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Baptist deacon’s crazy games point teens to faith in Jesus

CARBONDALE, Ill. (BP)–To understand what makes Brian Lukes tick, all you have to do is read the handwritten note from his teacher on his third-grade report card. “Brian would be better served,” she wrote to his parents, “if he concentrated more on his studies instead of organizing games for everyone else.”

If only his teacher could see the 46-year-old today. He’s still orchestrating games, undoubtedly wilder and crazier than any ideas he had ever conceived for his childhood comrades. These games are part of a regional youth event sponsored each year by First Baptist Church of Cobden, Ill., where Lukes is a deacon, and held in Southern Illinois University-Carbondale’s Student Recreation Center. Lukes is the assistant director of facilities and intramural-recreational sports at the center.

The event features 10 games all linked by a common spiritual theme; this time around it’s “God’s Miracle Games 2000,” and each game revolves around a miracle in the Bible. The imaginative activities spring from Lukes’ passion to see teenagers have a real relationship with Jesus Christ rather than going through the motions at church.

During the course of this year’s games, which began Friday evening, March 17, and went on til nearly 3 on Saturday morning, one team of youth hopped into paddleboats two at a time in the center’s indoor pool. Pedaling furiously underneath a spray of water, they crossed to the other side to retrieve a stuffed animal in the Noah’s Ark game. The more animals they brought back before time ran out, the more points they received.

Nearby at the indoor track, teens played a game that mirrored the men in the Bible who broke through a roof so their paralytic friend could get to Jesus. Four youth lowered a dummy on a stretcher to their teammates on the track below. They ran with the dummy around the track, shouting out exuberant praises that the makeshift mannequin had been healed, as part of a timed relay.

And over at a racquetball court, more youth frantically rewrote Christian lyrics to “Louie, Louie” — other groups opted for “Twist and Shout” — while choreographing a performance to be videotaped and shown later. Props and costumes — a drum set, toy guitars and a saxophone, plastic microphones and kazoos — littered the court.

All this spirited chaos takes about seven hours to run its course, the product of three to four months of intense planning. As the high-energy rally inches closer each year, Lukes admitted he sometimes wonders if he’s crazy to put so much energy into it. But “the Holy Spirit won’t let it go,” he said. About 90 adults — 65 from First Baptist, Cobden, and 25 from the visiting churches — staffed God’s Miracle Games 2000, with Lukes and Rich Moberly, First Baptist’s youth director, working together as coordinators.

The rally is in its 12th year, starting out as an open-rec all-nighter to give the church’s teens something to do. It soon evolved into an organized recreational event, which later incorporated a central spiritual theme.

Some of the past themes have taught teens about the real meaning of Christmas, the reality of the resurrection and that there is no such thing as luck, Lukes said. First Baptist, Cobden, commits $1,500 to the outreach, with donations and an admission charge picking up the rest of the costs. Students came from 10 other churches, including Methodists, Catholics, Pentecostals and Nazarenes.

After serving 65 pounds of sloppy Joes and 250 baked potatoes to hungry teens, this year’s event opened with worship and singing, led by a contemporary group called Seven Days, and an evangelical message from John Windings, pastor of a church in Olmstead who also is a deacon at First Baptist, Cobden.

Windings told the teens that miracles were not just events that happened a long time ago in the Bible, but still happen today when people turn their lives over to Jesus Christ. Five youth made decisions to become Christians at that time; two others who would make their commitments during the course of the games would join them. Many other Christian youth rededicated their lives to God.

To keep the games organized, workers divided the youth into 10 teams. Each team started at a different game, rotating to a new one every 20 minutes when an air horn trumpeted the signal. Often starting out with a brief devotion, each game had an assigned memory verse that youth had to recite during most of the games to earn points.

As part of a game that reflected the time when Peter caught an abundance of fish in his boat after obeying Jesus, the teens first watched a clip from the widely used “Jesus” video depicting the biblical account. Then they marched to two canoes in the pool, taking turns casting a net into the water to try and snag plastic-foam cylinders, red and blue plastic boards and two bobbing duck decoys — the latter being top point prizes. “We need more ducks!” a frantic team captain, Leslie Chapman of First Baptist, Cobden, screamed at her young teammates. “Go for the ducks!”

Another game, based on Jesus feeding 5,000 with a few loaves of bread and some fish, was a timed relay race. A team member ran to the end of a gym, recited the memory verse and raced back with a basket of sandwiches that team members had to eat before going back for another helping. It sounds simple enough, but the catch was in the ingredients. Sardines and peanut butter were wedged between some bread slices. Others contained Tabasco sauce and pickles. Each team ate five loaves of bread and a couple of fish sandwiches. And one adventurous soul, Danny Ingold of First Baptist, Cobden, earned bonus points for his team by volunteering to swallow a live goldfish.

In a take on a haunted house, youth crawled and worked their way through a maze of black plastic draped throughout a darkened room. Distorted, metallic music blaring through speakers enhanced the creepy atmosphere. Waiting for them in the center, in an eerie lair filled with chemical fog and green light, was a wild man possessed by a legion of demons, before Jesus had healed him by sending the demons into a herd of kamikaze swine. The sight of the man-matted hair, tattered shorts and self-inflicted wounds courtesy of stage makeup-frightened several youth.

At the end of the course, the teens could kiss a baby pig, rousted from his slumber for each group, for a whopping 500 points. They also earned points for reciting their memory verse while imitating Porky Pig.

The most meaningful game on the program for Lukes wasn’t even a game at all. The stop, called “No Greater Love,” was in the dance studio, where Lukes waited with a set of metal spikes. Asking the teens to hold the spikes for at least 30 seconds, he showed them another clip from the Jesus video, in which Jesus was whipped and beaten, carried his cross to Calvary and was nailed into place by Roman soldiers.

That was the price Jesus was willing to pay to atone for the sins of everyone, Lukes said. “Did you hear John ask you to become a Baptist? No,” he said, referring to the message earlier in the evening. “Did you hear John ask you to become a Catholic? No.” Christianity is more than belonging to a manmade denomination, he said, challenging them “to look inside of you” to see if they had surrendered their lives to Jesus Christ.

As everyone lowered their heads and closed their eyes, Lukes urged the teens to raise their hands if they wanted to become Christians. Slowly, one young man lifted his hand into the air. A counselor walked up to him and led him out of the room. Two more raised their hands when Lukes asked for Christian teens to lift their hands if they wanted to rededicate their lives to God.

After all the games were wrapped up, the teens and most of the adults — the others were busy cleaning up the aftermath — met for the final rally. Some youth rested their drowsy heads on the long tables as a large-screen TV played the music videos conceived in the racquetball court. After the top three teams received their prizes, the seven youth who had given their lives to Jesus Christ came forward, greeted by thunderous applause, in unison, from their peers.

For Lukes, that’s what these games are all about. And now that it’s all over, he can sit back and relax. Except his mind is already racing with ideas for next year’s games based on God’s promises.

Additional photos posted in the BP Photo Library. Photo titles: LUKES INTO IT and TEST TUBES.

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  • Michael Leathers