By Rev. Mark Creech
Christian Action League
March 24, 2022
Various Christian media outlets have been sharing this week the story of Leah Church, a young woman who played basketball for the University of North Carolina, but walked away from it to stay faithful to God.
Church told the Gospel Coalition that playing basketball for Carolina “was everything she had ever dreamed of.” She speaks of her time on the court of Carmichael Arena, where greats like Michael Jordan played, and to her the place seemed almost sacred.
Although Church, the child of Christian Missionary parents, was homeschooled, her parents helped her find ways to play basketball on homeschool teams or teams for private schools. Diligence to her studies, attendance at basketball camps, and her passion for the game ultimately landed her a full scholarship to play for UNC-Chapel Hill.
In the beginning, Church said she felt accepted by the coaching staff and her other teammates. One teammate was a Christian like herself. Renowned head coach Sylvia Hatchell was also a follower of Christ. But after coach Hatchell retired in 2019, and her Christian friend quit the team, Church said there were many temptations to compromise her faith.
“I started seeing that there were expectations for me to participate in the party lifestyle and condone things that didn’t line up with my biblical beliefs,” said Church. “I chose not to drink, and I’m choosing to save myself for marriage. I said no to a lot of things, which made team bonding challenging.”
She added that at times she felt “super lonely,” and was “singled out” for her beliefs, “which led to degradation.”
Church said she didn’t decide to leave the team until the new coaching staff required that they support causes she knew were opposed to Christian values. So she concluded, “I decided in light of eternity, that basketball wasn’t worth it.”
What a powerful testimony from one who made a good profession of faith and, like an obedient soldier of the Kingdom of God, denied herself and picked up her Cross.
Leah Church’s faithfulness shouldn’t be underestimated; its influence is transformational. It’s always been this kind of faith that convicts and draws others to a right relationship with God. As John Henry Jowett once declared:
“The multitudes are not sick of Jesus; they are only sick of his feeble and bloodless representatives. When once again a great church appears, a church with the Lord’s name in her forehead, a church with fine muscular limbs, and a face seamed with the marks of sacrifice, the multitudes will turn their feet to the way of God’s commandments.”
Church also demonstrates a Christian virtue that has fallen on hard times in many Christian circles – the principle of separation.
With fatherly concern, the apostle Paul admonished the believers in the city of Corinth, a place synonymous with lustful living, immoral exhibitions, and idolatry, to: “Come out from among them and be separate, says the Lord” (2 Cor. 6:17).
Christians live in the world, but they must be ever-vigilant not to embrace or show deference to its ungodly values.
Watchman Nee, a tremendous Chinese church leader and teacher, said that in the book of Revelation, the apostle John in chapter 17 is carried away in the Spirit to a wilderness to see Babylon, a city that represents spiritual harlotry and the abominations of a world alienated from God. In chapter 21 of the same book, the apostle is carried away in the Spirit to a great and high mountain, from whence to view new Jerusalem, the holy city of God. Nee writes:
“Separation to God, separation from the world, is the first principle of Christian living. John, in his Revelation of Jesus Christ, was shown two irreconcilable extremes, two worlds that morally were poles apart…[I]n order to have God’s view of things we must be taken like John to a mountain-top. Many cannot see God’s eternal plan, or if they see it, they understand it only as dry-as-dust doctrine because they are content to stay on the plains. For understanding never moves us; only Revelation does that. From the wilderness, we may see something of Babylon, but we need spiritual Revelation to see God’s new Jerusalem. Once we see it, we shall never be the same again. Therefore, as Christians, we bank everything on that opening of the eyes, but to experience it, we must be prepared to forsake the common levels and climb.”
Nevertheless be forewarned, adds Nee, “Satan hates distinctiveness. Separation of men to God he cannot abide…This is the price of holiness we must be prepared for.”
Just outside the small town of LaGrange, North Carolina, where I pastored the First Baptist Church in the 1980s, there is a little forgotten place called Jenny Lind. It was named for the world-famous 19th century opera singer, whom folks say stopped there once to sing briefly.
Lind was called “The Swedish Nightingale” and attained unmatched success in her day. She traveled around the world to perform. Money poured into her bank account. Yet she left the stage and never went back. She unquestionably missed the money, the fame, and the applause of the masses. Nevertheless, she said she was content to live a quiet life instead.
Once an English friend found her sitting on the beach, with a Bible on her knee, staring at a magnificent sunset. They talked for a while until the conversation came around to the inevitable question. Lind’s friend asked how it was that she ever came to abandon the stage at the height of her success.
Lind replied, “When every day it made me think less of this (laying her finger on the Bible) and nothing at all of that (pointing to God’s glory seen in the sunset), what else could I do?”
Thank you, Leah Church, for demonstrating an authentic Christian experience. Your faithfulness naturally repels those who don’t know Christ, but your light shines like the gleam of dawn, growing and spreading, until its midday everywhere forever.