News Articles

Missionary uses basketball, tennis to reach Brazilian youth & adults

SAO PAULO, Brazil (BP)–Spend five minutes with David Hammond and you’ll probably hear him use the word “vision” repeatedly. Hammond’s current vision involves reaching thousands of youth and adults with the gospel of Christ through sports ministry.
Based in the sprawling metropolis of Sao Paulo, one of the largest cities in the world, Hammond and his wife, Aimee, have been serving as Southern Baptist international missionaries to Brazil since 1984.
In a city with an estimated 250 basketball clubs, 250 tennis clubs and more than 1,000 soccer clubs, “I’m trying to give a vision to the Baptists here to get involved in sports clubs and become missionaries through friendship evangelism,” Hammond explained.
Accepting God’s call to ministry at age 18, Hammond discovered he could combine his interest in sports and ministry. “In college, I majored in physical education because I loved sports. My calling wasn’t to be a pastor but to minister.” Adding theological training to his sports background with a master of divinity degree from Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Texas, Hammond took his first mission trip to Brazil in 1979.
Serving with a sports team from Texas, “we had a great opportunity for witnessing,” he recounted. “It opened up many doors.” Describing that trip as “a valuable time,” he added, “That was when God called me into missions.”
The vision of a widespread sports ministry in Sao Paulo took years to unfold, however. Hammond’s first assignment in Brazil was to do urban evangelism, an opportunity which led to him becoming director of evangelism for the state of Piaui. He and his family later moved to Sao Paulo where he continued his involvement in evangelism.
During his first several years on the field, “we would periodically have one or two sports teams come down from the States,” he said. “But it was so new in Brazil, we weren’t making much headway in using it as an evangelistic tool.”
Noting that the hundreds of thousands of youth and adults involved in sports throughout Sao Paulo were “a mission field we weren’t reaching,” Hammond said, “That was my vision — seeing good people who were lost and Baptists weren’t doing anything about it.”
Sharing his burden for an active evangelistic sports ministry, Hammond said Brazilian Baptist leaders urged him to “go for it” and his fellow missionaries adopted his plans as a top ministry priority.
The Hammonds targeted Cidade Tiradentes, a huge housing complex with two sports centers and one small Baptist congregation. Explaining that Tiradentes was built in the early 1980s to relocate people from inner-city slums, he noted, “The people who live there feel like they have been marginalized or neglected by the government.”
With high unemployment, drug use and crimes rampant in the area, Hammond sought to use such tools as basketball and soccer to make an impact.
Working in one of the sports centers as well as hosting sports evangelism teams from the States, Hammond said, “Several kids have made professions of faith. One of the boys who accepted Christ is now the assistant to the coach out here.”
Adilson Sales de Arauja, a former professional basketball player in Sao Paulo, is the coach of the team Hammond has been assisting the past few years.
“David has been a big help to us, providing transportation and uniforms for the kids,” Adilson noted. “He’s been a big influence on the behavior of the young boys who come here, sharing with them the Word of God and telling them about Jesus.
“Many of the kids we work with already have been lost to the community of drugs and crime,” the coach pointed out. “We’ve found that basketball really draws the boys. David comes in during this time and is able to share the gospel with them.”
Affirming Hammond “also takes the kids to other churches and arranges games with other churches,” Adilson said, “This is a time for these kids to relate to our church kids. It is a time of witnessing to the young people here.”
In addition to the sports ministry at Tiradentes, Hammond and his 14-year-old son, Philip, are active in a sports club near their home where they play tennis and witness to parents and coaches.
Explaining one of their goals is to reach the tennis instructors with the gospel, Hammond said, “If you reach these guys who have influence over hundreds of kids, I don’t have to win them all; the coaches can start influencing the kids. They will be the missionaries and then I can go to another club.”
Citing the plans for a proposed missions partnership with Arkansas Baptists, Hammond said sports ministry volunteers “would be able to be an example and help Brazilian leaders catch a vision of what can be done.”
“My angle is reaching the average person in the neighborhood,” he emphasized. “I’d like the church to see this as a ripe opportunity to reach this generation. The Lord drew me here to seek to reach young people. There is such a vast opportunity here and through sports we can do that.”

    About the Author

  • Trennis Henderson

    Trennis Henderson is the national correspondent for WMU (Woman’s Missionary Union). A Baptist journalist for more than 35 years, Henderson is a former editor of the Western Recorder of the Kentucky Baptist Convention and the Arkansas Baptist News state convention newsjournal.

    Read All by Trennis Henderson ›