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Former basketball star finds joy in soul-winning

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (BP)–The first thing people notice about Patrick Whyte is the obvious. He’s tall. And with a 6-foot-10-inch frame, wide wingspan and huge hands, most would envision Whyte blocking shots and grabbing rebounds rather than roaming the halls at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary.

But if you spend any amount of time with the former Union University basketball star, you’ll discover that his most exceptional gift is not winning games, but winning souls.

And people are beginning to notice. Having gained renown as a speaker and evangelist, Whyte, a master of divinity student from Lagos, Nigeria, was chosen as the keynote speaker for a Nov. 2-4 international student conference in Bowling Green, Ky., sponsored by the Kentucky Baptist Student Unions and the Women’s Missionary Union. The event drew more than 300 students from 15 Kentucky colleges and universities. Almost all of the students were non-Christians.

For Whyte, though, the opportunity to preach the Gospel at events like these is far from the future he, as a lanky law student in Lagos, would have predicted. In fact, for most of his youth, he remained unconverted.

Whyte grew up in a middle-class Catholic family in Nigeria’s capital. The young Whyte soon found him-self finding more trouble than faith. Even in Catholic school, despite the fact that the nuns gave him “the whooping of his life,” Whyte continued to stray.

But, when his sister became a born-again Christian, he began to ask himself life’s ultimate questions.

“I was trying to find meaning to life,” said Whyte, recalling his early high school years. “…The world, politics, economics. You start becoming more aware of these things — that you don’t really control things. Sometimes it instills fear in you. You think of the fact that there’s six billion people on earth, and you wonder, ‘Am I significant?'”

Nothing Whyte did could achieve the significance he desired.

“My life was in shambles at this point,” he said. “I was experimenting with everything you could experiment with.”

Whyte’s searching finally led him to attend an evangelistic crusade. And there, four rows from the top of Nigeria’s national stadium, God saved him.

“I confessed my sins – late at night with clear skies and stars,” Whyte recalled. “It was just awesome. All of a sudden, I just saw myself as this infinitesimally small being. Yet there was such a great understanding of the significance of who I was because there was Someone who appreciated me.”

Whyte — then a junior in high school — had meaning, but he didn’t have purpose. Soon, though, the boldness of a Christian friend inspired him to seek out that purpose.

“This guy would preach the Gospel to anybody who would give him about 10 seconds of their time,” Whyte said.

He decided to pray for that kind of purpose in his life. The Lord responded by giving Whyte a dream. In this vision, Whyte was preaching before a full amphitheater.

He thought the prospect of this type of bold proclamation was ridiculous.

He recalled an argument with God: “You know the people that do stuff like that are people who are confident, people who are good orators, … people who know Your Word and people who pray.”

Whyte knew he didn’t have that spiritual dedication, and he didn’t think he had the necessary gifts. Yet, God gave him peace that evangelism was his calling.

“But I knew that this [calling] was it,” Whyte said. “It was almost like God saying, ‘Well, you said you wanted to know. There’s nothing else I can tell you.'”

Whyte still had to give up something else — his own career goals. But finally, two years into law school in Nigeria, Whyte gave his whole life — vocation, former dreams, everything — to God.

“I believe that I would have been very miserable as a lawyer, knowing God had called me somewhere else,” Whyte said.

His opportunity to follow his new purpose unfolded in the form of a basketball scholarship to Union University. He received the scholarship even though he had played the sport for only a year and a half. But, looking back, Whyte sees God’s providential hand at work.

“There are about three or four million people living in Lagos,” Whyte said. “Out of those three to four million people, I was selected. … There are better basketball players. Why choose me? … But God, I believe, had a purpose for my life.”

Whyte came to Union and starred. At the end of his college career, he held Union’s records in rebounds and blocked shots.

He considered professional basketball a possibility, but he knew God was calling him to seminary and satisfaction rather than fame and fortune.

“Life fulfillment is not based on anything that I own,” Whyte said. “There are those that have and yet are miserable. There’s a man who has little, yet is very content.”

And Whyte is content in God’s providential care at Southern Seminary. To be training for the ministry while practicing ministry is his greatest joy – though he even still makes time for a pick-up basketball game or two.

“I am so excited to be here,” Whyte said. “It’s been a joy learning.”

After seminary, Whyte said he remains open to wherever God places him.

“Just as much as I was open to the calling, I want to be open to wherever He decides to lead me,” Whyte said.

Just as long as it isn’t Alaska, he said with a smile.

    About the Author

  • Bryan Cribb