There are moments in life that redefine who you are from who you were.
John Oliver saw the beauty of such a moment unfold between two high school students from Detroit, Michigan. One stood up to share his experience with his peers and mentors during J.A.M., a summer sports program that combines faith, leadership and manhood.
His peers picked him to lead them during a game earlier in the week, but he didn’t see himself as a leader and felt uncomfortable. A friend from his high school football team challenged him to influence his teammates when he returned home.
“We really need you to be a leader ‘cause we really wanna follow you. You need to step up,” he said.
That challenge to step up and lead is what J.A.M. is all about. It’s an innovative week-long strategy that focuses on Jesus, athletics and manhood. The intensive program developed from Athletes in Action's summer sports experience for college athletes.
J.A.M., based in Xenia, Ohio, at the Athletes in Action (AIA) Sports Complex, helps high school male athletes and their male mentors encounter God in fresh ways. For the students, it’s a chance to learn how to make Christ the primary audience in their sport and personal endeavors. They engage in performance agility drills, leadership activities and personal mentoring.
John Oliver, a retired U.S. Air Force serviceman from Beaver Creek, Ohio, will serve in his second year as the program’s director this summer. His experience as a mentor during the inaugural camp in 2015 deeply affected him. John knew he wanted to help more young men grow spiritually and become stronger leaders. He understands the strategic opportunity he has to place these young men in relationships with older ones who can help them develop into godly men.
The first summer, 104 students from Ohio, Kentucky and Michigan attended the camp, and 90 percent were African American. This year, John expects 75 student athletes and plans to recruit from Minnesota, New Jersey and New York. He wants to reach out to local churches that have Spanish-speaking congregations, to give more students the chance to go.
“It isn’t limited by race, it’s really driven by location,” he says. “The numbers have been really high from African Americans, and I’m encouraged because I’ve been trying to get more African American mentors.”
J.A.M. became a reality through a partnership with AIA and John’s church connections in his local area. They are working together to create a gospel-centered environment for these young men to thrive in where they can learn how to put God at the center of their passion for sports so He’s their primary audience.
But it can be difficult to stay focused on Him while also becoming a man in a world that seeks to manipulate your manhood. John feels a unique responsibility to cultivate and invite more men in local communities to stand in the gap and offer these high school students support and mentoring. John knows these young men are important to God. He mentored five students during his first summer and one young man from Louisville, Kentucky deeply affected him.
“Last year, [the young man] came back and who was beside him? His brother. That was really encouraging.”
Their mother recently told John that J.A.M. brought the two brothers closer together. She plans to send them back to camp this summer, along with their youngest brother.
J.A.M. is helping these young athletes see how they can connect with God through one of the most beloved parts of their lives – sports – and keep Him at the center of this passion.
As he encourages and develops these young men, John also keeps God at the center of his passion. What is your passion and how can you connect with God in it?
Are there partnership opportunities in your local community you want to serve with? Let us know in the comments section below.