When Sarah Nambawa attended her first FCA Camp in the summer of 2010, the Middle Tennessee State University (MTSU) track and field star wasn’t quite sure why she was there. Nambawa was still recovering from a devastating posterior cruciate ligament injury.
That injury threatened to end her career. It also caused her to ask some serious questions about her purpose as an athlete with a burgeoning faith in Christ.
On the last day at Extreme Camp in Linden, Tennessee, the campers were sharing testimonies and she suddenly felt compelled to do the same. Although uncomfortable with the thought, the usually shy and reserved girl from Uganda stood and spoke publicly about her faith journey for the first time.
From that moment on, Nambawa has been looking for opportunities to continue sharing her story and using her platform as a former international athlete to impact young people in her home country.
Making the Jump
It was a big deal when Nambawa arrived at MTSU in Murfreesboro, Tennessee, in December of 2008. Sports are an important part of the culture in Uganda, but circumstances often force young athletes to give up on their dreams.
Nambawa, on the other hand, was already an established track star before earning a scholarship from MTSU. She had won the 200-meter and 4x100-meter relay races at the university African Championships in 2006, and was also considered one of the country’s top triple jump and long jump prospects.
At MTSU, she continued to shine. She set the school record in the indoor long jump and the indoor and outdoor records in the triple jump. In 2009, Nambawa finished third at the NCAA Outdoor Championships and second at the NCAA Indoor Championships. She was poised to compete for the title at the 2010 NCAA Outdoor Championships before the untimely injury.
Nambawa speaking to Uganda's Victorius Football Club.
Spiritually, Nambawa had been growing throughout her collegiate career. She grew up in a religious home and was familiar with biblical principles, but didn’t enter a relationship with Christ until a year before she moved to Tennessee thanks to the influence of a Ugandan teammate.
While attending school, Nambawa attended Murfreesboro Belle Aire Baptist Church and served in the children’s ministry. At the same time, she discovered the Fellowship of Christian Athletes.
“I used to see posters for FCA everywhere on the campus, but I thought maybe it was just for certain sports like football and basketball,” Nambawa explains. “It was a while before I decided to go and see what happens at FCA. When I went there, I found out it was a place for me. It’s meant a lot to me ever since.”
As a highly competitive athlete, Nambawa sometimes struggled with the concept of winning and losing. She placed a great deal of emphasis on measured success, but quickly learned from her community of friends at FCA that there was much more to her track and field career than wins and losses.
The Ndejje University Luwero FCA Huddle going over the Competitor's Creed.
“I started to understand that sometimes you can be a winner and sometimes you cannot,” Nambawa says. “But whatever happens, you have to give back glory to God. Everything that happens, He has a hand in it. When I understood that, that’s when I became strong.”
After her surgery in February 2010, Nambawa remained committed to her schoolwork and grew more active with FCA. She also worked diligently to rehabilitate her knee and surprised everyone with a return to the track in late March. Within a week of her return, she had won both the long jump and triple jump events at the Boston-Moon Classic in Nashville. And then, despite the doctor’s opinion that she would never jump at the same level again, Nambawa qualified for the NCAA Outdoor Championships where she finished second in the triple jump and earned All-American honors for the second time.
Her amazing comeback allowed her to prove the powerful truth found in Philippians 4:13.
“You can do anything through Him who gives you strength,” she says, paraphrasing the Apostle Paul’s iconic words.
Taking A Leap of Faith
Having completed her collegiate career, Nambawa returned to international competition that summer and fall where she won gold in the triple jump at the CAA Safaricom African Athletics Championships in Nairobi, Kenya. She finished in sixth place in the triple jump at the IAFF/VTB Continental Cup in Croatia, and in fifth place at the Commonwealth Games in New Delhi, India.
As she prepared to graduate from MTSU, the desire to take sports ministry back to Uganda grew within her heart. FCA area director Brian Harrell introduced her to Executive Vice President of International Ministries Dan Britton, which led Nambawa to Kansas City, Missouri, for a training seminar where the speakers and clinicians fueled her fire.
Uganda's Central High School FCA Huddle.
“I didn’t know how I was going to do it,” she admits. “But another part of me was saying, ‘You can do it.’ I knew that God would bring me to the people that He had already prepared for me. So when I got home to Uganda, I was ready to start. I was too excited. I couldn’t even wait.”
Nambawa recruited her younger sister to help and eventually added six staff members including three coaches and her fiancé. Her status as a championship athlete has quickly opened many doors, but Britton believes her heart for the lost has played an even greater role in the ministry’s early success.
“If you spend time with Sarah, you will quickly see her passion for sports ministry,” he says. “She believes that God can use her not only in Uganda, but also the whole continent of Africa.”
Nambawa plans to hold her first camps in late 2014 or early 2015, but for now, her approach has been to set up over a dozen huddle groups on school campuses such as Ndejie University, St. Charles High School, Namugoona High School, Old Kampala Secondary and St. Jude Primary.
As FCA Uganda grows, Nambawa hopes to see more donors get behind the ministry in order to help train more volunteers, hire more staff, cover transportation and communication costs, and fund the desperate need for more Bibles.
Ultimately, however, she is praying for favor with the schools so she can gain greater access to the impressionable young athletes that are often riddled with hopelessness and despair.
“I want to encourage them that if they trust and believe in God, there is always hope,” Nambawa says. “No one can tell you that you can’t achieve your goals when you know that God gave you an extraordinary ability. God is the one who has given them the talent and that they can use it to glorify His name—win or lose.”
Five Facts About Uganda
1. Uganda is a landlocked nation in East Africa that is bordered by Kenya, South Sudan, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Rwanda and Tanzania.
2. Uganda’s estimated population of 35 million is one of the world’s youngest with a median age of 15 years.
2. An estimated 84 percent of Ugandans claim Christianity as their religion while Islam represents 12 percent of the population. The vast majority of Christians are Catholics (42%) and Anglicans (36%) with Evangelicals and Pentecostals making up most of the remaining denominations.
3. Uganda is one of the poorest nations in the world. Roughly 38 percent of the population lives on less than $1.25 a day.
4. Soccer is considered Uganda’s national sport. Other popular sports include track and field, netball, woodball, cricket, rallying, rugby and baseball.
5. Uganda is one of three nations that borders Lake Victoria—the largest African lake and largest tropical lake in the world.
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