Tricia Alberts has been the executive director of Sports Crusaders since 2010. She first became involved with the Missouri-based ministry in 1998 and as a full-time staffer in 2002. Since 1994, Sports Crusaders has served more than 47,000 campers, distributed more than 50,000 Bibles and seen more than 5,600 professions of faith in U.S. camps at more than 400 churches. Additionally, they have held camps in more than a dozen other countries. Alberts talked with Word&Way Editor Brian Kaylor in August.
I understand summer is the busiest time for Sports Crusaders. So, now that the summer has wrapped up, what did it look like?
It was fantastic! We had new churches, we had new students, new children. It was kind of a refreshing year. We had a smaller group of Sports Crusaders [summer staffers] this year, but I feel like they did more intentional work, which is what I feel God is calling us to do. We had only three returning Crusaders from last year, so the rest were all new. We had 22 college students this year that were full time, did the whole summer — that was for the local camps. We also had four alumni that came back and helped out with some camps. And we had 17 international missionaries for one-week mission trips. Overall, it was a wonderful summer.
For those who aren’t familiar with it, can you talk a little about what happens at a Sports Crusaders camp?
Basically, what we do is we provide a turnkey camp for churches to reach their community through the platform of sports. There’s a lot of times when children won’t come to Vacation Bible School because it says “Bible” and “School” and no one wants to do that in the summer. Obviously, we pair great with Vacation Bible School. But for those athletes that want to do nothing but play basketball, a camp can appeal to children where maybe VBS might not.
The numbers that we had this year relate to the fact that if you meet the kids where they’re at, they’re going to accept you and you have that common ground of sports. We come in and we do a camp. We train students, offer that to the churches who can have as much involvement with the camp as they would like. Obviously, we want their pastors to be around to do the follow-up after a decision’s made. We share Christ through the gospel messages every day in camp in what we call “halftime.” We provide a quality camp with awards that are based on character, not on skill, and let every child know that they’re unique and accepted. We want our camps to be unique so that these children know that they have our undivided attention for the whole time that they’re there.
What is it about sports that creates unique evangelism opportunities?
In our situation, we deal with team sports. So, we go with the concept of being on God’s team and God being our ultimate coach and that we listen to his words through scriptures.
A poll said that 90 percent of people read, watch or participate in a sport, and 70 percent of those do so at least twice a week. You’re either reading about it, watching it or being involved in it. So, it really reaches a lot of people. There are a lot of folks into sports, so that’s our common ground. I feel like it really gives us the opportunity to have fun with the kids and share Christ in a fun way.
So, summer’s over and maybe you’re taking a big sigh of relief. But what goes on now? What are you all doing at Sports Crusaders in essentially your offseason?
We, especially our full-time staff, focus the fall and wintertime on raising our support for the next year for us to be able to continue working with Sports Crusaders. Also, recruiting all the churches and the students for next summer has already begun. Visiting colleges and the like, visiting with churches, doing missions fairs and annual meetings for associations just to raise awareness of what we do and to recruit more people who can serve in the mission field either internationally or locally. We fill up the camp calendar and develop the theme. We write our own material, theme, t-shirt and everything that the kids are going to get next summer.
What led to become involved with Sports Crusaders and why have you stayed involved all these years?
It stems back to a conversation I had with the founder, Bobby Shows. I was working at the Missouri Baptist Convention from 1995-1998 and in that period of time I met Bobby. Then I started learning about Sports Crusaders when he asked me if I would like to go on a trip to share Christ through basketball in Belarus. And I basically said, “Bel-a-where?” The rest is history. I went on that Belarus trip and that’s where God called me to ministry and to sports evangelism. When I got to share my testimony and I saw children accept Christ because we got to play basketball, I was just floored that God allowed me to be a part of that opportunity.
From then on, I knew that I wanted to be a part of the ministry in some way, shape or form. So, in 2000 when Bobby [made it a stand-alone ministry], he needed somebody to do his bookkeeping for him. He talked to Jim Reed, who was my boss at the time [I worked at the MBC in accounts payable], and said, ‘Hey, do you know of anyone that would keep me out of prison and do my bookkeeping?” Jim recommended me and so Bobby called me.
I began doing his bookkeeping on the nights and weekends outside of my other job — I had moved on from the MBC at the time. Then we were given an office [by a local church] and so then I set up the office. We built Sports Crusaders together after taking it out from under the Convention and worked in a close partnership for many years. He mentored me the whole way. I just know that God’s called me to this, and he hasn’t called me to anything else.
It’s hard to believe I’ve been here this long. It just seems like yesterday. But Bobby always said, “When you do what you love, you never work a day in your life.”
You recently traveled to Ukraine, and Sports Crusaders has worked in several countries over the past two decades. Could you talk about what’s involved in the international partnerships and work that you all do?
We have been very involved in the Yucatán [Peninsula] in a place called Mérida, Mexico. For the last 12 years, we’ve worked with church plants in and around Mérida and have been able to do event basketball games. We take a playing team, and what they do is clinics there for the children of the little village. It’s awesome to be able to interact with the children, and it shows the parents that the church plant cares about the family.
And then in the afternoon or evening, they schedule a game against their city team, which is usually made up of men or women ages anywhere from 12 to 50. They are an organized team and we go in and play them, and it just brings the crowd. I’ve seen basketball games with as many as 1,200 people. At halftime, two of us will share our testimonies and then the pastor from the church plant will get up and give an evangelical message that shares the gospel and gives a clear plan of salvation. Then we’ll have an altar call. And then we go back and play the second half of the basketball game.
It’s really an awesome opportunity and platform to be able to share Christ with those from the community who have maybe never seen that or heard it. They’re not going to go to a church building, but they’ll go to a basketball game.
We are placing our first full-time missionaries there, hopefully this fall. Tyler and Mandy Asbury are taking their family to Mérida to start full-time work there to bridge the gap there of us only coming in the summer. They have agreed to go for three years — and possibly more if God calls them. That’s very exciting for us!
In Ukraine, I went there last year. We did a soccer camp in two different villages in Poltava and we helped a church planter there. We had soccer clinics and provided a gospel soccer ball for every kid who attended and got to share the gospel every day. We took the message “The Armor of God,” knowing that they’re in war and they’re very close to war. By the time we got home, there were church planters who were asking us to come do the same thing for them.
I took this trip the summer with Future Leadership Foundation. They invited us along so they could give me an opportunity to speak with other Baptist leaders across eastern Europe.
The day I came back from Ukraine, we sent another soccer team and they did a three-day clinic in Poltava and then they came back to Kiev and did a three-day clinic there as well. But the plan for next year is to double that, so we will be sending two teams who will be doing four villages. And we have a gentleman on the ground there who feels called to do Sports Crusaders year-round and do soccer. He’s a former professional soccer player there in Ukraine. So, we’re working to have full-time leadership in two countries now. It’s just awesome how God works.
I'm going to throw you a softball question: What’s your favorite sport?
Basketball is mine.
No hesitation there.
[laughs] No, not at all!
Note: Shortly after this interview took place, Founder Bobby Shows died on September 3. You can read his obituary on the Jefferson City News Tribune website. Learn more about Sports Crusaders at sportscrusaders.org.