“One seed can start an entire garden. One audible can change the outcome of a game. One constant encouragement can impact a life, which impacts another life, and then another.”
Patti Howard is a retired coach and teacher who found her calling nestled in the hallways of Indiana public schools. Her love of Christ, other people, and sharing about God’s love has made a remarkable impact throughout her community, and especially in the life of Donnie Roark.
Howard began her teaching and coaching career in Mobile, Alabama, and in 1980 she returned to her home state of Indiana. She immersed herself in the lives of her players at Jeffersonville High School as varsity basketball and golf coach and assistant track coach. She was soon introduced to Fellowship of Christian Athletes (FCA) through a fellow teacher. Three years later, she took over FCA’s leadership at the school.
Howard often wondered whether she was in the right field as an educator and coach, pondering a job more open to share her faith. But she had a specific placement.
“God said, ‘You are ON the mission field—it’s called public school,’” she said.
In 1987, Howard transferred from Jeffersonville to the rural area of Charlestown as its middle school physical education teacher and sixth and seventh grade basketball coach. She sensed the tug to begin FCA, but didn’t act on it until 1996, when her daughter Micah entered eighth grade. What began as three people at See You at the Pole one rainy morning turned into a vibrant Huddle with more than 120 students just one year later.
“When He’s in something, He takes off,” Howard marveled. She watched God bring kids to Himself and expand His reach into the community through their service projects like Christmas shopping for underprivileged kids and hosting an annual end-of-year lock-in for more than 250 students that included games and a speaker who presented the Gospel.
A POWERFUL INVITATION
A well-recognized face in the halls, Howard invited students to FCA meetings at every opportunity. One of these students was sixth grader Donnie Roark. Because Howard taught his mother years before him, their families knew one another. For Roark, Howard’s familiar face and mutual admiration for sports drew him to her, and he accepted the invitation to attend FCA.
“God said, ‘You are ON the mission field—it’s called public school.” – Patti Howard
Howard passed on the FCA leadership torch after Roark’s sixth grade year, but the two kept in touch, and Roark became an FCA leader in eighth grade. Later, he joined his high school Huddle. At Howard’s urging, Roark attended FCA Leadership Camp the summer before ninth grade. It became a turning point for his life.
“Leadership Camp was a big deal,” said Roark. “I was still young in my faith, but there it became evident what I was passionate about: telling others about Jesus.” Roark blossomed in his faith through college at the University of Southern Indiana and Indiana University Southeast, and his passion to share God’s Word grew.
In 2014, as graduation crept closer, Roark found himself at a career crossroads and turned to Howard for wisdom. Howard asked him deep questions that uncovered how God was speaking to his heart and helped make connections for his next steps of obedience.
After retiring from teaching in 2013, Howard, along with her husband, Jim, have stayed involved as prayer partners with the University of Louisville baseball team and supporters of Louisville FCA staff Chris Morgan. The Howards invited Roark and his wife Becca to the Louisville FCA annual fundraiser where Roark caught the vision of FCA and realized he could work for the ministry. The Howards rallied around Roark and connected him to Kraig Cabe, former Indiana State Director, and Indiana University Area Representative Dave Hudson.
“Getting the message of Jesus Christ into schools—that’s been the heart of my heart.” – Patti Howard
A DOMINO EFFECT
Little did Howard know that when she invited a sixth-grade student to an FCA meeting, God would use this boy to become a part of His plan to see the world transformed by Jesus Christ through the influence of coaches and athletes. Howard bears the fruit of decades of Christ-like service and love in a domino effect through Roark, who is blazing the way for greater ministry. It’s a spiritual trifecta, according to Roark.
“Going through FCA with her gave me a great template for what FCA should be, what it means to be a follower of Jesus, and how to live my life,” Roark said.
Recently, Howard returned to her roots at the request of Roark when he needed help coaching a fifth grade basketball team at Jonathan Jennings Elementary School.
“To be a coach puts you in an intimate setting,” Howard said. “It’s the perfect time to incorporate the value of FCA standards. A coach is in a key position to be Jesus to the team.” Howard’s influence has coursed through generations; many of the players she’s now coaching are children of her former students. Her son Zach is a gym teacher, coach and Huddle leader as well.
Through decades of undeniable movement and a heartbeat to share God’s love in the schools, Howard’s faith in God’s sovereignty has only grown stronger. Her passion to devote herself to His grace continues to grow in leaps and bounds. She’s kind, loyal, and she exudes a light that’s infectious.
“You know she knows Jesus,” Roark said. But for Howard, she remains focused on one thing. “We don’t serve a run-of-the-mill God,” she said. “We serve an incredible, amazing God.”
© Fellowship of Christian Athletes
Fellowship of Christian Athletes (FCA) is touching millions of lives…one heart at a time. As the largest Christian sports ministry in America, FCA focuses on serving local communities by equipping, empowering, and encouraging people to make a difference for Christ. Since 1954, The Fellowship of Christian Athletes has been challenging coaches and athletes on the professional, college, high school, junior high and youth levels to use the powerful medium of athletics to impact the world for Jesus Christ. FCA’s mission is to present to coaches and athletes, and all whom they influence, the challenge and adventure of receiving Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord, serving Him in their relationships and in the fellowship of the church.
FCA is working in communities throughout the United States. As one of many examples, check out here to learn about what they are doing in San Diego, CA.
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