Jaelene Hinkle has played soccer since she was young.
The sport is her passion and even something she considers a calling from God.
She worked hard through high school, college, and club play to earn a place on the U.S. Women’s Soccer Team.
But when playing for the team conflicted with her Christian faith, she was willing to give it all up for Jesus.
Jaelene has always considered soccer to be a big part of her identity.
“It always was with you,” Jaelene says, recounting her early days as a student-athlete and budding professional.
Raised in a Christian home in Colorado, she started playing soccer at a young age. She excelled in the sport at the same time as she learned about Jesus, and she gave her life to God when she was 12 years old.
As she grew up, though, it was difficult for her to decide which part of her identity was more important: her expertise at soccer or her place in the world as a Christian.
“I want to find out Who God is,” the young Jaelene said, but high school distracted her from her faith. Practicing soccer, making friends, and trying to fit in moved her farther away from God, not closer to Him.
Jaelene earned a full-ride scholarship to Texas Tech University, where she played hard and made a name for herself.
“On paper I was doing really well, but, like, inside I was just like, ‘I’m kind of miserable right now,’” Jaelene remembers.
Her two worlds – soccer and faith – didn’t seem to overlap at all, and it confused her. She wanted to be a part of both worlds, but it was hard to tell where she really belonged.
It wasn’t until she suffered a nearly career-ending injury that she was forced to decide what her priorities would be.
In her junior year of college, doctors discovered a massive blood clot in Jaelene’s left leg. After multiple diagnoses and surgeries, the doctors told her that her soccer career might be over for good.
“Everything just came crashing down.”
Jaelene wrestled with God during this time, realizing that her identity as a soccer player might end altogether. But her parents reminded her to turn to God in this time of pain and fear.
“You have the power either way this goes,” Jaelene admitted to God, “and if You allow me to play soccer, this is going to be for You.”
She begged God not to take soccer away from her, and He answered with a miracle. Much to the doctors’ amazement, the blood clot in her leg subsided, and Jaelene made a full recovery.
She hadn’t forgotten the vow she made to God in her time of need, though, and she was determined to fully commit to her faith.
“There was no turning back after that one. I wanted to know anything and everything about the Lord.”
Her soccer career quickly took off, and within a few years, she was invited to join the U.S. Women’s Soccer Team in international competition. Jaelene was thrilled to represent her country and play the game she loved on an international stage.
She was thrilled, that is, until she learned that the jersey she would be wearing was designed to promote “gay pride” in the form of rainbow lettering and logos.
Jaelene struggled with this news, turning to God as she felt convicted about wearing a jersey honoring a lifestyle that grieved Him. “I felt convicted in my spirit that it wasn’t my job to wear this jersey.”
Jaelene spent three days in prayer, asking God what He would have her do in this situation. Even though her dream was in reach, she knew it was more important to please God and honor Him in her decisions.
After her three days, Jaelene made the decision to withdraw from the team, and her teammates supported her convictions.
“It was very disappointing,” Jaelene said, knowing that she might never get another chance to play on the U.S. team. Fans jeered at her decision, mocking her with rainbow signs and jabs on social media.
But for Jaelene, peace trumped disappointment as she obeyed God and followed His leading. “Just because you’re obedient doesn’t make it easy,” she said, but she knew it was worth giving up her dreams to follow Christ.
Today, Jaelene plays for the North Carolina Courage. She hasn’t stopped confessing her faith to fellow athletes and fans alike.
She knows she may never be called up to the national team again, but she firmly believes that God has a plan for her in the soccer world. If she can honor Him in her time on and off the field, that’s enough for her.
Remember to pray for Jaelene’s witness as a Christian athlete and for her courage as fans still mock her decision to honor God.