By Vicki Brown, Word&Way News Writer
"Come on, Charlie*! Hit it, hit it!" students yelled from the sidelines as the young man readied for the next pitch. Sports Crusaders' suggestions about his stance, his swing and his concentration raced through his mind as he waited impatiently for the ball.
For the past 10-plus years, Sports Crusader teams have ministered to children and youth through sports camps. Based in Holts Summit, the ministry works through churches, Vacation Bible School and mission trips at home and abroad.
Many Missouri Baptists may know about Sports Crusaders' church-based outreach, but few may be aware that the ministry reaches out to troubled youth. This year, Sports Crusader teams ministered through the North Little Rock, Ark., police department, the Fulton Treatment Center, the Arkansas Boys' Ranch and Valley Spring Boys' Ranch at Black.
A Sports Crusader team spent three days at the Fulton facility teaching the boys softball fundamentals. Sharon Paris, who leads Bible studies at the treatment center and at the nearby Rosa Parks Center for girls, arranged a day at the treatment for the girls to learn a little more about basketball.
"It's good for [students at the centers] to see other kids come as Christians," Paris said. "They get to have fun...and they see that Christians can have fun."
Sports Crusaders team members conduct Bible studies as part of the training times. Giving their testimonies is included as part of that outreach. "[Students] get to meet them [team members] and see more than one witness. That's very important for them," Paris said.
Volunteers often serve on a team that returns to the same place several years in a row. This summer, Crusaders remembered some boys from last year and sat and talked with them about their progress, noted Sheila Pigmon, program director at Valley Springs Youth Ranch. "That was meaningful to them [the boys]," she said, adding that they sensed the team did care for them.
Pigmon said she was touched that team members also remembered and asked about boys who already had left the facility.
Although results aren't always visible or immediate, Pigmon and Paris called the Sports Crusaders efforts positive.
The boys reacted positively, Pigmon said, because the Crusaders were "guys closer to their age" and because sports is a favorite pastime for Valley Springs' residents.
The boys also responded more openly to the team members. The Crusaders "were good at sitting down and talking with [the boys] about spiritual things," Pigmon said.
She noted that the clinic boosted self-esteem as well. "They were given tee-shirts and awards, not just for athletics, but also for character," she said.
The students talked about the Crusaders' visit for days and weeks after the clinic, she added.
While not many professions of faith may be recorded during the clinics, both women noted that the Crusaders' efforts reinforce other spiritual activities. In addition to Paris' Bible study each Monday, the Fulton facility offers church services on Saturdays.
Local ministers in the area host services on Wednesday nights at Valley Springs, and houseparents provide devotionals in the homes. (11-24-04)