Missourians help lead 1,000-plus to Christ
By Brian Koonce
HUANCAYO, Peru – Gary Longenecker says it was the best week of his life. “I’ve never experienced the power of God like that.”
Longenecker, retired pastor of First Baptist Church, Lebanon, recently returned from a 10-day mission to Huancayo, Peru. It was there, 10,500 feet high in the Andes mountains that God used Longenecker and his Ball of Many Colors along with 13 other Americans and native churches to win 1,069 people to Christ.
The “Ball of Many Colors” is a soccer ball and evangelism tool produced and distributed by Kingdom Sports Products, of which Longenecker serves as coordinator and director. The colors on the ball represent different parts of the salvation story.
“The gold represents God and Heaven,” Longenecker said. “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 that we can be made clean as snow. The green represents growth.”
Take the ease of that Gospel presentation and the popularity of soccer around the world – especially in South America – and you have an evangelism tool that people are begging to use. That was the purpose of the trip. Not only are they won to the Kingdom, new converts are plugged into local churches and with the ball the team leaves behind, they have an instant witnessing tool.
“I was overwhelmed by how many people were saved, but also at how easy the Americans and nationals used the ball to share. There was always a line of people saying ‘Let me do it, I want to use it.’ There was a waiting line to witness.”
Longenecker has been the driving force behind getting the balls into the hands of missionaries and church planters in 75 countries around the world, but this was the first time he had ever been able to see it in use.
“It was incredible how easy it was and how responsive the people were,” he said.
Longenecker, along with fellow member of Second Baptist Church in Springfield, Don Jessen, and SportsReach, a ministry headed up by Jessen’s son, spoke in 11 schools in the city of about 600,000.
At one public school, the groups broke into their normal routines of teaching the fundamentals of volleyball, basketball and soccer. Longenecker noticed the school’s 18 teachers standing along the perimeter watching and saw an opportunity. Jessen shared his testimony with the group and Longenecker presented the plan of salvation using the soccer ball
“All 18 of them received Christ as their savior,” he said. “One man spent the whole time writing and I thought he was working on his lessons or grading papers.”
It turned out he was taking precise notes on how to share his new-found faith with others using the soccer ball. Another teacher approached Longenecker, thanking him “for bringing this good news.”
“He told me, ‘I really felt the presence of God in this room,’” Longenecker said. “What a wonderful testimony from a new believer. The scriptures tell us there is joy over one sinner that repents. I would imagine that that week in heaven they were singing the Hallelujah Chorus. It was easily the greatest week of my life. I’ve never seen so many decisions for Christ. One thousand sixty-nine people: men, women, children, adults, teachers and others. Clearly God was walking with us the whole week. There was a very clear presence of the Lord.”
Even those who didn’t not receive Christ, at least had the seeds of salvation planted in their hearts. The owner and principal of a chain of three schools did not receive Christ. However, he was gracious enough to lend his facilities, leading to hundreds of children coming to know Christ.
“It was so exciting to me to see how eager people were to both receive and share,” Longenecker said.