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‘NFL Experience’ shows youth minister value of conversation

MIAMI (BP)–Jeanty Danmervil got a real NFL experience when Super Bowl XLI came to Miami.

Danmervil worked at one of the National Football League’s most popular Super Bowl week activities: the “NFL Experience.” In a theme park-like setting, the NFL Experience allows children to grandparents to try their hand at passing, running, blocking and other football skills. The event also features various displays, a card show and a chance to meet NFL players.

Danmervil, youth minister at Miami’s Immanuel Baptist Church, got involved when a pastor gave him a copy of an e-mail from Tim Knopps, who was helping place managers with the NFL Experience. Knopps, who has been involved with Super Bowl initiatives for 10 years, works closely with the local organizing committees and helps churches interface with the yearly event.

“I sent in my resume, but didn’t hear anything for a couple of weeks. Then I was called to an interview and was hired” for the Kid’s Zone as one of four team leaders, each responsible for coordinating upwards of 30 volunteer workers a day.

Danmervil said he was unsure at first about how he would fit into the position, which placed him in an environment he doesn’t frequent: The NFL Experience has alcohol sales on the grounds and secular music is at a loud, fast-paced level to keep the visitors active.

“What I learned was that I could approach people and it wasn’t as noticeable,” said Danmervil, who will begin classes at New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary’s extension program in Miami this fall. “When people come to an event, they’re looking to have fun with other people. It becomes much more simple to talk with people. There’s so much going on around you that you aren’t as noticeable when you begin talking with them,” he said.

Knopps said this isn’t an unusual experience for Christians who get involved in event ministry. “Jeanty and I talked after a couple days of work and he was discovering the openness to sharing through just being available to visitors and co-workers,” Knopps said.

As doors opened through the friendship style of evangelism, Danmervil learned that some of his co-workers had stereotypes about Christians, especially fire-and-brimstone preaching. “They saw that Christianity wasn’t that, it could be fun.”

A tract featuring former Miami Dolphin and Pro Football Hall of Famer Dwight Stephenson also proved effective for Danmervil in opening doors and breaking the ice in conversations.

Knopps said he hopes the volunteers who worked at the NFL Experience will take their “experience” and realize the opportunities for friendship evangelism in everyday life.

Getting involved with the Super Bowl or other event ministries helps Christians move into the mainstream of the world and can change perceptions of what it means to be a Christian, Danmervil said, noting that without a doubt he’d do it again for what he learned about talking to people.

“In there, you’re the oddball. But I learned it’s not always bad to be the different one,” Danmervil said.

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  • Bob Carey