot of everything. This (congress) has done a tremendous job attracting amazing people who want to share their knowledge and experiences and strategies.”
Jeff Offringa, a cross country coach and athletic director at Kalamazoo Christian High School and a member of Hope Reformed, went into the congress hoping to get more excited about how Christianity and sports could help his athletes become better Christians and left immensely satisfied.
“The conference exceeded my expectations,” said the former Calvin cross country runner. “I was very impressed with the speakers from all over the world… . I loved the many different sectional speakers and their ideas for integration of faith and athletics.”
For Cheryl Westra, daughter of former CRC missionaries to Nigeria and a former Calvin basketball player, the event provided an amazing array of options, and she was able to relate much to her work as a physical education teacher at Lynden (Wash.) Christian Middle School.
And she was encouraged by what she calls a sense of platform, a concept that many of the presenters, including Tebow, explored in their remarks.
“I loved Tim Tebow’s comment in the Q&A that winning has given him a platform but losing has given him a testimony,” said Westra, a member of Lynden’s Sonlight Community CRC. “I don’t have the same platform as a famous athlete like Tim Tebow … but this (congress) encouraged me that my platform with fifth- to eighth-graders is pretty awesome.”
As a lead-up to the congress co-chairs Carlson and Bolt hosted a 30-episode podcast exploring the conference’s themes. Find “Dig Deep: Sport, Faith, and Life” here.