OMAHA, Neb. (BP)–Wearing brightly colored T-shirts with “For Me to Live is Christ” on one side and “Christ First and Then There is Baseball” across the back, Brady Miller and Chad Robertson stood in the shadows of Rosenblatt Stadium in Omaha, Neb., during the College World Series handing out Christian sports magazines and free bottled water.
The two teens from Baton Rouge, La., approached a man heading to the baseball game and asked if he wanted one of the free gifts. “I did not come here to get Jesus,” the man muttered. “I came here for baseball and beer, that’s all.”
He may not have wanted to hear about Jesus, but that June day he was forced to think about Jesus, said Kipp Smith, youth minister of Zoar Baptist Church in Baton Rouge.
Smith and his group of 30 students and 12 adults were part of a much larger group known as 9th Inning Ministry, an evangelical ministry for community involvement in Omaha during the College World Series.
Founded by Jay Dess, ministries administration pastor at Westside Church in Omaha, 9th Inning Ministries made a homerun in its rookie season. “It was a wonderfully exciting year for this ministry as nearly 200 volunteers actively took part in doing great evangelism for spreading the word of Jesus across the city of Omaha,” Dess said.
As thousands of baseball fans descended upon Omaha, Christian volunteers from numerous denominations scattered across the city conducting baseball clinics, block parties, banquets with collegiate players and coaches, street evangelism, as well as passing out the free water and magazines.
When the week was over, 215 people had accepted Jesus as their Lord and Savior and 19 others had made decisions to rededicate their saved lives to God’s service.
The volunteers handed out over 23,000 bottles of water, 15,000 copies of Sports Spectrum magazines, 12,000 life-changing tracts, 1,200 Bibles with yearly reading guides, 200 autographed baseballs by Christian players, 500 Mickey Mantle’s “Final Inning” CD ROMS and 10,000 brochures on 9th Inning Ministry.
In bright red and white and blue, the ice-cold bottles of water had a simple label, with a simple message on it. On one side were four steps to salvation: admit, repent, believe and receive with the Scripture passage from Revelation 3:20 listed. On the other side was John 4:13-14 and the words of Jesus and the living water he can give for eternal life.
“I saw a lot of people surprised and skeptical about what we did, but I know people read what was on the bottles, we have to trust God with the results,” Dess said, noting that the outreach aimed to “do something eternally for this city and expose Jesus and the gospel message at this event.”
As a result of giving the water away, three people accepted Christ on the street and numerous fans were spotted watching the games with a 9th Inning Ministry water bottle in their hand.
For Ashley Gautreaux, 18, a recent high school graduate and member of the Zoar youth group, handing out bottled water on the streets near the stadium allowed her the opportunity to get out of her comfort zone.
“This lets us see it is not that hard to share the gospel and proves there are a lot of ways to share the gospel and it is not always just door to door evangelism,” Gautreaux said.
Ministry opportunities abounded, in fact, in the weeklong emphases as kids from all over the city heard testimonies from collegiate coaches and players, former professional players and others during the evangelistic effort.
Organizing the baseball clinics was Ron Gustafson, who, when he agreed to coordinate the events, said he wanted to put his feet in the shoes of a non-believer in order to make the best impact to present the gospel.
“I wanted to give people something to take to the dining room table and discuss — the whole issue was we did not want to just put on another event,” Gustafson said.
Following the three baseball clinics, there was plenty of discussion at quite a few dinner tables as more than 1,150 people participated in the clinics, most of them children and youth. Dess and Gustafson agreed that instruction by five Christian ex-major league ballplayers was great both for baseball and a life with Jesus. Participants were sent letters of encouragement and their names were added to the mailing list for summer activities for the sponsoring evangelical churches.
The ministry ran one gospel message spot on each live televised ESPN and ESPN2 game. Also, 100 spots on three networks ran during the week.
“Our passion is for people to come to know Jesus as Lord and Savior of their lives, and for us that know him to simply serve others in love,” Dess said. “It has been a great rookie year because God allowed us to use the tool of baseball to share the message of Christ.”
In time, Dess and other volunteers hope to see the ministry grow and repeat the effort at other national collegiate events including the Final Four and bowl games.
Support for 9th Inning Ministry came from nearly 20 Christian churches and ministries, including the Southern Baptist North American Mission Board, Kansas-Nebraska Convention of Southern Baptists, the local Baptist association, as well as a dozen businesses.
For more information on 9th Inning Ministry, visit the Internet site at www.9th-inningministry.org or call (402) 965-8362.