TAMPA, Fla. (BP)–With high-profile athletes like the Arizona Cardinals’ Kurt Warner and University of Florida’s Tim Tebow elevating the Gospel among sports fans, believers have come to see the “big game” as an opportune time to spread the Good News.
In Tampa for Super Bowl week, Bill Adams, founder of Atlanta-based Sports Fan Outreach, said his evangelistic organization saw the most-ever number of volunteers converge on a city before and during the Super Bowl.
Their mission: to spread the Word of God through tract and literature distribution, striking up conversations and using amplifiers to preach on street corners and sidewalks. “What it gets down to is sowing and watering,” Adams said.
In his seventh year of Super Bowl outreach, Adams, whose organization also is involved in the Final Four and other sporting events, said Christian athletes who are outspoken for their faith have paved the way for others.
“To me, that’s a witness to the validity of what we are doing,” Adams said. “When you see the big picture, it’s not such an odd thing [that we are here]. We are the missing link. We are going out to reach the sports fan.”
About 120 volunteers — from as far away from Arizona and Michigan — arrived at the Tampa Bay Baptist Conference Center on the north side of town Thursday, Jan. 29. From a variety of denominational backgrounds, the group included a team of Messianic Jews from Johnson Ferry Baptist Church in Marietta, Ga.
Up at 7 a.m., those who paid various rates to join the organized effort and bunk at the conference center sat for three hours of training and encouragement, armed themselves with an assortment of literature and then hit the streets for about nine hours.
At the popular Channelside Bay District in Tampa, not far from the Super Bowl media center, Southern Baptist evangelist Donnie Legg stood on the corner in front of Hooters and asked one young man if he’d ever broken any of the Ten Commandments.
“Have you ever told a lie? Have you ever stolen anything? Have you ever lusted? Have you ever taken the Lord’s name in vain?” asked Legg, who is also a major league baseball chaplain for the Washington Nationals in spring training and the Milwaukie Brewers farm organization.
A young man named Ricaurd, with his head bowed and a backpack on his shoulders, said softly that he had.
“Then by your admission, you’re a lying, thieving, blasphemous adulterer at heart,” Legg, 52, told Ricaurd.
The young man initially had said he was a Christian, Legg said, but after further inquiry said he didn’t know for sure what would happen when he died.
After further discussion, Ricaurd agreed to pray a prayer of salvation and told Legg he would “truly get alone with God and do it,” before bowing his head to let Legg pray for him.
“There’s no guarantee he will make it to the next block,” Legg said, “but I prayed with him and he promised. You can see that God really got a hold of him and God really revealed his sin to him.”
Comparing oneself to others is not the correct standard, said Legg, a longtime member of First Baptist Church in Melbourne, Fla., asserted. Too often, even people passing by on the street, if not seeing themselves “in the light of a holy and just God,” don’t understand the meaning of judgment, repentance and salvation.
Across the street, where streetcars were noisily clanging by and a cold wind chilled the air between the tall, downtown buildings, the drone of a helicopter nearly drowned out the comment of one passerby who told Brian Mickie from Michigan, “My soul is right,” as he kept on walking.
Mickie, laid off from the Chrysler plant where he works, shrugged his shoulders and kept on witnessing to passersby. He said his church pastor asked him to travel to Florida to use his gift of evangelism.
“I chose to come,” Mickie said. “I want to make a difference.”
Married with three children, Mickie asked one man if he was sure he was going to heaven and the man gave him a weak, “yeah.”
Mickie was all over that. “I know where I’m going. You have to know for sure. Say, ‘yes,’ with boldness,” he challenged the man. “You got to know it in your heart.”
As the sun set and people began to line up for a Snoop Dogg concert, Legg said the team decided that amplified preaching in a fixed location would reach as many as 10,000 people as they filed by.
Reactions ranged from incredulous to appreciative, Legg said, with some hecklers venting against him and others on the nine-member team as they preached the basic message of salvation.
Several times, people would file by and quietly encourage the team, but rarely did Legg get an open response when he asked people to affirm their faith by yelling, “Jesus!”
The team practiced both styles of evangelism the next two days at a corner outside Raymond James Stadium where ticket-holders had to pause.
Once inside the Super Bowl venue, people weren’t quite free from the Gospel message. On the stadium field, where players from both teams flung each other to the ground and made spectacular plays during the first half, a few evangelistic groups mingled with other halftime performers.
Four youth and two adults from Conway First Baptist Church in Orlando, Fla., were in one of the groups that traveled to Tampa to be in the halftime show.
Spending two long days as well as Super Bowl Sunday in the stadium rehearsing gave the team a unique opportunity to “develop relationships with halftime show volunteers, do acts of random kindness and also witness to several,” said Scott Fleming, the church’s minister of youth.
Joni B. Hannigan is managing editor of Florida Baptist Witness (www.floridabaptistwitness.com) who was part of Baptist Press’ coverage of the Super Bowl in Tampa, Fla.