It turns out that baseball is not just an all-American pastime. Chris and Leneé Oakley found this out three years ago when their family discovered the local baseball club in Budapest, Hungary. Their boys began to play on the team immediately, and Chris was soon asked to begin coaching. Being involved in both playing and coaching has allowed the Oakley family the chance to get to know not only the families of the team members, but also coaches and players from other Hungarian teams. This unconventional opportunity has opened up incredible doors of ministry for the Oakleys to speak into the lives of Hungarians through sports.
Hungarian baseball teams haven’t had much success in the past, so Chris made sure to strive for quality in coaching his teams. “If we were only focused on ministry and not doing a good job coaching baseball,” explains Chris, “It wouldn’t take long before we didn’t have any kids to coach.” But the Oakleys are intent on achieving excellence on the teams—from kids teams to men’s leagues—because, as Chris said, “No matter the age, it seems we are still saying, ‘This is how you throw a ball.’ ”
So far the Oakleys have seen great success on the field, both in baseball and in ministry. For the past three years, their teams have finished second against other teams from Hungary, Croatia, Serbia, Slovenia, and Italy. This year they placed first in an all-Austrian competition. Chris and Leneé’s sons have played on Hungarian national teams and were each named national players of the year several times.
Their success has continued beyond the already-established clubs and leagues, as the Oakleys have begun to offer weeklong, overnight baseball camps in the summer. Through these camps, they can provide biblically-based devotionals on topics such as character development and team building. Several players have made decisions for Christ, two players have been baptized, and a few of the players and coaches started attending their youth group and church.
One of the most incredible parts of this story is that almost all of the people the Oakleys interact with are unchurched and nonbelievers, and without their involvement in the baseball club, may have never had any other exposure to Jesus. For these families, this fun, summertime game has become an essential inroad for the gospel. The Oakleys are learning more and more that teaching someone how to throw a baseball has the potential to change a life forever.