A map of Europe prominently hangs on the wall behind Ryan Zamroz’s desk, flanked by photos of the French Riviera, Spain, and Portugal. These photos are only a small representation of the six years Zamroz, athlete and alum of The Master’s University, played pro-basketball internationally.
“Traveling the world on someone else’s dime and using basketball as a means of sharing the gospel with others” said Zamroz, had been his aspiration before playing basketball at the university. But Master’s became the platform by which that was achieved.
To him walking across the stage in 2009 to receive his diploma meant “jetting off into the sun to some international place”. Or so he thought. For six months, he and his wife Stacey, recently wed, lived with his parents. No recruitment calls came in. “We had to lean on the Lord. I was at the point of giving up on the idea of playing ball.” The phone rang and a month later Ryan was in Australia on a semi pro team. A team he wouldn’t have considered earlier, however, after months of silence he “was willing to go anywhere”.
“You start from the bottom and work your way up,” Zamroz explained, “every year I moved to a more professional division, where the contracts were better”. A common contract included airfare, a car, an apartment, and salary. After his semi-pro time in the ‘land down under’ he moved to a professional team in Leicester, England followed by teams in Sweden, France, and Spain over the span of six years.
His experience playing basketball in other countries differs from the common assumptions American’s have. “People are surprised because we have this American view of professional basketball from the NBA, where those guys are on the road all the time, playing 86 games a season. In Europe they play one game a week, every Friday or Saturday. You practice throughout the week, but you can only practice so much. It was two practices a day ranging from two to four hours, the rest of the day you were at home.”
This schedule was helpful when he and Stacey had their first two children. Vera and Deacon, now three and one respectively, created opportunities for Ryan and his family to witness the cultural transcendence of Christ’s church, one of the biggest takeaways from his time abroad. “The church was amazing. God’s people are amazing,” he smiled, “they took care of us. They gave us cribs, car seats; one family gave us French lessons. People taught us the culture as we moved throughout the continent”.
They saw the church in a completely separate context. Their time at The Master’s University was filled with rich theology and doctrine, but that luxury isn’t easily accessible in places starving for truth in Europe. The churches out there are small; their pastors aren’t trained like many in America and the messages are simple, but the community is tight knit. Zamroz said, “We have a real respect for how they live in the midst of culture. Their worship is so authentic. It was eye opening. They are doing the best they can in the midst of where they are.”
In a society as dark as the one Ryan was living in, the opportunities to be a light were endless. “I wanted to view myself as a missionary. You are out on your own and you are trying to share Christ with people. I had a lot of opportunities to share with teammates, but in the midst of that,” he admits, “it’s easy to get caught up in just basketball. Moving up in my career, make more money, to prove to everyone and even myself that I can play at this level and do well and succeed. . . I had to continually remind myself that this was a gift from the Lord, there are no other believers out here and this may be the only glimpse of Christ these people might get”.
Ironically, a continent that used to be a beacon of Christianity no longer has a conception of who Christ is. “The question became; how do I share the gospel with someone who has no context. What do you boil it down to?” he asks. “We are spoiled with great, profound teaching here, but being in a foreign setting we needed to make it simple,” not using words complex terms like justification and sanctification. “It was good practice for explaining the gospel to my kids”.
“The Lord has a distinct plan for our lives,” Zamroz firmly stated. Throughout the interview he always came back to that. How the Lord led him to the university, gave him opportunities to trust Him in the midst of doubting his future in basketball, seeing the Lord provide fellowship through the church in every country they lived in, and bringing him back to a place centered around Christ.
Upon returning from Europe, Ryan was offered a full-time position by Luke Cherry, Vice President of Development at The Master’s University. When asked why he chose Ryan, Luke didn’t hesitate, “you find guys who have modeled high character in the church and their families, those aren’t guys who need to be motivated, they motivate themselves. His experiences in Europe personified that. He put the time in to be excellent in his craft and he is doing that here. He brings high character and high conviction, allowing our departmental initiatives to move forward.”
In closing the interview Ryan reflected, “If it wasn’t for the Lord bringing me to Master’s and drawing me to Himself during my time here, I know my life would look very different. I am indebted to the institution for the biblical knowledge and worldview instilled in me during my time as a student . . . Being able to work to advance and bring sustainability to The Master’s University is a tremendous privilege because I desire to see current and prospective students experience deep growth in their faith, the growth that I enjoyed as a student. . . it’s a joy to be a small part in the process”.
Ryan Zamroz is a Development Officer for The Master’s University, attends Grace Community Church in Sun Valley, CA. He lives in Santa Clarita with his wife and three children. To find out how you can partner with The Master’s University in Educating for Eternal Influence, visit masters.edu/give.