PERRY -- The stands at Perry High Schools Herb St. John Stadium almost emptied twice during the Fellowship of Christian Athletes Fields of Faith event last week.
First was when more than half the almost 1,000 middle and high school students there flooded the track area in front of a stage to worship along with a praise band from Warner Robins Central Baptist Church.
The second time was at the end of the evening when almost all went down to commit or re-commit their lives to follow Jesus Christ or to pray about various difficult circumstances in their lives.
A.J. Childress, an 11th grade football player and wrestler at Perry High, said the Oct. 17 event was better than expected.
I really felt God was here, he said. A lot of my peers are here, and its great to come take a stand for Christ. There are more schools here this year and a lot more people. Usually, its just Houston County, but this year there are five counties. Its really good to me to see so many of us that take this stand.
The cross-denominational evening was sponsored by the Flint River region of Fellowship of Christian Athletes for students in Houston, Peach, Crawford, Macon and Taylor counties. Organizers said FCA is a student-led movement of athletes with chapters active in area schools that meet together for prayer and encouragement.
Carolina Smith, a swimmer at Warner Robins High School, said shes been active in FCA since she was 6 years old, following in the footsteps of her parents and older siblings. Smith, who was part of the program and welcomed students to the event, said FCA has played an important role in her life.
Its sports-based, so you can make connections with people in a comfortable situation, just like having this at a football field is more comfortable for some than going into a church building, she said. This is such a great opportunity for so many of us from different schools to speak up and say we believe what the Bible says is true and that were going to live by it.
Anna Spence, a cheerleader from Perry High, was one of seven students from different schools to briefly speak at Fields of Faith. A life-long cheerleader, Spence told of how she recently had to give up cheering due to worsening asthma.
She said her relationship with Christ and fellow cheerleaders made the difficult circumstance bearable.
We do devotions before practice and have become really close as a squad, she said. When I had to let it go, I went through crying and depression and all that good stuff. I wanted others on the squad to tell me how much they missed me and needed me and what a great cheerleader I was, but Jessica Schwartz said, We miss you because we see God in you. Thats what we miss. I know the most important thing isnt cheering but what God has for me.
The only adult speaker was Daniel Rios, youth minister at New Hope International Church. Rios spoke to students about the difficulties in his own life and family as a young person and an adult and how God had helped him and others through tough situations.
It was Rios who invited students for prayer.
Its amazing, Rios said afterward. Its amazing to see these teens and their passion and support for one another. Things are really difficult for kids these days, but God is reaching and using these guys to help one another and to let him give the help only he can.
Organizers said the Perry event was one of 400 such Fields of Faith evenings across the nation.
Northside High School faculty member and coach Vicki Jones helped sell Fields of Faith T-shirts at the stadium and said shes been involved with FCA for some 33 years, first as a college student and now as faculty sponsor for Northside Highs student chapter.
Ive been at all five years of Fields of Faith events weve had, she said. In the beginning we hoped for a hundred students. Tonight we hoped for 1,000. It was really something to see how well all the student leaders accomplished Fields of Faith and how they reacted. It has been a great night. My hope is everyone who came that isnt already involved gets plugged into FCA and a church where they can grow and serve.
Daryl McElwain is area director for the Flint River FCA. He said counters estimated some 940 people came through stadium gates for the event with the overwhelming majority being students.