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Departments: Department of Public Service & Administration

Sports has been a natural part of Christian ministry for Jackson Van Ness. In the game of life, he knows there’s only one way to truly “up your game.”

Van Ness was honored recently by the Fellowship of Christian Athletes (FCA) as Athlete of the Year in Orange County, California.

Van Ness, who plays as an outfielder for the Trojans Baseball Team, is a senior majoring in Criminal Justice and minoring in Homeland Security. He accepted Christ as his savior at a young age, then in high school he became involved in FCA.

FCA camps were an integral part of growing up for Van Ness. While in high school, Van Ness got the chance to pay it forward through a ministry role, coaching at FCA baseball camps and leading in ministry. He also became president of FCA for all of the high schools in Orange County, a populous county located just south of Los Angeles.

During high school, Van Ness started looking at college options. His mom encouraged him to think beyond colleges that might recruit him to play baseball, check out a few Christian colleges and consider where God might be leading him. 

“In obedience to mom, I started doing some research on my own and that’s actually how I found AU…  simply through just Google search and looking for some schools that that have the values that I have and good community and things like that,” said Van Ness, who was also seeking a good Criminal Justice program. “Through that process, I ended up qualifying for the Presidential Fellows scholarship that we have here. Once I qualified for that, it was kind of a no brainer, ‘hey, I might as well go through the steps’ and apply for that and send in the resumé and the essays and whatnot…. And then spring rolled around, I ended up being a finalist for that, so I flew out here for a visit, spent a whole weekend here on campus, and I loved it. I love the people I met. It was an incredible experience going through the competition.”

“It was right when COVID hit. I was a high school senior in 2020, they shut down my baseball season and I was still uncommitted. I was like ‘man, I don’t know what I’m going to do now,’ and I got a letter in the mail from Anderson saying hey, congratulations, here’s the Presidential Fellows scholarship—at that point it was like a no brainer. God closed many doors and then opened up this really big one to give me the opportunity to play baseball here and then also add on the full ride scholarship.”

Since coming to Anderson University, Van Ness has been involved in leadership for FCA on campus. He has a burden for student-athletes recruited to don the Trojan black and gold.

“There’s this mission field of students right here at AU. I want to reach these athletes,” Van Ness said. “We got to redesign how FCA looked at AU and got a full leadership team to be involved with the spiritual leaders from each team… We’ve got an FCA director on campus.”

Nate Norwood, FCA representative for Anderson University and chaplain for male student-athletes, says Van Ness is all about making sure others come to know Jesus.

“For me, the thing with Jackson… He’s phenomenal with what we do,” Norwood said. “He helps lead small groups we have after our gatherings each month this past year, but more importantly the example he sets for guys on his team, the heart he has and his ability to connect. He leads campus visits. Him reaching out to guys and being willing to go out of his way to connect with other athletes.” 

Van Ness at baseball camp

During the summer, Van Ness would go home and engage in ministry, working with kids young enough to be putting on their first cleats and into their teen years. While the young players enjoy playing baseball, they learn how much more rewarding it is to make Christ Lord in their lives. 

Isaac Friesen, director of Operations for the Summer FCA ministry team in La Mirada, California, first got to know Van Ness as a high school student and watched him grow in his FCA leadership roles. Friesen has seen Van Ness using his God-given gifts to engage with young players.

“His ability to speak and communicate is really up there as far as guys that we’ve seen,” Friesen said. “I love how passionate he is and he’s well spoken, very biblically focused. He also has a great ability to connect with people. He just finds connecting points and is able to bridge that gap of stranger to friend pretty quickly—that means a whole lot.” 

“Three of my four summers here, I’ve gone back to work full time ministry for FCA in California. We do mission work in Mexico and inner LA and then we also do like eight weeks of summer camps,” Van Ness said. “Athletic summer camps are our big thing we do. We get over a little over 1,500 campers and stuff. And so we’re in full ministry and then also bringing FCA here on campus at AU.”

an Ness shares his faith with a young camper