Jaelene Hinkle is a pro soccer defender who plays for the North Carolina Courage in the National Women's Soccer League. She was awarded the League's Player of the Year in 2009 and, in 2010, she was the League's top scorer. She received Parade All-American honours and was named to the all-conference team, first team all-state and All-Colorado team by the newspapers two years in a row.
However, more recently, Jaelene made headlines for another reason when she declined a call-up from the U.S. Women's National Team last June for "personal reasons". It was later revealed that her withdrawal was because it was announced that her team would be wearing jerseys that were in honour of LGBT Pride Month.
"I just felt so convicted in my spirit that it was not my job to wear this jersey," the 25-year-old athlete shares. "I gave myself three days to just seek and pray and determine what God was asking me to do in this situation."
Jaelene's passion for the sport began when she was just a young girl playing on the youth soccer fields of Denver, Colorado. Having been raised in a Christian home, she always knew about God and what He had done for her.
When she was twelve, Jaelene committed her life to Jesus. "At that age you are starting to connect the dots and wanting to see where this takes you," she says in an interview with the 700 Club. "I wanted to find out who God was."
As she entered high school, though, Jaelene began to drift away from her childhood faith, focussing, instead, on becoming a better soccer player.
"I do not think that I ever hesitated or doubted my faith," she affirms. "I knew that I was good [made right with God] and that the Lord created me but it was like, I just wanted to fit in."
When Jaelene was accepted into a university in Texas, she still continued to play soccer. Trying to balance soccer games with church proved to be difficult, though.
"On paper, I was doing well, but on the inside, I was miserable," she admits. "There were Saturdays when I would go out and hang out with my friends and go partying. Then, I would [remember] that I had church the next morning and when I was [at the service], I would think, 'What did I just do on Saturday night?' It was a wrestle. I wanted to fit in here and I also wanted to fit in there but where did I actually fit?"
When Jaelene's soccer coach told her that she had the talent to go pro, it was like a dream come true. "I was like, yeah, of course I want to go to the next level. I have always wanted to go to the next level. It has always seemed that if that were an option, then I would want to do it."
But, as she went into the spring season of her junior year, Jaelene encountered a serious complication. "I had excruciating pain in my left leg," she tells. It was revealed, through an MRI, that she had a large blood clot and her vein was "eighty percent closed".
Jaelene was told by the doctors that if the vein did not open overnight in time for her second surgery, they would have to put a stent in to relieve the pressure caused by the clot which would mean that she could no longer play contact sports.
"The one place where people were saying my identity was ... it was about to be taken away [from me] and everything just came crashing down," Jaelene recalls.
But she and her parents did not give up hope. "The first thing my mom said to me was that we were just going to pray all night long. I said to God, 'I know You have the power either way this goes; I am not trying to make a deal with You, but if You allow me to play soccer [again] I will play for You.' I had this internal battle with the Lord, just begging Him to 'please not take this away from me'."
The morning after her operation, Jaelene was told by an amazed doctor that her vein had been completely opened. "He told us that he was not one to believe in God but that we had got our miracle," she smiles.
From that point on, Jaelene, remembering her promise to God, recommitted to her faith. "There was no turning back after that," she says. "I wanted to know everything and anything about the Lord."
After her graduation, Jaelene, noted for her God-given talent, was called up to the Nationals and started playing for the Women's Professional League. Then, in 2017, she was invited to play for the U.S. in two international friendlies games against Sweden and Norway.
"I was being invited to play the game that I loved for my country," she remembers excitedly. "It was huge."
Then, only a few days before the competition, it was announced that the team's jerseys were designed to honour the LGBT community. Jaelene turned to God in prayer before withdrawing from the games.
"I'm essentially giving up the one dream that little girls dream about their entire lives," she recollects, "And I'm saying no to it. It was very disappointing. But that's when the peace [I felt] trumped the disappointment because I knew that I was doing the right thing and that I was being obedient. But just because you are obedient, it does not make it easy."
She captioned an Instagram post of a cross with these words: "The rainbow was a convenant made between God and all His creation ... It's a constant reminder that no matter how corrupt this world becomes, He will never leave us or forsake us."
Many people opposed Jaelene's bold decision and took to social media to criticise her. Jaelene was labelled a "homophobe" and a "traditionalist". When she played for North Carolina Courage in Oregon, she was booed at by spectators, many of whom were waving LGBT pride flags.
Jaelene, now playing professionally for the North Carolina League, has not backed down on her convictions and has continued to proclaim Jesus' name.
"I do not question [God's] goodness," she says. "I know He is good and I know He is faithful. If I never get another national team call up again then that's just a part of His plan and that's okay. Maybe this is why I was meant to play soccer, to show other believers to be obedient."
She pinned a tweet with these words, "If you live for people's acceptance, you will die from their rejection. Unashamed."•