From NFL and NASCAR to a boxing gym in Germany, IMB couple forges genuine friendships


“That’s the first time anybody allowed me to ask a question,” Fredrik remarked, surprised. 

Asa and Vanessa Watson’s transparency and willingness to answer tough questions about God and faith led to a deepening friendship with this German man.  

The Watsons serve with the IMB in Germany. They host people in their homes and provide a safe space for frank questions and vulnerability in conversation. 

Fredrik attended a Bible study in their home. He asked direct and complex questions, but Asa didn’t balk and took the time to answer thoughtfully.  

Fredrik told them he wasn’t encouraged to ask questions about faith when he was younger. Asa’s willingness to address his questions made him excited and willing to hear more. Asa began studying the Bible with him and is hopeful for more opportunities to share the truth from God’s Word.  

Candid conversations continue in a boxing ring. Many workers from the U.S. are asked, “Why did you move here?” or “Why did you leave home?” But in Asa’s case, the question is even more relevant. 

Asa played football for the New England Patriots and the Dallas Cowboys and later worked for NASCAR.  

“People are just curious. ‘Why do you live here now? If you played in the NFL, why are you here?'” Asa said. 

Their decision to move to Germany baffles many, but Asa and Vanessa accepted recruitment to a higher calling. The Watsons felt the Lord’s calling to serve overseas, and they, along with their children, followed His leading to Frankfurt, Germany.  

Asa started going to a boxing gym and had the opportunity to train a light heavyweight boxer. His history in the NFL opened doors for sharing his family’s purpose for living in Frankfurt.  

Through their involvement in the boxing gym, the Watsons began to help lead monthly church services there. The Watsons are part of a house church network that meets in homes, but once a month, they decided to meet in the gym. People who wouldn’t feel comfortable going to someone’s house were more willing to attend church in a gym. Roughly 60 people attend the gym church services. 

Another way the Watsons serve is by showing hospitality. Vanessa started a women’s ministry and created a space where women could come and talk openly about their lives. She said there aren’t many spaces in Frankfurt where women can be vulnerable. At the end of their gatherings, someone shares a testimony about their faith in Christ.  

They also host dinners in their home in order to build relationships with people in their community 

Some people perceive Germans as closed-off and unfriendly, but Vanessa said they haven’t found that to be true.  

“Once you talk to them, people would be really surprised how much they open up,” she said.   

Consistency is crucial and shows intentionality and a desire to spend time together. And, only saying you want to hang out if you really mean it. 

“Some Americans are just very open in general, very quick to start small talk standing in line at Walmart,” Asa said.   

“Americans are so eager to share our personal lives and want to be liked by people, and a lot of times we say stuff that we don’t mean like, ‘We should get coffee,’ or ‘We should hang out sometime,’ but we just want to be cordial, whereas Germans will cut that out. They won’t say they want to get coffee with you unless they actually do,” he continued.    

Vanessa added that when Germans say, “Let’s hang out,” they often pull out their phones and schedule a time to meet. Even when that happened, it took a year before some friends started calling Vanessa a friend.  

“You’re learning each other before you make that title,” Vanessa said. “It will evolve from ‘This is Vanessa’ to ‘This is my friend, Vanessa.’”  

Asa added, “That takes a lot of time and investment. It takes being vulnerable yourself, but also being transparent with them — and people know when you care. People know when you don’t care and when you just are there for an agenda,” Asa said.  

The Watsons don’t treat people like a project or talk to them to get a number.   

“We really want to be genuine friends and to genuinely love them, because Christ called us to. Whether they choose to believe or not, you can still be a friend,” Asa said.  

Time, vulnerability and consistency make all the difference in Asa and Vanessa’s relationships. 

The Watsons are being appointed as full-time fully funded International Mission Board workers in June and will participate in a livestreamed Sending Celebration during the SBC annual meeting in Indianapolis. Watch the livestream here