Soccer ball kicks up evangelism stir
JEFFERSON CITY – A soccer ball project that was launched last year on his birthday has gone to the next level of expansion with Gary Longenecker, retired senior pastor of First Baptist Church of Lebanon, serving as coordinator / director of Kingdom Sports Products (KSP).
Longenecker, who turned 66 on Jan. 20, said the multi-colored soccer ball that is being used by evangelists and missionaries in evangelism has penetrated about 60 countries. The ball is seen as a means of achieving Matthew 28:18-20 obedience in the church.
“We can share the kingdom using the soccer ball as a tool,” Longenecker said. “Soccer is the most popular sport all over the world. You couldn’t have a better tool.”
KSP replaces the word “Energia” on the ball, shifting to a more generic form of communication as opposed to one word in the Spanish tongue that communicates energy, or power. Longenecker explained that while the “Kingdom” and “Sports” parts of the name are obvious, the “Products” name communicates that there is a business aspect to the venture as well. Mike Morris, a Missouri Baptist farmer from Moundville and Calvary Baptist Church in Nevada, owns the idea for the ball and thus remains involved; the balls are made in China with no child labor.
“It is a way for us to manufacture money that helps us support the program,” Longenecker said.
“Our goal is to involve churches and mission organizations in sending teams to China, and to do sports evangelism using the soccer ball. (In China) you can’t overtly evangelize, but you can answer questions. And so we send teams in that are trained to share the story using the soccer ball. They play soccer with the Chinese people, primarily on the college campuses.”
The emphasis on China is designed to help create a saturation effect leading up to the 2008 Olympics in Beijing. So far about 17,000 balls have gone out in China, and the ultimate distribution goal is 100,000. So far more than 34,000 KSP balls have been produced, with nearly 28,000 going all over the world in the first year.
“The ball of many colors is a wonderful tool to share the Gospel in a non-threatening way,” said Longenecker’s pastor, John Marshall of Second Baptist Church, Springfield.
The ties that the KSP ball has to so many organizations make it noteworthy in the sense that scores of leaders are lining up behind it. Its tie through Global Focus, a non-denominational mission organization flowing from First Baptist Church, Woodstock, Ga., gives Longenecker increased credibility as he approaches other groups.
“When I saw the ball of many colors for the first time, I thought, ‘What a great tool to reach the world for Christ nationally and internationally,’” said Johnny Hunt, pastor of First Woodstock. Last spring Global Focus President Larry Reesor signed an agreement with KSP to help promote the ball all over the world.
“They are involved in literally hundreds of churches (but) they have never had a tool that they’ve promoted in evangelism,” Longenecker said, “because they want the local church to be involved in reaching people the way they want to do it—not trying to tell them. But he (Reesor) was so impressed with the soccer ball that he said, ‘Can we sign the official partnership and can we promote this as a tool?’ So now Global Focus is promoting the soccer ball as the only evangelistic tool for churches to use in reaching their community locally and globally.”
Many of the board members overseeing the promotion and distribution of the ball through Longenecker are from Springfield and Lebanon. Longenecker confessed that while he grew up enjoying typical American sports, soccer has not exactly been his cup of tea.
“I have not really learned how to play soccer,” he said. “All I ever do is just kick the ball.”
Gold on the ball represents the pure holiness of God. Dark represents the sin in our hearts. It never touches the gold on the ball, because in real life the purity of God cannot be in the presence of sin.
“If you notice on the ball, the dark patch touches the red, and the red touches the gold,” Longenecker said. “The red is a symbol of the blood of Christ.”
The beauty of the red is contained within Isaiah 1:18, which carries the thought that if your sins are red like crimson that they ought to be as wool. Jesus, the Good Shepherd, is both willing and able to do this.
KSP can be reached by telephone at (417) 718-4457 or by means of the Internet at KingdomSportsProducts.com.