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Ministry at Ironman competition gains an open door in Idaho


HAYDEN, Idaho (BP)–Earlier this year, as plans for the Ironman triathlon were taking shape in Coeur d’Alene, Idaho, members of NorthStar Church found themselves in a familiar spot: out of the loop.

“Couer d’Alene hosts a number of internationally attended events,” said Scott Hanberry, a North American Mission Board missionary who pastors the 60-member congregation in northern Idaho.

In a triathlon, competitors swim 2.4 miles, bike 112 miles and run 26.2 miles. The church had offered in previous years to help serve the community and the thousands of triathlon competitors and visitors, but to no avail.

Nevertheless, the church was determined to give it another try. “The congregation began to pray,” Hanberry said, “and God began to work.”

Derek Spain, also a NAMB missionary and pastor of Lake Placid (N.Y.) Baptist Church, heard of Northstar’s initiatives and was interested in helping NorthStar minister to the Ironman community.

Spain was the 2005 Ironman volunteer of the year and had received a free trip to any of the other North American Ironman events. He contacted Hanberry, and the two pastors discussed opportunities and scheduled meetings with race officials and Chamber of Commerce personnel.


“God used Derek’s position within the Ironman organization to not just open the doors, but to tear down walls,” Hanberry said.

The first order of business was to reach out to other Southern Baptists, he said. “We knew that the plans that we were making were bigger than our church could staff or afford. However, we knew God was leading in this venture.”

Mission teams from Sarasota (Fla.) Baptist Church and Golden Acres Baptist Church in Phenix City, Ala., answered the call to help with an IronPrayer service and a free “carbo-loading” pancake breakfast.

“But God had bigger plans still,” Hanberry said.

Ironman officials asked if the Baptist volunteers could help with the June 24 event’s logistics. “Suddenly the church was thrust into the heart of the event,” Tom Magee, NorthStar’s worship pastor, said. “It was amazing how quickly our church became central to the entire race environment.”

The Baptist volunteers were given the tasks of helping with registration, setup, food service and teardown of the banquets for the race. They also helped direct athletes along the course and kept them supplied with water and fruit.

More than 200 people attended the IronPrayer service, including a number of athletes and their family members as well as local residents. With help from Utah-Idaho Southern Baptist Convention disaster relief volunteers, more than 1,100 people were served at the pancake breakfast.

Coeur d’Alene officials invited Hanberry to the event’s banquets and asked him to offer the invocation.

“God has used this week for building relationships with our community and to let them know that we are here and that we care,” said NorthStar member Ken Woodbridge, who reported that plans already are underway for next year’s Ironman week.

“Church planting is just as much about endurance as is a triathlon,” Hanberry said. “We want to finish well, and we want to see the Kingdom of God expanded.”
Dannah Prather is partnership editor of the (Kentucky) Western Recorder. This article is reprinted with permission from the Utah-Idaho Southern Baptist Witness.