Sam Acho, Chicago Bears outside linebacker, son of Christian minister, does missionary work with family in Nigeria, says “my faith” in Jesus “is a part of who I am,” but also believes “the world needs less religion” and “more relationships.”

Growing up in Dallas, Sam Acho “wasn’t one of those kids that I had the dream of playing in the NFL. It wasn’t until I got to college” – at the University of Texas at Austin – “where I was, like, oh, wow, this thing might be able to work.”

He’s 29 and in his seventh pro season.

Parents came to the United States from Nigeria “to live a better life.”

“I grew up in somewhat of a Nigerian household . . . strict family values, school’s first, education is huge, sports was just something on the side.”

Faith was emphasized. His dad was a minister at the massive Oak Cliff Bible Fellowship, later starting his own nondenominational congregation.

                                                             ***

Acho’s family started a Christian charity to “spread the gospel” in Nigeria and organize “medical mission trips” in which doctors and dentists offer everything from eye and dental care to hernia surgery in the African nation. The charity recently opened  a medical center in a Nigerian village.

“There’s so much in Scripture that talks about . . . taking care of the orphans and the widows in their need,” and the poor and homeless.

Says we’re called on “to be the hands and feet of Jesus.”

                                                             ***

“My faith is . . . a part of who I am,” whether on the football field or with his two young kids.

                                                             ***

Some people have an impression Christianity is “weak or timid,” he says, but the Bible shows Jesus is “a boss, he has no fear.”

                                                             ***

Sam Acho (49): “There’s a bunch of guys in the NFL that need Jesus.” | AP

“I’ve always thought, man, I’d love to . . . share the gospel with my teammates. I want to be a light to my teammates. There’s a bunch of guys in the NFL that need Jesus. We all need him. But . . . let me get to the people that may never hear, and let me be a light to them.”

                                                             ***

“There are so many times I have conversations with God throughout the day, like moment by moment, minute by minute, where it’s like, ‘All right, Lord, I need some guidance, I need some direction, what do you think about this?’ I almost talk to him like he’s one of my friends.”

About?

“About life, about football, about whatever is going on.”

“The spirit of God in me . . . He’s guiding me.” So the “question is: Am I going to listen?”

                                                             ***

With injuries so prevalent in football, do you pray to stay healthy?

He was hurt in 2013, out with a broken ankle. Other times, “I would have thought or could have easily had a big-time injury, and, for some reason, it was avoided. So I believe that God’s looking after me, watching over me. So I don’t think about the injuries.”

“My prayer is I want to be the best outside linebacker in the NFL. And so my prayer is, like, ‘Lord’ — he’s already given me the ability — ‘but help me believe that I can achieve that.’ ”

                                                             ***

Sam Acho: Faith “is a part of who I am,” but he also says, “The world needs less religion” and “more relationships.” | Kevin Tanaka / Sun Times

“I think it’s harder to live if you don’t have a relationship with Christ. . . . What do you lean on, what do you rely on?”

                                                             ***

What does God look like?

“He looks like a good dad . . . who loves me and who’s always there for me . . . a good, loving, caring father who, if somebody tries to cross one of his people, he’s going to protect his people.”

                                                             ***

“A hundred percent, there’s a heaven, there’s a hell.”

                                                             ***

Jesus talked about loving “your neighbors as yourself,” not just “your Christian neighbors or your Islamic neighbors,” but everyone, “point-blank, period.”

                                                             ***

Social justice, racial justice, “They’re all intertwined” and important to him.

With former San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick still unsigned following controversy over his refusal to stand during pre-game national anthems as a statement on race relations, Acho said: “I think it’s pretty obvious he can play in the NFL, but I don’t think some of the owners want the backlash that they’ll get from someone who actually wants to stand up for what he believes to be right.”

Bears outside linebacker Sam Acho. | Getty Images

                                                             ***

Face to Faith appears Sundays in the Chicago Sun-Times, with an accompanying audio podcast, with additional content, available at chicago.suntimes.com and on iTunes and Google Play.

Listen to previous “Face to Faith” podcasts: