By Vicki Brown, Word&Way Associate Editor
Parking needs and a small lot led to ministry with big men at Lincoln University this fall.
Finding a parking spot relatively close to a class or building often is a challenge for faculty, staff and students. Many try to use Concord Baptist Association's parking lot across the street from LU's science building. Most rarely ask first.
For the past year and a half, Lincoln head football coach Lamar Parrish and the equipment manager always have, according to Brian Valentine, director of the Baptist Student Union, housed at the associational office.
Valentine had been praying that "God would do something unexpected" in the fall semester on the historically African-American campus in Jefferson City.
The first time the equipment manager asked for parking privileges this fall, Valentine asked if the football staff would let him to do something for the players.
Coach Parrish allowed Valentine and students active in the BSU ministry to distribute "survival kits" Valentine had received from Campus Crusade for Christ, a nondenominational ministry to college students.
Then Parrish invited the BSU director to provide a devotion and prayer at each Tuesday night team meeting and to be the team's chaplain throughout the football season.
"We had prayed that God would open opportunities to expand the ministry and to build rapport," Valentine said. "This has been humongous."
Because the BSU men's cell group meets on Tuesdays as well, Valentine always took a few students with him to the football meeting. "It showed them [players] that others live out their faith…. Those students brush their teeth and interact with them [players] in the dorms…. It is important for them to see the correlation between faith and life," Valentine said.
Students also prayed with players before each home game.
Studies in the men's cell group have focused on leadership and godliness. Valentine used the same topics with players. "I believe there are a lot of correlations between football and the life God called us to as men," he said. "I want to help them see the practical side of living Christianity."
Although building relationships takes time, Valentine said he has seen some response to the BSU's efforts. At the beginning of the season, he asked the coach for a team roster, which included about 100 names.
The director and students prayed consistently for all 100, even though injuries, grades and other circumstances pared that number down during the first few weeks.
A young man who only had the chance to play in one game remembered Valentine and visited him at the office. "My walk with God has not been what it should have been," he told the director.
The pair spent more than an hour that day talking about the player's life and changes he needed and wanted to make. He hasn't missed a Thursday night BSU Bible study or the men's cell group since then.
Recently, the player shared his faith with an individual for the first time. "To see the look on his face and to see his faith was amazing," Valentine said.
A few other players have joined BSU students from time to time, as well. "We've seen something small, but we are still able to see God's power," he added.
BSU director since 2002, Valentine said the Bible study "started with me, Leah Porter and Jamere Brown praying that God would miraculously work." Now they see at least 30 students in Bible study each week.
Students are praying that the opportunity to minister to football players opens doors to outreach to players in other sports, particularly in baseball and sports that traditionally have not been as strongly supported as football.
Valentine hopes BSU students will be allowed to distribute water to players or possibly to help with concessions.
Meanwhile, the director and his students already are praying for next fall — for team unity, for God to raise up godly men and that Lincoln's football players would strive to be godly men.