Fields of Faith Spotlight: Southwest Florida FCA
Edwin Etienne has a favorite phrase: God Over Everything. That "everything" includes fear and nerves, which-for a kid of Etienne's stature-you wouldn't think would be much of a problem.
But sure enough, when the football star and state champion wrestler was asked to speak at Riverdale (Fla.) High School's Fields of Faith event last year, the butterflies were in his stomach.
"By nature, Edwin has a very calm and quiet spirit," said Dwayne Zeigler, Riverdale's team chaplain. "While he has grown in many ways as a leader, he was not one to put himself on stage to speak. But speaking at Fields of Faith not only improved Edwin's confidence as a speaker, but boosted his own faith as well. I think him being able to share his story and tell others what God has done in his life had a huge impact and helped Edwin see the call God has on his life to be salt and light."
In southwest Florida, Fields of Faith has grown from about 300 attendees in 2006 to a couple thousand at two separate locations last year.
At each event, three local students share their testimonies before an all-student band performs. A local youth pastor then presents the Gospel and calls forward anyone who wants to receive Christ for the first time. Finally, all the students come down to the field to be prayed over and commissioned to take Christ to their schools.
"Once the students are on the field, we have them separate into their respective schools to pray for their principals, administrators, teachers, coaches and the student body," Southwest Florida FCA area director Gretchen Shelton said. "It's just beautiful to walk through the field and hear students praying for their schools."
And having a figure like Etienne as one of the speakers did nothing but help.
"You ask any of Riverdale's football players or wrestlers what G.O.E. means, and they say 'That's what Edwin tells us-God Over Everything,'" Shelton said. "Edwin is this humongous Haitian kid in a really rural-almost country-school, and he's one of the most popular kids there, all because he was willing to cross the line and take a huge stance for Jesus Christ."
Etienne, Riverdale's homecoming king and a football team captain last year, first heard the phrase he loves while listening to Christian rappers Dre da Flame and Viktory. The eldest child of four and raised by a hard-working single mom, Etienne overcame plenty of turmoil at a young age. He grew up not knowing his father and even spent time in temporary foster care. Church, Christ and organized sports were all unfamiliar to him.
Believe it or not, Etienne always had an interest in football but couldn't play in his younger years because he was "too big." When he arrived at Riverdale and finally got the chance, he didn't know much about the game but simply tried to have fun with it.
"My coaches said to just go out there, make big plays, and try to get the ball," said Etienne, a defensive lineman for the Raiders during his freshman season. "That's when my coaches be-gan to think I might have a future in football. The next year, my football coach got me to try wrestling because he said it would make me a better football player."
Etienne prays with fellow Riverdale High students at Fields of Faith in 2012.
Etienne ended his Riverdale career as a two-way starter for the Raiders' football team and as a 2013 Florida Class 2-A wrestling state champion. He was rewarded with the opportunity to play football and wrestle at Central College in Pella, Iowa.
Off the field, Etienne was growing just as quickly in his relationship with Christ.
"I was a follower in middle school and always felt like you had to do what everyone else was doing to be cool," Etienne said. "During my freshman year, I just started doing my own thing and becoming a leader. I met Coach Z (Zeigler), and he got me into going to church and helped me develop my relationship with God. Then, during my sophomore year, I got baptized in front of my whole team."
It was easy for Zeigler to see Etienne's spiritual transformation and excitement about Christ.
"While Edwin has always believed he should do the right thing, I have really seen him grow in living his faith out for others," Zeigler said. "Each year he has stepped up his leadership and his commitment to sharing his faith with others and has really grown from merely wanting to do the right thing to leading others to Christ and doing the right thing."
Zeigler knows Etienne is influencing more than just his teammates.
"Edwin is a great kid. I haven't met a parent who doesn't desire for their kids to be like Edwin in some way," Zeigler added. He is disciplined, teachable, bold about his faith, shows care and concern for others, puts his team above himself, and puts God above everything."
As he begins his Central College career, Etienne said he hopes his willingness to share his faith continues to breed boldness in those around him.
"Talking to people has allowed me to open up more about Christ, and it's shown me that sharing God's Word is a really good thing," Etienne said. "It's simple-letting other people know about God allows them to let more people know about Him, and the word spreads."
The Fields of Faith event was a huge turning point for Etienne in giving him the confidence and boldness to talk about his faith with others. Even if it's on a football field filled with thou-sands of friends and strangers.
Each year, the majority of Fields of Faith events are held on a single, predetermined Wednesday night, so they don't interfere with Thursday or Friday football games that have al-ready been scheduled. Although Wednesday can be considered a "church night," many church leaders view the scheduling of Fields of Faith in a positive light, seeing it as an event that allows all members of their Christian community to unite with a common goal, regardless of denomination.
In southwest Florida, Shelton continues to work with local churches and businesses, including Chick-fil-A and Coca-Cola, which have donated food and drinks to Fields of Faith attendees.
"It's a community event and a time to lay aside school rivalries, come together and praise Jesus."
Originally Published: September 2013
Photos courtesy of Gretchen Shelton
Dave Pond lives in Clayton, N.C., with his wife, Heather, daughters Mallory and Kiley, and son, Benjamin. He has almost 20 years of sportswriting experience, and works as a freelance cameraman, covering football, basketball and hockey throughout the Carolinas.