“I never thought I would run a Christian-based nonprofit youth sports program. It was not in my plan, but God had His own plan for me.” God’s plan for John Bagala currently involves sharing competitive sports, but more importantly, Jesus Christ with 600-800 children each year on the campus of RiverLakes Community Church (RCC) through his ministry F.U.N. (Faith-Unity-Nurture) Sports. John sums up his ministry: “The kids need a program that’s not about winning, but about knowing who God is and His love for them. Kids need more of Jesus today than any other time in history.”
Originally from New York, John has lived in Bakersfield for the past 26 years. Married for 27 years to Rebecca, they have three children (Jackie, Jenna, Adam) and two grandchildren. After graduating from college with a degree in Recreation Administration, John took a position as an Assistant Director of Parks & Recreation for the city of Carmel, NY. After 10 years at that job, John uprooted and “decided to move to California to follow my dream.” When not focusing on F.U.N. Sports, John relaxes by restoring old Chevrolet Corvettes, something he has done since high school. As John says, “I like to find old junkers, fix them up, sell them and then buy another!”
God can use many ways to prepare us to accomplish His will. John realized this when he looked back at his career in parks and recreation. John explains, “I’ve worked in every aspect of parks and recreation from maintenance to administration and now I realize that God was getting me ready to do what I am doing today.” John’s calling came from God after a church service when he heard the Lord tell him to tell the kids about Jesus by running a sports program. As John recalls, “There were many roadblocks from the beginning, but with much prayer and listening to God, they seemed to go away.” One of the first roadblocks was to secure a practice field. The answer was the grass field at RCC next to Pier 56. One ongoing challenge is securing enough volunteer coaches for the kids each year. “Every season for 14 years we always seem to get enough coaches for our teams,” marvels John. “Again, we see that God’s hand was in it all. We always get good Christian men and women to volunteer.”
F.U.N. Sports incorporates the teachings of Jesus to the kids within a sports program. John explains how it is accomplished: “Every basketball season during practice we put the kids in the middle of the court and tell them a story from one of the Gospels. Not only do the kids hear the stories but the parents, aunts, uncles, grandparents and siblings also hear the stories. In the spring before every soccer practice we read a Bible verse and then I give my perspective of what that verse means to me.” What John finds is that often many of the kids have no knowledge of Jesus. John shares this example, “One grandparent told me that F.U.N. Sports is the closest thing to church that their grandkids get because the parents do not attend any church.” Again and again John and the volunteers see God working in these young lives by many of the children reading a verse, praying with the kids, and then many of them ask their coach about the Bible story discussed.
Sometimes a coach will urge John that they need to be more competitive. John’s response is that instead of being more competitive we need to give the kids more of Jesus. The payoff for John for committing his life to this ministry is stated simply, “What makes me feel that all the work I do is well worth it is when I look out and see all the kids and all the parents bow their heads when I pray. Then I end the prayer by saying “in the name of Jesus” and everyone says ‘Amen.’” RCC has been the Bagalas’ church home for many years and they have especially enjoyed the biblical teaching as well as the interaction and help from the pastoral staff and the church family. John and F.U.N. Sports is one of the church’s endorsed missionaries.
John loves sports, but he loves the Lord more. As John succinctly states, “I’ve played sports from 6th grade through college. I just love all sports and I want the kids to have the same experience. But I love the Lord and because of my passion for Christ, I will never deviate from our goal to put Jesus first in everything we do. I want the kids to hear about the love of Jesus and who God is and that kids can pray to God anytime, anyplace, and that God will hear them.” This explains the key verse for F.U.N. Sports: Romans 10:17 – “So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ.”