Soccer ball may be key
to evangelizing China
By Allen Palmeri
February 21, 2006
BOLIVAR – Missouri Baptist Convention (MBC) Partnership Missions Specialist Norm Howell calls Gary Longenecker an ambassador for the cause of world evangelization, and Longenecker, retired senior pastor of First Baptist Church, Lebanon, continues to find ways to creatively deliver the Gospel.
Longenecker, a trustee at Southest Baptist University, bird dogged The Pathway Feb. 7 during a break in the meetings so he could pull out the multi-colored Energia soccer ball. Energia is the Spanish word for energy, or power. Longenecker then explained that the ball has kingdom power.
“If you drop a soccer ball anywhere in the world, you’ve got a game,” said Longenecker, who serves as coordinator of Macedonia Mission Ministries, Inc., a Nixa-based ministry that partners with the International Mission Board (IMB) and the North American Mission Board (NAMB) of the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC), along with the non-denominational mission organization Global Focus, to facilitate the kingdom work of Acts 1:8 and The Great Commission (Matt. 28:18-20.)
“In China, we cannot overtly evangelize, but we can answer questions if people ask. Our goal is to get at least 200 sports evangelism teams from America and also national teams just to play soccer with these young people. It won’t be long until somebody says, ‘How come you’ve got all these colors?’ Now they’re asking the question, and we can respond by telling them the story.
“The gold represents God and Heaven. The dark represents us as sinners. If you notice on the ball, the black never touches the gold. There’s no way we can get to Heaven on our own. We need help. So the red represents the blood of Christ, and the white represents clean—we can be made clean as snow. Our next goal is to grow, and the green represents growth. And so you tell the story very simply by using the colors, but then we ask them if they’d like to respond and receive Christ.”
The owner of the idea for the Energia soccer ball is Mike Morris, a 58-year-old farmer from Moundville, which is “a suburb of Nevada,” he said. Morris, who has cattle and chickens on 40 acres in Vernon County, is a member of Calvary Baptist Church, Nevada. His wife, Betty, is the church secretary, and his pastor is Terry Mosher.
Mike Morris, who founded Children’s Evangelistic Ministries International (CEMI) in 2004, is excited about Southern Baptist missions.
“The possibilities are unlimited,” he said.
Longenecker found out about the ball last summer and immediately began setting in motion a chain of events that led to 200 of the balls being made in Pakistan for distribution in China. But the Pakistani balls cost $10 to produce, so Longenecker helped raise $50,000 for a Chinese ball maker to begin manufacturing them for $5 to distribute in country. He and Morris flew to China, where God convinced the IMB strategy coordinator there that the soccer ball was an answer to his prayer to shore up his team’s primary weakness, which is how to reach young people.
“When Ray saw the ball, he said, ‘I can’t believe this, we have really been praying!’” Longenecker said. “He called all of his other team members, showed them the ball, and they said, ‘Let’s go for it!’”
The strategy coordinator immediately took the ball to a regional meeting of more than 1,000 missionaries, where he proceeded to sell them on its merits. This has become his passion from the latter part of last year right on through the first two months of 2006, Longenecker explained.
“He’s at another meeting right now in Thailand, doing the same thing,” Longenecker said. “It’s just exploded.”
The first 10,000 Chinese balls were ordered on Jan. 20, which just so happened to be Longenecker’s 65 th birthday. Since China is hosting the Olympics in 2008, Morris would like to produce and distribute 100,000 balls in the same country where Southern Baptist pioneer missionary Lottie Moon once witnessed with zeal, passion and grace, Longenecker said.
Howell said he will do what he can out of his office to fan the flames of revival and spiritual awakening around the world through this method. He has personally distributed balls in Puerto Rico, Turkey and Romania, and he said the MBC definitely will endorse it as it picks up steam.
“It’s an easy tool to get in and out of a country without any suspicions whatsoever,” Howell said. “I think it’s a great ministry tool.”
Longenecker is dreaming about raising $2 million so that the soccer balls can be produced and deployed all over the planet.
“We want to be able to distribute them to missionaries,” he said.