A group of young teenage boys gather around the table in the hockey rink in Durham, N.H.
Some are tired from hours of scrimmaging on the ice, while others are lacing up their skates to start practice. Hockey pads and sticks are strewn on the floor, and the smell of sweat hangs in the air.
As the boys read scripture aloud from the Bible and talk about the week, the sound of crunching can be heard as they snack on granola bars and gulp down gallons of water. At the end of the meeting, even though they are fierce competitors on different teams, the boys spend a few minutes praying together.
Each month, the boys take time from their homework and hockey schedule to be a part of the Fellowship of Christian Athletes Hockey Huddle. Without the dedication of Raleigh resident Rick Randazzo and his family, these kids and many others across the country would not have this opportunity.
In August 2011, Randazzo, his wife, Shannan, and their five children ranging from 1 to 14 began traveling the country to spread God’s word to the hockey community. They have already visited nine states, spending a month in each city. In August, the family will pile into their white van bearing the words “50 States – 50 Cities” to head to Delaware.
“Rick really inspired us to use his example of using his love of hockey to spread the love of Christ,” said Cheryl Borek, leader of the Durham, N.H., FCA Huddle. “There are so many kids that we can reach, and the kids are really open to learning.”
50 cities in 50 states
At each city, the family holds hockey camps, works with adults to form adult hockey leagues, provides support to hockey coaches, encourages community members to set up FCA Huddles and meets with local college hockey players.
But the Randazzos didn’t uproot their lives just to teach hockey skills. They want to show the hockey community that there are other Christians in hockey and provide guidance on combining their faith with the sport.
“Because hockey plays year round with practices during the week and games on the weekend, it doesn’t leave a lot of time for Wednesday church service or Sunday morning worship,” said Rick Randazzo, who is a member of Southbridge Fellowship Church in Raleigh. “Hockey players miss a lot of opportunities for worshiping and don’t always have the chance to connect with other Christians.”
In the past few years, Randazzo was spending a lot of time on the road away from his family as national director for FCA hockey. While reading the Bible, Rick and Shannan decided to model a journey after Apostle Paul, traveling to different cities to share the gospel.
“We wanted to make it just not me going out, but wanted to make it a family ministry where we could all go and serve God. My wife, my daughter and sons all have a role,” Randazzo said.
The trip is a family affair, with the children helping at events by checking in kids and assisting as their dad leads drills on the ice. When they are not at the rink, the family homeschools the kids and incorporates their travels as much as possible into their education.
Settling into a new place to live each month has been the biggest challenge for the family – one month, they even had to move eight times. They live in whatever affordable accommodations they can find, often donated by someone they met along the way. But that can have an upside, too – in New Hampshire, they got to live on the beach and in Vermont, they spent a month in a guest house on a farm.
Seeing their impact
Through the months, the family has been able to see the effect their work is having on the people they meet.
In Maine, Rick gave a child her first Bible. And several children whom they met along the way didn’t know Christmas was Jesus’ birthday before meeting the Randazzos.
Their email and mailbox are often filled with letters from people they have met. One boy wrote to thank Rick for teaching him to be a better goalie. A dad wrote telling the family how their support helped him get his life back on track.
Each Thursday night, Ron Johnson Jr., 18, of Trumbull, Conn., picks up the phone for his telephone Bible study with other hockey players from around the country that he met at the Randazzos’ camp last year.
“I don’t really connect with kids at my high school, because they are doing the whole high school party thing and that isn’t really me.” Johnson said. “But at the camp I got to meet with other kids who were dealing with the pressure of society just like I am and dealing with the struggle of upholding faith and combating temptations at the same time.”