Called to Respond
By: Becky York
March 12, 2016
Pro baseball shortstop Jeff Bianchi has always had a heart for the game of baseball. Having grown up playing on local teams in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, Jeff began playing in the minor leagues in 2005 and then made his MLB debut in 2012 when he was called up by the Milwaukee Brewers. Jeff and his wife, Nicole, enjoy not only the game itself, but the culture, community, and character they have discovered in baseball. Having been greatly impacted by the baseball community themselves, Jeff and Nicole decided that they wanted to influence others in the way that they’ve been influenced.
This past January, the Bianchis partnered with Coaches Time Out, a ministry of Pro Athletes Outreach, to organize a weekend getaway conference for coaches and their spouses in their local area. Having first heard about CTO while attending a PAO Increase Conference a few years prior, they decided to get involved.
“We came home from one Increase Conference where we felt a nudging,” remembers Jeff, “and we knew we wanted to get involved with CTO to bring a conference to our home town. After we began to work with CTO and found a venue, it was then time to start inviting coaches and their spouses. Because it was the first year Lancaster would see a CTO conference, it was a lot of work but completely worth it. It blessed us all the more to see how much work we put into it and then experience the influence and impact that it had on the lives of others.”
“And the things you have heard Me say in the presence of many witnesses entrust to reliable people who will also be qualified to teach others.” —2 Timothy 2:2
The mission of CTO is “To equip, refresh, and encourage coaches and their spouses to grow as disciples of Jesus, helping them recognize their calling to make an eternal impact in the lives of young athletes.” But the coaches weren’t the only ones influenced by this conference; the Bianchis realized that they too were walking away from the weekend refreshed and encouraged in their faith in God. “The whole process was definitely a spiritual journey for us,” says Nicole.
But the journey was not always an easy one. With a goal of 30 registered couples, the Bianchis were at first disappointed in their final count of about 20, but they trusted that God would bring those who needed to be there. Then, as the weekend drew near, a foreboding weather forecast brought uncertainty.
“The weekend before the conference, we checked the forecast and saw they were calling for a major snow storm,” says Jeff. “It hadn’t snowed all winter and now this. A lot of doubt and fear crept into our hearts and minds as the snow forecast continued to escalate. That weekend, Lancaster experienced one of the heaviest snows the area had ever seen at one time.” Experiencing a total of over 26 inches of snowfall that weekend, the Bianchis felt their faith in God’s plan for this conference being stretched.
“Knowing that all this snow was coming, knowing all the work we did, and knowing that what we did might have been for nothing was really hard,” says Jeff. “But one thing we learned was that God is bigger than the weather and the snow. We didn’t pray for God to stop the snow; we prayed that it would come at a time that wouldn’t affect the arrivals of our attendees. And in fact, the snow didn’t come until everyone had arrived. We were then snowed in, but by the end of the conference the roads were cleared and everyone was able to travel safely home—the timing was perfect.”
The snow did bring unexpected challenges during the conference, including the fact that three out of the five scheduled speakers had to cancel. “At first it was really frustrating,” says Nicole, “but through these challenges I realized how much control I thought I had but really didn’t. I found myself in a battle of control and God won. This was a major refining process for me; now I see that His plan was far better than I could have ever expected.”
Jeff agrees: “Once everybody got there and the speakers that could make it came, the whole time was such a blessing. The speakers really tied in the Gospel message and Biblical principles with the profession of coaching. Sports is moving in a different direction than it was when I was growing up; now it’s all about who is the best and who is winning instead of just letting athletes enjoy the sport for itself. The speakers challenged us to take a step back and realize that often times today, coaches can be more influential in the lives of kids than even their parents. The coaches were provided with tools and knowledge to help them share a more eternal perspective with their athletes. Each coach that attended was called to be a coach; they have the opportunity to impact kids on a more personal and spiritual level than just teaching them the art of winning and losing.”
“Remember your leaders, who spoke the word of God to you. Consider the outcome of their way of life and imitate their faith.” —Hebrews 13:7
As the Bianchis step back and look at the journey they took to put on the CTO Conference in Lancaster, they see how God’s hand was at work in and through their lives. “This opportunity really fell into our laps,” Nicole remarks. “We felt called, so we obeyed that call and we’re so glad we did! We’re still receiving feedback and prayer requests from the coaches that attended the conference; that continues to confirm for us that everything that happened at the conference was exactly God’s plan.” The Bianchis hope to see the conference continue to grow and encourage coaches in the Lancaster area each year.