September 15, 2002
LEBANON— Six Missouri missionaries arrived in Venezuela recently with some basketballs and baseball equipment. When they departed a week later, more than 200 souls had been added to God’s kingdom.
Team leader Paul Dudley, an assistant baseball coach and teacher at Lebanon High School, said they used a simple strategy to reach urban neighborhoods: each morning they arrived at a playground and started shooting baskets.
"A few simple drills, a pickup game of basketball for the older youth, plenty of Gatorade to drink and it seemed like the whole neighborhood would show up," he said.
The volunteers from Hillcrest Baptist Church in Lebanon, couldn’t speak Spanish, but they used the universal language of sports to reach children and adults in Valencia, Venezuela, Aug. 2-9.
"Sports were a tool to create a relationship— a bond of joy—that the Lord could use as an avenue to have the Gospel presented," Dudley said. After playing games for awhile, the team handed out power bands bracelets with six colored beads representing the plan of salvation. Members of Hillcrest Baptist had prepared more than 200 bracelets for the mission trip. International Mission Board missionaries Roy and Judy Hawkins and two journeymen missionaries would explain the bracelets and lead a prayer for those who wanted to invite Jesus into their lives.
"It was exciting to see how hungry the kids were," said Joe Jones, minister of youth and music and Hillcrest Baptist. "They sat and listened so attentively to the missionaries."
And each day, more and more prayed to receive Christ.
In the first two days of their trip, 51 people in one barrio were saved. The need for the life-changing power of the gospel was evident, said Jonathan McGuire, a former student of Dudley’s who went on the trip. At one playground, the men noticed bullet holes in the backboard of the basketball goal and were told the area had experienced 20 killings because of drugs.
"At first I was kind of nervous, but we knew the Lord would take care of us," McGuire said.
The group had originally planned to leave Venezuela on Friday, Aug. 9, but their travel plans were changed and they stayed another day. Dudley admitted that on Thursday night he was tired and ready to go home to his family.
But the group visited the barrio Trece de Septiembre and found a baseball team practicing. Throughout the day, the coach of the team brought groups of players over to listen to the missionaries. Ultimately, 72 of them made decisions for Christ.
"The Lord knew He had appointments to keep in Trece de Septiembre and that the team needed to stay another day," Dudley said.
McGuire, who plays baseball and wrestles at Meramec Community College, said some of the ball players were his age and he enjoyed relating to them. He said he was most struck by how the team— which also included a farmer, sheet metal worker and high school student— was able to spread the Gospel.
"It was just a normal group of men who were ready and willing to be used and God used that," McGuire said.
A total of 205 decisions were recorded by the missionaries through the week.
"God blesses more than we can expect, far more than we anticipate," Jones said. The mission trip grew out of Eternal Pastime, a ministry the church started several years ago that collects new and used sports equipment from coaches, summer leagues and church members to give to missionaries. Dudley said he got the idea from one of his former teachers, now a full-time missionary in Brazil, who used sports as an outreach tool. One day while cleaning at the high school, Dudley asked if he could have some old equipment.
"Since it was already dumpster-bound, the head coach gave it to me," Dudley said. "That grew into a ministry for our church. We have been able to send sports equipment to missionaries in several countries and five continents."
In fact, it was after sending a package of baseball supplies to Venezuela that Dudley made contact with Roy and Judy Hawkins. They’ve learned that since they left, several of the men they ministered to are attending cell churches.
"There’s already talk of going back next year because it was such a rewarding experience for the church," Jones said.
Anyone interested in donating sports supplies to Eternal Pastime or who knows a missionary that could use baseball equipment can contact Dudley at (417) 588_3755 or by e-mail at email@example.com