As the postponed Tokyo 2020 Olympics get started, what better person to talk to about sport and faith than someone who reached Olympic level swimming – making the pre-team for Madagascar in 2000?
Today, Hasina Boulter can be found teaching swimming at a Christian international school in the Philippines. She’s one of several OMF workers who have seen their sporting interest connect with opportunities to share the good news of Jesus Christ.
A surprising start
‘I was actually scared of water as a child’, Hasina tells me. She explains how a beach trip aged 7 ended with her almost being swept out to sea by a large wave. It was three years before she got back in the water. Even then, she shares, ‘I was not really serious’ and would try to get out of swimming activities. One-to-one lessons boosted her confidence and her swimming teacher suggested joining a swimming club. ‘I progressed swimmingly from there,’ Hasina says, ‘I took part in my first gala at the end of that year.’ She just hoped she wouldn’t be last! She came second last, but didn’t give up. Soon she was on junior national team.
Hasina summarises this period saying, ‘my life was just composed of swimming’. She would swim at least once every day, and three times a day when there were competitions.
Hasina went on to represent her country at the Indian Ocean Games and was in the team for the 2000 Olympics – ‘the highest achievement in [my] swimming career’ – although she did not go to the Olympics themselves.
At 19, Hasina moved to South Africa, but only swam there for six months. What had changed?
For one thing, the swimming level in South Africa was higher and her performance had plateaued. But more significantly, Hasina says, ‘Jesus came into my life’. She had become a Christian at 15 and felt called to a life of service. When she moved to South Africa, it was a chance to make a new start and focus on getting to know Jesus more.
Take it away
Perhaps this sounds like the typical story of Christian sportspeople who feel their faith and their sport are conflict. Yet Hasnia explains it wasn’t quite like that for her.
She asked Jesus to guide her, and increasingly realised there was more to life than competitive swimming. It wasn’t easy to give to God, but there was a lot of pressure on her, Hasina reflects: ‘It’s a heavy pressure from my parents, my coaches and my country.’ So she said to Jesus: ‘Please take it away, Lord. I give my swimming to you. If you give it back to me, it’s okay. But I’m completely done with it.’
Hasina walked away from swimming. But not for long.
A new achievement
Hasina now spent a lot of her time at church rather than the pool. There she met Tanya and they became firm friends. They taught Sunday school together, but Tanya also loved swimming. To cut a long story short, the pair opened their own swimming school together. Although Hasina was now studying public relations, she realised she ‘didn’t want to be stuck in an office’ and would much rather teach swimming. So Hasina trained with Tanya as a swimming instructor with Swim South Africa.
Hasina tells me teaching swimming brought a great sense of achievement. In fact, something that far surpasses what she felt receiving medals or improving her swimming times. She also says she felt God say this could be a tool for him.
Over the last four years at Faith Academy, Hasina has certainly found that. As the aquatics centre supervisor, she has taught swimming classes, coached the school swimming teams and enabled the local community and Christian ministries to use the facilities as well.
Yet this wasn’t always Hasina’s plan. At church in South Africa, Hasina also met Bruce. They married, started exploring missions and training to serve cross-culturally together. Then Bruce became unwell. A diagnosis came: colon cancer. Bruce went to be with Jesus nine months later. Hasina says, at that point: ‘I thought, Jesus, I’m not going alone. I’m not going at all!’
God had other ideas.
Hasina continues: ‘at the end of 2014, the Lord reminded me of the calling he has on my life. Yes, Bruce my late husband had his calling, and his service on the side of Heaven is done. Mine is not.’ So Hasina completed the missions course she started with Bruce.
At the end of the course she had the option to go to France, but Hasina was more interested in Asia. She jumped at a chance to take a short-term trip to East Asia with OMF. There, Hasina says: ‘you always hear people say “you might be the only Bible that people read”’ and that people die without having the change to hear about Christ ‘and you think ‘Really?’ But now ‘I really saw that’, Hasina emphasises. But what to do about it?
Hasina shares that her short-term experience showed her the need to support long-term workers already serving overseas. She saw serving as a teacher would be a great way to do that. Faith Academy provided just the opportunity Hasina was looking for. This international Christian school allows many missionaries to keep serving overseas by providing a high quality, internationally recognised education for their children.
Hasina reflects: ‘my most personal motivation coming to this academy is to be able to disciple the children of missionaries.’ Hasina explains that teaching swimming saves lives and gives a gift that can be passed on. Yet everyone needs to learn to swim for themselves. Hasina is glad to offer her lessons as part of the curriculum at Faith Academy and free lessons to the community as well. But Hasina says she most of all wants to help ‘the children of missionaries to keep the eyes on the Lord and grow their own faith, not just live off their parents’ [faith]’.
In fact, Hasina sees many connections between swimming and her faith in Christ. She says: ‘above all, I am teaching people to breathe. Before anything else, [swimming is about] how you breathe in and out of the water. If you’re not comfortable with the breathing, the rest won’t follow. And so how do we breathe? With the breath of life, Jesus!’ While teaching her students to breathe, Hasina also wants them to discover the breath of life!
Hasina also finds teaching swimming is a great opportunity to listen. When people struggle in the water and breathe frantically, it’s often because, like Hasina herself, they had a traumatic experience in the water earlier in life. Then, she explains, the swimming lesson ‘becomes like a counselling session. What happened? And we talk through it, we go through it at your pace.’ Hasina sees this as a reflection of the gentleness of the Lord, who ‘calls us all together’ but ‘knows our unique experiences too.’
Plus Hasina gets to share the other great truth about swimming – that it’s really all about floating. ‘If you work with the water, the water is actually our friend,’ Hasina tells me, ‘but we are the one fighting against the movement. We think the more movement we make, the better we get or the quicker we get to the other side. The more relaxed you are, the quicker you will float and get through.’ Hasina gets to point to Jesus, our great friend who wants us to find life in all its fullness and stillness.
Into the community
Hasina is Faith Academy’s first full time aquatics centre manager. This gives her more time to find ways of opening up the facilities to the wider community and Christian ministries in the Philippines. Hasina excitedly tells me about several baptisms in the pool, including recently one of the Filipino lifeguards! As well as swimming lessons, the pool also hosts lifeguard training (a useful source of summer jobs and even careers for some students), and pool parties for the local community. Hasina keeps looking for ways to bless her students and the wider community as well.
Concluding our interview, I reflect on the truth of Jesus’ words: ‘whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will find it.’ (Matthew 16:25). Hasina gave up swimming, only to get it back again, with even greater blessings for herself and those around her.
- We also asked Hasina to share her advice for Christian sportspeople, which you can catch here.
- Find out more about Japan, hosting the 2020 games, and how you can pray for this country where very few people have opportunities to hear about Jesus.
- Pray for Japan during the Olympics with Christians around the world, aiming to pray for a total of 1 million hours! Sign up at japan1million.com
- Find out more about the Philippines
Interview by Reuben Grace, OMF International Stories Co-ordinator.
Reuben writes and edits for OMF International to encourage the Church to share the good news of Jesus Christ with East Asians, across the street and across the world. He also wrote their newest children’s book, A Taste of Asia (10ofthose, 2020), which takes families on a devotional adventure through East Asia. His work has seen him travel the length of Thailand by train and explore Southeast Asia, although he lives in Southeast England, where he enjoys visiting historic houses and riding on steam trains.