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Super Bowl, Phoenix Open boost Baptist witness

[SLIDESHOW=39558,39559]PHOENIX (BP) — While thousands of sports fans descend on the Phoenix area this week, Southern Baptists look to make the most of ministry opportunities as the city hosts the Super Bowl and Phoenix Open.

More than 200,000 are expected this week to watch Tiger Woods play in the Waste Management Phoenix Open, which began yesterday (Jan. 29) and will wrap up on Sunday. Then more than 60,000 people will pack University of Phoenix Stadium — along with thousands of other fans and media gathered throughout the area — for the Super Bowl. Thousands of football fans also were on hand at the stadium for the Pro Bowl on Jan. 25.

Enter volunteers Daryl and Julie Bennett, decked out in bright yellow shirts with the words “Trust Jesus” in red on the front. This week, the couple from Flagstaff and other Baptist volunteers traveled to Phoenix to hand out Gospel material to sports fans, including pocket-size magazines featuring testimonies of pro athletes.

“We have America coming here,” said Daryl Bennett, pastor of East Valley Baptist Church. The Bennetts have been handing out similar magazines at the Phoenix Open for the past several years.

“As believers we have a responsibility to take the best news in the entire world to lost people. We need to go where lost people go. We cannot do our evangelism inside four walls.”

The Bennetts helped with an evangelism effort called AzEndgame that included Arizona’s Valley Rim Baptist Association, Central Baptist Association, the Arizona Southern Baptist Convention, the North American Mission Board and the Timothy Institute of Evangelism.

The initiative is described on its website azendgame.com as “a network and partnership between churches, ministry groups and associations across Arizona with the purpose of sharing the [Good News] of Jesus Christ while enjoying the various sporting events in Arizona.”

Together, they plan to distribute about 200,000 copies of the 16-page mini-magazines in the coming weeks and months.

On one side of the cover is pro golfer Ian Davis and on the other side is Arizona Cardinal Sam Acho. Inside, readers will find testimonies and sports trivia. Each magazine includes how one can put their trust in Jesus Christ and a phone number for more information. Volunteers also will distribute to fans various folded cards — including ones with former Arizona Cardinals quarterback Kurt Warner on the front.

While some of the material may be quickly discarded, Bennett said he leaves the results up to the Holy Spirit.

“He does the convicting,” Bennett said. “We get God’s Word in their hands. They have this access 24/7 that the Holy Spirit can talk to them and when they have an event in their life He’ll remind them of this.”

Tim Knopps, who leads the Timothy Institute of Evangelism in Oklahoma City, has helped Baptists distribute these types of magazines for more than 10 Super Bowls. He said for some it comes down to that moment when someone puts God’s truth in their hands.

“All of a sudden it clicks,” Knopps said. “‘Oh this makes sense,’ and they do respond to the Gospel. Even immediately…. And therefore they get involved in a local church.”

Lou DiBona, evangelism team leader for the Valley Rim Southern Baptist Association, said this week’s events aren’t just about ministry efforts in the Phoenix area.

“This is not the Phoenix Super Bowl this is the Arizona Super Bowl,” he said. “This is about how we reach people in the state.”

Noting that more than 6 million people live in Arizona, DiBona said this week’s events could draw a total of about a million visitors to the Phoenix area. Most of them, he expects, will be from the state.

DiBona and the AzEndgame network also partnered with a local sex-trafficking ministry and Florida-based ministry called “Laundry of Love” earlier this month to hold an event — similar to a block party — where people in the community could get a free meal and have their laundry washed.

Dibona said Arizona is “a different crowd. It’s not the Bible Belt. You can’t just do one thing here. You have to use all the techniques to reach the people…. You have to use all of it because you have all kinds of people.”

There are more unchurched people in Arizona than people might realize, he said. “People get up on Sunday morning and don’t even think about church. Don’t even think about church.

“You can’t just come out here and plant a church like you do in the Bible Belt,” he said. “That doesn’t just happen here.” See related story about a church planting effort in the Phoenix downtown area.

While DiBona favors relationship evangelism over distributing pocket magazines, he said, “I can walk into the community and hand these to the kids and they’ll fly. … I’ll get rid of these in bundles.”

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  • Shawn Hendricks