This is an everyday story of how Josh, a student leader with Athletes in Action, persevered in contacting Mark, an Orientation Week contact…and how his labour in the Lord was not in vain. 

This is Mark’s story:

“I wasn’t born into a Christian family – none of us were Christian. I had no idea what it meant to follow God and I didn’t want to either, despite growing up attending Liston College, a West Auckland Catholic Boys’ School. I thought the Bible was a thousand-page book of nonsense and made-up stories. During my senior years of high school, my friends invited me to this “youth group thing.” They told me it was “like a church for teenagers.” So I went along expecting a boring lecture on how I was a bad person and that I needed Jesus to save me. How wrong I was!


For the first time in my life, I experienced love and acceptance. I didn’t realise yet that this was God planting a seed in my life that would prepare me for the biggest decision of my life to come. Fast forward to semester two 2016 at the University of Auckland Club’s Expo. I still had the same motivations as I had at high school. There was a group of people that caught my eye called Athletes in Action. I filled out their questionnaire sheet and continued with my day. A few days later, at a party with booming music, when a guy called Josh Tagaloa tried to call me, I told him he should call me back because I was busy doing my thing at this party. But Josh was keen to meet up, despite me being so difficult. So after some back-and-forward texting and calling, we finally met up.


In our conversation, Josh shared with me how to find balance as an athlete and a student, which I really needed. He also taught me how to have a personal relationship with God. He told me about how God loved me and created me to know him personally, but that I was separated from knowing God because I was too busy living in my own world, doing only what I wanted and only caring about myself and that the Bible defines this as sin. I learned that Jesus came down to Earth to die on the cross for me and for all my sin, making a way for me to know God personally. Finally, he asked me if I was ready to receive Jesus as my own personal Saviour and give my life to God. As cheesy and ridiculous as it sounds, I had flashes of moments from high school and youth group that had led to this point. I said “yes”, and decided to put my trust in Jesus and to follow him.


Summer was coming around and so was the Ultimate Training Camp (UTC). I signed up to go and began raising the funds for me to attend, much to the opposition of family and some friends. My friends laughed and said, “Mark, a Christian? Yeah right!” Wow, that was really tough for me! I was thinking “man, they do have a point.” but a verse in the Bible at Mark 10:27 gave me strength. It reads “Jesus looked at them and said, “with man this is impossible, but not with God; all things are possible with God.” This verse led me to believe that if God was willing, he would raise the funds for me to go to the Ultimate Training Camp. God did just that. I went to UTC, and honestly had the best time of my life there. All the trouble of getting there was certainly worth it in the end. Through the intense physical and mental pain of sports and competition at UTC, I learned how to love, honour and praise Jesus both on and off the sports field. This helped me to perform at a higher level than I ever thought possible. I felt like I belonged. I didn’t need to be the fastest or the strongest, or the most popular, or the smartest or the best at anything. I finally found what I had been looking for since high school.


Fast forward again to the beginning of August 2017. I was in Australia, competing in the GKR Karate World Championships. My only motivation was to honour God through my God-given talent of karate. With Jesus as my focal point, I already knew that the victory was won…


By that, I mean that there was no pressure to put on a good performance because as a Christian athlete, I had learned that I am not defined by the result, rather I am defined by Jesus’ love for me. With that in mind, I wasn’t going to be disappointed with a first round exit, in fact I wasn’t going to be disappointed at all by the end of that tournament. I know without a shadow of doubt that without the challenges of high school that led me to putting my trust in Jesus, without the criticism of friends and family that led me to take steps of faith like going to UTC, and without learning biblical principles of how to be all God created me to be, I would not be Mark McLeish, the GKR Male Instructor Kumite Champion of the World and follower of Jesus.


I once thought that never in a thousand years I would put my trust in Jesus. But through all the ups and downs, twists and turns, I have come to believe that “with man this is impossible, but not with God; all things are possible with God.” Thank you for all your support of Athletes in Action. Without you, my story might never have happened.”

Mark is now a student leader with Athletes in Action, discipling other student athletes and sharing the Gospel with student athletes on campus.

Praise the Lord for the work He has done in Mark’s life! Please pray for perseverance for Athletes in Action as they follow up with contacts they made at this year’s Orientation Week outreach. If you know any student athletes, why not encourage them to get involved?

What tough relationships are you persevering in for the sake of the Gospel? How has God been using you? We love to hear your stories so please leave a comment below.


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