BEIRUT, Lebanon (BP)–In the sweltering heat of Beirut, Lebanon, Rob Kinnard knew how to draw a crowd. His fancy basketball moves and exclamations of “Oh, baby” as he finished each trick amazed the dozens of Lebanese children looking on. Soon he had them chanting “Oh, baby” too.
Kinnard was one of eight Sports Crusaders volunteers from Missouri who conducted basketball clinics while presenting the gospel and promoting Celebrate Jesus — Lebanon 2000, a Christ-centered, revival-type celebration held near Beirut July 3-6.
“The basketball opened the door to sharing Christ,” said Kinnard, a 39-year-old human resources representative for a trucking company in Excelsior Springs. “I believe the kids saw the love of God through our enthusiasm.”
Sports Crusaders is an evangelistic program supported by the Missouri Baptist Convention. It was the first time Sports Crusaders had traveled to the Middle East nation.
Charbel Daou, a Beirut resident who helped coordinate the clinics, said the team couldn’t have come at a better time.
“It used to not be this way a few years ago, but basketball is now the No. 1 sport here in Lebanon,” Daou said. “Sports Crusaders is doing a lot of good things here. This group is bringing together people who normally wouldn’t hear the gospel.”
Each morning, team members climbed into a small bus to travel to different areas of Beirut. One clinic took place near an old church that had been bombed during the 1980s by Israeli forces. Another was conducted in a schoolyard surrounded by run-down apartments with freshly washed clothes hanging off the balconies.
Children of all skill levels, wearing basketball jerseys and T-shirts with their favorite NBA players and logos, flocked to the courts. Many of the courts were cramped between buildings and busy streets. The smell of sweat and car exhaust hung in the air.
Players found little shade on the hot asphalt of the basketball courts. Many wore hats to protect themselves from the sun. Empty water bottles littered the ground. One of the clinics was cut short because of the rising afternoon temperature.
Each of the two daily clinics consisted of a stretching session, then passing and shooting drills, followed by a light scrimmage between the children.
Several competitive coed scrimmages also were organized during the week, giving the Lebanese an opportunity to compete against American basketball players.
“It’s an opportunity to show Christ on the court,” said Julie Clover, a junior at Southeast Missouri State University in Cape Girardeau. “We still want to win, but we’re not competitive to the point we have to.” During halftime, team members shared their testimonies.
While several Lebanese youngsters made professions of faith in Jesus Christ, the trip had a profound impact on the Americans as well.
“It’s nothing we can really understand,” team leader Tim Scifres, a schoolteacher in Sikeston, said. “Realizing we could share the gospel with those kids simply because we could play basketball was amazing to me. [In Lebanon], there is such a deep chasm between Catholics, Muslims and evangelical Christians. Believers there have to be so committed to what they believe.
“This experience has not only encouraged me to witness overseas, but also to witness to the guy next door,” Scifres said.
Kelly Spicer, a junior at Hannibal-LaGrange College in Hannibal, shared about the religious struggles many of the Lebanese children face daily. “There was a girl who was a believer, but she went to an all-Muslim school. She wasn’t allowed to even say Jesus’ name.”
Spicer said she admires the Lebanese believers for their strong Christian faith and convictions. “It made me wonder if people can tell I’m a Christian by looking at my life.”
(BP) photos available from the Missouri Baptist newsjournal Word & Way.