It helps to have friends with connections. Brandon Sommers knows this first-hand as he credits a high school friend with helping him start an Athletes in Action chapter on the campus of Cleveland State University in Ohio.
Sommers is a sophomore wrestler at CSU and a physical therapy major. When he arrived on the campus, he felt a little out of place on the commuter campus with only 1,500 resident students, many of whom were athletes.
A product of Christian private schools his entire life, Sommers said being at Cleveland State was a culture shift because “it was no longer the social ‘norm’ to be Christian.” Class conflicts prevented him from attending Cru meetings, so he stayed plugged into his home church.
That first summer, he and friend Sarah Rasnick, a pole vaulter at the University of Cincinnati, hung out at a theme park near their hometown, and Brandon casually mentioned he was thinking about starting a Bible study during the evenings where athletes could have more chance to participate. Rasnick has been involved in AIA at UC and had been on a summer mission trip to Belgium.
As the fall semester began, Sommers met a new soccer player, Sarah Kalain, who asked about Athletes in Action on campus, an organization with which Brandon was still unfamiliar.
“That same night, Sarah (Rasnick) called me about getting involved with Sportlinc through AIA where I could get resources for a Bible study,” he recalls. “Some people might call it coincidence; I call it the Holy Spirit.”
Within a few hours, Brandon was talking to Scott Mottice, director of campus partnerships for AIA, about Sportlinc, which helps student athletes begin the ministry at an unstaffed campus. Mottice provided Sommers with curriculum for the study and meets with him weekly by phone for mentorship and discipleship. Both facets are invaluable as the Cleveland State chapter begins.
“I’ve never done anything like this before, so having Scott to talk to once a week with his experience is huge,” he says. “Not having to fight the battle alone is really cool. Knowing there is someone who is praying for you, helping you talk and bear the burden is really great.
“I think I was pretty narrow-minded at first about the group, thinking it would just be a place to get to know other Christians. Scott helped me think of it as creating a spiritual movement on campus, where we would multiply ourselves.”
Sommers said the initial AIA meeting drew six participants, and the last meeting in September – only their fourth overall – had nine in attendance.
He feels the future is wide open with possibilities for growth and outreach of the AIA chapter, and Sommers is finding some affirmation for his original decision to attend Cleveland State, admittedly not his first choice. He now sees God’s hand in using him to start that spiritual movement that will impact many students.
“I really have a tendency to put human limitations on God,” he says of his vision for AIA at CSU. “I look around at these athletes and see they are so far away from coming to AIA much less being transformed by it. So, I try to take it one day at a time.”