This Sunday at First Presbyterian Church, 159 West 6th Street, the congregation will be celebrating its annual Fellowship of Christian Athletes day with a very special guest speaker, J.P. Nyadaro.
Originally from Kenya, J.P. had long dreamed of going to college in the United States. But life in Kenya was difficult. Sometimes, he and his family had gone without food. They’d been kicked out of their home when his parents didn’t have the money to pay the rent. When J.P. started playing basketball in high school, he played barefoot until his mom got enough money to buy him a pair of shoes.
“We were never rich,” J.P. says. “I’ve never been rich in my whole life.”
By the time J.P. was in high school, he was living in a one-room house with his older brother. A laid-back student who “didn’t care a lot,” J.P. had heard about older players from his high school who were playing at Trevecca and allowed himself to begin dreaming about following in their footsteps. J.P.’s high school coach, who was also his principal, pushed J.P. to work harder, both athletically and academically. He frequently told J.P. that basketball could take him places.
But J.P. was a just kid in Kenya who hadn’t started playing basketball until he was in high school. Living out his dream seemed elusive at best. But a phone call from Sam Harris, Trevecca’s basketball coach, changed everything.
“All of the sudden, I got a call from Coach Harris,” J.P. recalls. “He said ‘We want to bring you over here.’ It was a miracle for me.”
J.P. had wondered about playing basketball professionally after college, but dismissed the idea as his college career drew to a close. After graduation in 2013, he decided to quit playing basketball. Now married to Cortney, J.P. began a job with Room in the Inn, a Nashville homeless ministry, and decided to focus on his family.
“I was a case manager,” he says. “I was working with the homeless and enjoying my life. I was just playing basketball for fun in church league on Sunday afternoons.”
One Sunday, after one of those church league games, a man ran up to J.P. and his wife as they were leaving the gym. He turned out to be the coach of the Bowling Green Hornets, a regional semi-professional basketball team based in Kentucky. He told J.P. about the team and invited him to play.
J.P. was incredulous.
“I was like, ‘How did you even hear about me? How did you find me here?’” J.P. recalls.
J.P. tried out for the team and ended up signing with the Hornets. He played well in their weekend-only games. When the season ended, the Hornets’ owner selected J.P. as one of several players to represent the team at tryouts for the National Basketball League of Canada. After a three-day combine, J.P. was one of 40 players selected from a group of almost 300 to be drafted.
“It was a big moment,” J.P. says. “I almost gave up basketball a year ago, and now I’m here and they’re drafting me.”
Within three months, J.P. had resigned his job in Nashville and moved to Canada. Cortney planned to visit as much as possible, coming up for short trips and long weekends.
At first, playing basketball professionally seemed like a dream come true, J.P. says, but his excitement quickly cooled.
“When I got there, I realized this was not what I was really expecting,” he says.
J.P. discovered that his teammates didn’t share his Christian faith or values. They did drugs and went to strip clubs, always encouraging J.P. to join in. Cortney, J.P.’s wife, challenged him to stay true to his faith in Christ and live as light in a dark world.
“I wanted to be a good example, to be there for others and encourage them to follow the right path,” J.P. says. “But I have to keep the promise that I made. The day I was baptized, I decided that this is how I’m going to live, and so I can’t have a two- faced life.”
J.P. knew he had a choice to make: playing professional basketball or living to honor God. He made the decision to leave the team and return to Nashville, choosing God and his family over his dream.
“I’m a Christian,” he says. “I still have one God. I’m not going to fail Him now, especially after He brought me to the point I am right now.”