NATCHEZ, Miss. (BP)–A man who was awarded $400,000 and enjoyed a few brief minutes of fame during halftime of the SEC Championship game Dec. 6 said he prayed for the opportunity to be a testimony of God’s faithfulness and will tithe to the Southern Baptist church where he is a member.
Chuck Bartlett, a deacon at First Baptist Church of Natchez, Miss., entered the “Throw for Dough” contest after reading about it on a Diet Dr Pepper can. He was selected as one of 10 finalists to meet in Atlanta for the chance to win $1 million during the Georgia and LSU game at the Georgia Dome. After winning a preliminary round Dec. 5, Bartlett advanced to the game-day stage where he threw footballs into a giant Dr Pepper can on the goal line.
With full pressure on, Bartlett made four of the five balls from the 5 yard line and then missed all five from the 10 yard line. But he completed the bonus 30-yard pass to add another zero to the $40,000 he had already accumulated for a total of $400,000.
After moments of jubilation and pointing heavenward while saying, “Thank you, Jesus!” Bartlett told CBS’ Jill Arrington “Jesus Christ gives me all the strength I need to do whatever I need.” When she asked what he would do with the money, he said first he would tithe to his church and then he would give to several Christian missionary charities.
Following several days of media attention, Bartlett told Baptist Press he basically feels “real humble” and credits God for the entire victory.
“After the eighth pass was thrown, I had missed three in a row, and I was so frustrated because I was letting my wife down,” Bartlett said.
He explained that his wife, Sherry, had urged him to enter the contest and then had spent weeks praying for God to make a testimony on the field. Once Bartlett won the preliminary round, he said she read the story of David and Goliath to him seven times in the hotel room that night. The two of them had even planned what he would say on the field even if he just won the consolation prize of $10,000.
But God was clear to him after that eighth pass.
“God spoke to me and said, ‘Don’t worry. It’s going to be OK. We are going to make the big pass for the testimony,'” Bartlett told BP. “And if you look back on the video, I didn’t even throw the same way the next two passes because it was like I wanted to get those two over with and get to the 30.
“Then as I put my hands to my face and looked up, I had all the confidence in the world that that last pass would go in,” he said. “All I had to do was let God use my physical ability — the little bit I do have — to fundamentally throw it up high enough for Him to put it in the hole, which He did.”
What makes his story more glorifying to God is that Bartlett is not a football player.
“God threw that long pass for me. I promise you I’m no athlete at all. I had practiced some but had never come close to making that 30-yard pass at home,” he said. “I had a target and everything and bought a few footballs at Wal-Mart. I’ve never played football. I played basketball a couple of years in college, but no football.”
Bartlett’s first wife, Carol, died of cancer four years ago. Bill Hurt, pastor of First Baptist Natchez, told Baptist Press the church ministered to Bartlett in an important way during the trying time.
“When Carol died, everyone assumed he would move somewhere else because he had no family ties in Natchez,” Hurt said. “The only reason he was here was because she had family ties here. People thought he’d go back to Florida. I asked him what kept him here, and he said, ‘My church family.'”
Now Bartlett is happily married to Sherry, is a substitute Sunday School teacher and serves on the budget and finance committee in addition to being a deacon. He is a Gideon, and he often does little things for people that they would never see, Hurt said, such as buying tickets for youth to attend Christian concerts.
Hurt said Bartlett had told the deacons last month that he would be participating in the contest, and he said if he won $1 million he would pay off the church debt. But Hurt told him not to worry about paying off the church debt as long as he tithed what he won.
The night of the contest, Hurt was at a Christmas party, but his daughter called him and let him listen over the phone as Bartlett made the passes. When he got home, he immediately watched a tape of it and said it was incredible.
Hurt said when Bartlett was ordained as a deacon, his quote to Bartlett was, “To whom much is given, much is required.”
“When he called me the other night, I asked if he remembered what I told him,” Hurt said. “He said, ‘Yes. To whom much is given, much is required.'”
Bartlett will receive $40,000 for eight years, Hurt said, and he will tithe the money to the church budget because that’s what he has always done.
“He will tithe, he will give to the Gideons, and he will look for other Christian ministries and mission opportunities to support,” Hurt said. “He won’t do anything different than he was already doing. He might do it on a little bit larger scale. This just helps him to do more in the areas that he was already doing.”
But Bartlett said even if there was no money involved, the contest would have still been worth it because of one story in particular.
“As my wife and I came down the elevator the next morning to go to breakfast, [we met] a family of four with two young children under 10 — a boy and a girl. They were Georgia fans, and Georgia of course was very dejected afterwards because they had been beaten pretty badly.
“The lady recognized me and said, ‘Are you the man that made the pass?’ And she said, ‘Well I just want to thank God for you, not because you made the pass but because you glorified God. We came 500 miles to this game to see an athletic contest and brought our children. We had never been to one of these big games before, and we never thought we would see the presence of God right on that field.'”
Bartlett said the children looked up to him like he was some big deal, and he just touched their heads and said, “God loves you so much.”
Dozens of Christians approached Bartlett and his wife before they left Atlanta to thank them and praise God, he said. He also has gotten calls from students in Tuscaloosa, Ala., who said they’ve started prayer groups because of his testimony.
He said he just wants people to see that God is faithful and expects His children to give 100 percent of their lives to Him.
“I told him I thought he was a great ambassador for the Kingdom. That’s the main thing,” Hurt said of Bartlett. “He probably in that short amount of time was a greater witness for the Kingdom of God with what he said than an hour-long crusade because it was concise and to the point.”
(BP) photos posted in the BP Photo Library at http://www.bpnews.net. Photo titles: JUBILATION and TELEVISED TESTIMONY.