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Strength Team lifts Super Bowl outreach

MIAMI (BP)–While New Orleans Saints fans revel in their Super Bowl victory over the Indianapolis Colts, the Miami Baptist Association is celebrating 355 decisions for Christ stemming from more than three dozen church and school appearances by the Strength Team in the stretch between the Pro Bowl and Super Bowl.

Taking a different approach to large sporting events in the sprawling Miami area this year, Michael Daily, director of the church and community ministries, said the association’s churches used the 21-member Strength Team’s multifaceted approach in their communities.

“Tremendous,” Daily said, describing the effect of the Strength Team in South Florida where they used physical prowess and stamina to crush bricks, bend steel, inflate water bottles and awe crowds of responsive young people.

“This is Miami-Dade and the churches are different here,” Daily said. In the Miami association which comprises 300-plus churches — two-thirds of which are Spanish-speaking and Creole-language congregations — Daily said churches a mile or five miles away can be distinctly different from each other. It stands to reason the communities they are reaching are just as diverse.

Smaller crowds attended the events at area churches, Daily said, but that did not deter members of the Strength Team or church leaders.

“The professions of faith were primarily first-time visitors,” Daily said. In fact, Arturo Salcedo, pastor of Midtown Community Church in inner-city Miami, said he asked members to stay away, except for a handful of volunteers, so there would be room for individuals from the community.

The raw display of force by the Strength Team members — all with some sort of athletic background, such as pro football — stirred attention to their testimonies of turning to Christ for salvation.

“It’s what we need,” Salcedo said. “Unfortunately, organized religion has a negative aspect here.” He said the church has been careful in holding special events — “without compromising anything” and making sure there “are boundaries.”

Mike Hagen, who was with the Power Team 20-plus years before starting the Strength Team, introduced the men and their strength skills at Midtown, with Salcedo translating Hagen’s words into Spanish for a Feb. 5 audience that included Hispanics, African Americans and Anglos.

Andre Jimenez, a Strength Team member known as “Gino the Latino,” a former wrestler who has won a number of power lifting titles, gave some of his presentation in Spanish, with Salcedo translating into English.

The team garnered plenty of audience enthusiasm — yelling, urging the men to flex their muscles and clapping for their feats.

Things got quiet when Strength Team member Warren Alford told how God brought peace into his heart when he was in Brazil with the team and learned that his father died suddenly at home in the United States. Alford urged audience members to accept the invitation to know the God who offers that same peace through Jesus Christ.

The previous week at Miami Shores Baptist Church, other Strength Team members performed and then two shared testimonies to a much quieter and younger crowd.

William Green, a first-round draft pick for the NFL Cleveland Browns in 2002, shared a moving testimony of landing in the inner city from the suburbs at the age of 12 when his mother died of AIDS after his father, a heroin addict, infected her with the disease before dying the previous year.

Green had a turbulent rookie year in the NFL, suffering both on and off the field, and was released by the Browns in 2006. He tried to make a comeback in 2008 but his skill level had declined.

In his soft-spoken testimony, Green talked about God’s redemption, the importance of reading God’s Word and repentance in order to experience salvation.

About 25 older children, youth and families responded to the steps of the altar, then followed the church’s pastor and other workers to a quiet area to talk further.

Daily said pastors and workers were on hand at all the church events to speak with those making decisions and gather cards with contact information.

Working with the various congregations, the Miami Baptist Association also provided an opportunity for the Strength Team to perform in 36 elementary and middle schools to coincide with the church outreach in those communities.

Daily said one Strength Team event was scheduled to take place at the same time school administrators had gathered from three mega-districts in South Florida: Palm Beach County, Miami-Dade County and Broward County. The team’s leader, Hagen, told Daily he was able to work out a contract which gave the team access to all three districts’ schools for its character-building program, which uses a secular approach but ties in with the events in local churches.

“It was a raging success,” Daily said of the unique approach during the Super Bowl buildup, with about 1,500 individuals attending at the churches and thousands more in the school presentations.
Joni B. Hannigan is managing editor of the Florida Baptist Witness (www.GoFBW.com), newsjournal of the Florida Baptist State Convention.

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  • Joni B. Hannigan