WITH CHRIST IN Cricket
Thomas Isaac discusses with Raifiel Cyril how he balances Spirituality and Sports as well as witness Christ in all circumstances
Thomas Isaac Thekkumury a.k.a Tomy grew up in Trivandrum, Kerala as the 7th of 9 children. He was brought up in a sport loving family that grew to be a family rooted in prayer through the Charismatic Renewal that happened in Kerala in the 1980s. The previous Animator of Jesus Youth Australia and a father of three children, Tomy now lives with his wife Dr Priya in Ballarat, Victoria. Come let us gather in the stands of the stadium where he replays his game of life for us.
Tomy, tell us about your interest in cricket
My family loved sports and I represented the Junior state cricket team for two years. When I was a teenager, along with a few other players I started a club cricket team comprising of talented junior players to play in the Senior league, and I was the captain of the team. I thoroughly enjoyed organising and keeping the talented bunch of players together as a team.
And then something changed
Indeed it did. During the time that I was passionately following my dream of playing cricket and breaking into the senior level, I had a deep personal encounter with Jesus Christ through a Charismatic Retreat. This experience had a profound impact on my life and I felt a deep sense of mission to share this amazing experience with other young people and especially with my friends. For some time I did my best to balance my passion for cricket and my mission to share Jesus through Youth ministry. However as I was on the verge of breaking into the senior team, I felt it was time to move on from cricket, and announced the decision to my teammates – much to their shock and dismay. Sadly, the team disintegrated not long after that. The guys insisted on a farewell match and I was lucky to score many runs in that match and finish on a good note.
Wow, that is a pretty huge sacrifice. You gave up what you loved the most?
Yes, I stayed away from cricket for some time until I began my engineering studies. There I started playing and batting again, just for the fun of it, but quickly I started attracting the attention of people around. I was invited to play floodlit cricket for clubs near my college. By God’s grace I was able to do justice to the talent that he had blessed me with, and the boys in the college would wait to see me bat and often felt disappointed when I get out. I was also actively participating in prayer meetings during this time.
Ah! So you agree with St Francis of Assisi: Preach always and if necessary use words?
Absolutely. It is sometimes easier to speak aloud about Christ but more challenging to preach through our life. When I was captaining a team during my engineering days I used to give the team fielding drills, practice sessions for batting and bowling and also ensured we made a small silent prayer by huddling together as a team.
When I rushed off for prayer meetings after my match it was a loud witness to some of the boys who were following my cricket. I believe God blessed me with this gift so that after being drawn to my skill, people may be drawn to Him. I used to play guitar for our music ministry during those prayer meetings, thereby actively participating in worship and using every opportunity to mentor young people by listening to their stories and walking with them in their spiritual journey. I also used every opportunity to witness Christ by being a peace maker, helping resolve fights among students.
Tell us about your life until you moved to Australia
After my studies I took charge of my family business and was out of touch with cricket for a long time due to my hectic business schedule and youth ministry commitments. When we started thinking about moving to Australia I started learning Tennis as I believed there was a great opportunity to pursue sport in Australia. In 2010 we made the big move and initially settled in Adelaide, Australia. While my wife was settling into her work as a Doctor in Australia, I was looking for part time opportunities to balance our family work life balance. To my surprise I realised sports offered some wonderful opportunities for part time work as a sports official. Soon I started attending training sessions in both cricket and Tennis. By 2011, I was working as a Grade Cricket Umpire in South Australia with Level 2 National Accreditation. Simultaneously I also became a Nationally Accredited Tennis Umpire and had the great privilege of being selected as a Line Umpire for the prestigious Australian Open Grand Slam Tennis Tournament for two years.
The Australian Open experience opened my eyes to see the great scope for evangelisation in sports, a great venture for human excellence.
That’s amazing. Tell us how your spirituality has shaped your attitude towards sports.
From my personal experience I see sports as a great opportunity to witness to Christ. In Ballarat, Victoria I was privileged to be a vital part of the Ballarat Indian Cricket Team that plays an Annual Charity match against the Ballarat Australian Team. Even though I picked up a cricket bat after a long gap of 20 years, I am still able to contribute and be a significant part of the team – and above all, be a witness to Jesus. Even though I do not preach Christ to my team I try my best to share Christ through my non-verbal interactions, ensuring a spirit of unity, fun, inspiration, encouragement and team work, all the while keeping peace and resolving conflicts.
While I was umpiring at the Australian Open there were opportunities to interact with Umpires from all over the world. For me every such interaction is about encouraging the co-umpire and telling them that they are doing a great job as an umpire. There were lots of opportunities to listen to personal stories of struggles and family issues as well. I believe I was able to encourage many of them and give an assurance that things will eventually work out well and to not worry. I believe Jesus was using those moments to minister to some of them. There was also an occasion when one of my roommates, an Australian Umpire came up to me and asked if I was a Christian. The moment I acknowledged, he asked me to pray for a family who was desperately in need of prayers. Overall, without mentioning Christ even once there was a lot of ministering going on at the Australian Open. I also used my free evening time to meet up with a Jesus Youth City prayer group in Melbourne, and later catching up with a few young people one on one, to spend time in prayer.
When I rushed off for prayer
meetings after my match it was a
loud witness to some of the boys
who were following my cricket
Both Spirituality and Sports can take us to extremes. How do you balance both? I play social competition Tennis every Thursday night as it helps keep me fit all through the year. I am also actively involved in my parish and diocese, being part of Pastoral Council, and I am actively involved with a few weekly prayer meetings. I have been fortunate enough to be able to balance my sports and my mission. Once when I was discussing a weekly prayer commitment with my Vicar general, I mentioned (though reluctantly) about my inability to do so as it clashed with the Tennis schedule. He was quick to acknowledge the importance of keeping fit and encouraged me to keep doing it.
However, like I said even in sports I have a strong sense of mission. The cricket field and tennis court are my mission field.
Tomy, you remind me of the Bible verse, Jn 15:8: This is to my Father’s glory, that you bear much fruit. What advise do you have for Jesus Youth about their gifts?
We all are gifted in many ways. The Lord reveals to each one of us at the right time our gifts and talents. Our role is to hone it, use it and impart that gift so that others may profit and be blessed. When I observe young people play I watch them closely, impart my knowledge to help them improve their skills and also work with them using my knowledge to upskill them. When you genuinely impart that skill young people listen attentively. Sometimes this is the beginning of a deeper relationship of mentoring a young person not just in sports but in life skills too, which might eventually lead to a deeper relationship with Jesus.
Do you see God at work in the arena of sports?
I see great potential in the arena of sports as it involves people striving for excellence. Sport is also a great opportunity for people to engage with each other at different levels. I have been involved in sports for a major portion of my life in different capacities and I believe there is a lot happening in sports that enhances the beauty of building a healthy wholesome human person. Sports enhances and builds up truly human qualities like joy, sharing, teamwork, unity, supporting each other, encouraging, inspiring one another, enjoying each other’s company and community building. An active sports person is full of life and energy and it usually rubs on others in a positive way.
I believe God is at work. An active physical life also helps us to have a deeper and meaningful spiritual life.