Former KU basketball star speaks at FCA fundraiser

by Kristin Baker

Wichita Fellowship of Christian Athletes (FCA), an organization that uses student-led ministry to reach student-athletes, held its academic year kick-off pep assembly last month featuring an inspirational talk from University of Kansas basketball great Wayne Simien.

Simien, a Kansas native, was a two-time college All-American and a fan favorite during his time at KU. After his 2005 graduation, Simien entered the NBA draft and played for the Miami Heat.

Today, Simien often makes appearances at FCA events and fundraisers, and he describes his relationship with the organization as a partnership. However, Simien was not involved with the organization at all as a student-athlete. This is largely because Simien did not become a Christian until halfway through his collegiate career, the summer before his junior year.

Prior to that I was living for two things: myself and basketball, Simien said. I was able to attain success pursuing those things. I was successful on the outside and had a lot going on, but really I was empty on the inside.

Simien's conversion was obvious to those he knew and with whom he played basketball. I became a Christian that summer, and an incredible transformation happened, Simien said. Really everything about me changed. My outward behavior changed, yes, but more importantly my heart changed and the things going on inside me: the way I thought, the reason I did things.

Simien's relationship with the Lord continued to grow with time. It affected a lot of areas of my life, he said. One of them was my relationships. Some of my friends I had at the time weren't very excited about the change, and some weren't very supportive.

His friends reactions did not thwart Simien's dedication to Christianity. The cool thing was no one could really argue the life change that was taking place, whether they agreed with what I believed in or not, he said. When I believed in Jesus, a lot of miraculous changes occurred in my life, and that really couldn't be fought against.

Simien's faith eventually even changed his career path. In 2009, after three years in the NBA and a promising career ahead playing basketball in Spain, Simien retired from professional basketball to pursue a career in ministry. Today, Simien works in Lawrence out of Morningstar Church with his own organization, Called to Greatness. Much of his time is spent working with college students.

People ask if I think about going back or regret the decision I made to leave basketball and to go into ministry, Simien said. It is one decision I have been 100 percent completely certain about.

When Simien spoke to the Wichita FCA audience September 9, the theme of the evening was Champions of Change. A lot of people think athletics and Jesus have nothing to do with one another, and that couldn't be further from the truth. Athletes can live and compete for Jesus on court or in the classroom in high school.

Simien knows he has impact when he speaks because of his basketball experience, but he said anyone can be a Christian representative. Everyone has a platform, a circle of influence in which they can speak into other people's lives or speak to people in a positive way, he said. I don't feel like anyone needs to be a college star or play professionally to make a difference.

Wichita Area FCA field representative Kelly Thorne spends her days training Wichita-area student-leaders to do just that. Thorne has served as the organizer of Wichita FCA for about one year, and in this time the number of area huddles grew from eight to 22 in only six months.

Thorne, a Derby native, has a personal history with FCA. She grew up not attending church, and FCA changed her life. When I was 14, I saw some kids out playing kickball at Derby Middle School, she said. I invited myself to play with them, and when they said FCA, I thought it was OK because I heard the athlete part and probably ignored the Christian part.

That day changed her life forever. I gave my life to the Lord, and at 14 I decided I wanted to go into the ministry with FCA.

Since Thorne began with Wichita FCA, every USD 259 high school has an FCA huddle, as do other area high schools. In addition, Wichita State University's huddle supports full-time chaplain Keith Townsend.

Each huddle functions differently, with some meeting during lunch and some meeting in the evenings. Each group does some type of devotion and serves as a worship time for its members, who are mostly student-athletes, although anyone is allowed to attend. It's both for kids to grow in their faith in Jesus or come into a relationship, Thorne said. We have all kinds of kids.

To donate to Wichita FCA, contact Kelly Thorne,, (316)305-9980

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