By Allen Palmeri
CHESTERFIELD— When Albert Pujols was growing up in the Dominican Republic, he did not celebrate Christmas the way we do.
“Our Christmas back then was the Three Kings,” he said during a special event at The Crossing, a non-denominational church, on Veterans Day (Nov. 11) that was crafted to promote charitable giving in the days leading up to Dec. 25. “I can close my eyes and go back as a little boy, going to bed early and waking up early in the morning and looking underneath my bed to see what the Three Kings have left me. That was our Christmas.
“But you know what? It’s OK to give gifts, and to bless your kids, and shower everybody with gifts, but at the same time letting them know where that comes from and what is really the story behind that, and that is our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. To know that He died on the cross for our sins so we can have eternal life—I think that’s what Christmas is all about.”
Pujols, the 29-year-old All-Star first baseman for the St. Louis Cardinals, is using his website at www.pujolsfamilyfoundation.org to promote the Advent Conspiracy (AC), or www.adventconspiracy.org, a movement that endeavors to change the way Americans do Christmas.
“We want to spread that,” he said. “We want to get that opportunity and get the word out there and let people know about that. Only God knows where all this AC is going to take us—the same thing for our foundation.”
AC aims to redirect money that is otherwise being spent in America toward Living Water International, a ministry that drills wells in impoverished countries to provide clean, fresh water and eventually the living water of Christ to people (John 4:10-11). Pujols through his foundation is doing something similar in a Gospel context by providing water filters to thirsty people in his native land, the Dominican Republic.
Christianity to Pujols is about “making sure that we touch the lives of others.” He learned that from the former Christian backbone of the Cardinals, retired catcher Mike Matheny, back in 2005 when the mantle of spiritual leadership in the clubhouse was passed to him at a young age. In an odd bit of phrasing that emphasizes the mysterious power of Matthew 5:3-12, Matheny taught Pujols to literally be a Spirit-filled transformer.
“Every time we take a mission trip, we make sure there’s a set time (where) we share the Gospel with these people and change lives for Christ, because that’s our job,” Pujols said. “I always say to people, ‘Yes, God gave me a platform as a baseball player, but it’s not really my job. My job is to change lives for Christ.’”
Pujols, who recently celebrated his 11th spiritual birthday, is maturing as a Christian leader. He keeps on absorbing the raw “celebrity” energy that is heaped on him from the culture, the national media (his nickname is “The Machine”), and the general public and beaming it back as light. Worship for him may be a simple, understated point of the index finger after a double or a home run. His manner of changing lives in the prime of his baseball career, when millions have their eyes on him, is a gift that keeps on giving.
“It’s not about me anymore,” Pujols said. “It’s about Him—to do things for Him, and to care about others.”
For the sake of multiplying the ministry even more, Todd Perry, who serves as CEO of the Pujols Family Foundation, would like to see Albert and his wife, Deidre, be a little more visible with their good deeds. His conversations with the boss go something like this.
“Hey Albert, do you want a camera crew there?”
“Do you want any cameras there?”
“Do you want any media there?”
When it comes to telling the complete story of Albert Pujols, Perry admits he might not be doing a very good job.
“It is done quietly,” he said. “And that’s something that he and Deidre would never say, but it is (true). And it’s the heart of Advent Conspiracy. It’s the heart of what we do every day through the Pujols Family Foundation.
“When I see firsthand how much they give, and not just writing checks—I mean, that’s important—but how they give of their time. That’s the thing that blows me away. And that’s honestly when I am the proudest to work for them. It’s not when he’s at the plate with two outs, bases loaded, down by one run. That is not when I’m the proudest to work here. It’s when I see their heart for service.”