Athlete uses his passion for baseball to reach children and families for Christ • Bible Recorder

Cade Keller had just lost the biggest game of his young baseball life. With tears streaming down his face, the 11-year-old shortstop shared his faith in Christ with the team that had just beaten his team in the Cal Ripken Baseball National Championship.

Nobody expected his Equip Ministries team to participate in the championship game. Losing was tough, but the team hadn’t come all the way from Boone, North Carolina, to Florida just to play a baseball game.

“He knew that was the most important thing,” said Eric Henderson, recreation ministry pastor at Mount Vernon Baptist Church in Boone and founder of Equip Ministries. “For an 11-year-old to realize that was amazing. I mean, we have kids doing what adults don’t. This is why God has blessed this ministry.

And bless him, God did. Stories like this have become commonplace since Henderson started Equip Ministries 15 years ago as a Mount Vernon ministry. Equip Ministries uses youth sports leagues, currently baseball and football, to teach athletic skills and train children and families.

Henderson began the ministry after a period of research into his own life. Although he grew up in the church and believed in Christ as a child, sports – and especially baseball – remained a priority even into adulthood. He played in traveling softball leagues all over the East Coast, which dominated his free time.

God had begun to get his attention – and his wife’s – through a series of particularly difficult pregnancies. He quit playing travel softball so he could focus on his young family. His business as a car designer was thriving, and the Hendersons were involved in the ministry of their church.

But, says Henderson, God kept calling him to something more.

“I didn’t know what ‘more’ meant,” Henderson said. “I think a lot of people are like that. They struggle with what it really means to sell [for Christ] and just take the leap. I had seen my younger sister get married and go on a mission. I saw her sell everything she had and take that leap of faith. I realized that I had never sold. I knew from an early age that God had a calling on my life, but I never knew what it was or how to express it.

But Henderson had very few examples of how he could serve God other than by becoming a pastor or a missionary.

Everything changed in the middle of one night when God gave Henderson the vision of Equip Ministries. A few years earlier, while visiting family in South Florida, Henderson had been introduced to Danny Berry Baseball, a major baseball school at a Jewish community center. Building on the idea of ​​baseball school, Henderson believed God was calling him to start a baseball ministry where he could share Christ and nurture baseball-using children and families.

Henderson still needed a place to host the ministry. So he prayed, asking God to provide a place and partners to help sustain and run the ministry. By the summer of 2006, God had worked out many details. His church, Mount Vernon Baptist Church, provided the location for a baseball diamond. A church member volunteered to help with the grading and earthwork needed to create the baseball field. Although there was no room in the budget that year for the new ministry, several partners lent their support to the new venture.

The church dedicated the new field at Easter. That summer, they were playing baseball and organizing a mechanical pitching league for 52 children.

The ministry grew from there. Over time, Equip became a Cal Ripken-sanctioned baseball league. Children from all over the community played whether they attended Mount Vernon Church or not. At first they had to limit the number of kids in the league because they were running out of space on the pitch. They now have four pitches at the church and recently had the opportunity to take on two local Optimist International pitches in town.

Most years, 250 children will play baseball through Equip. Another 200 children participate in the football program. Between coaches, assistants and other volunteers, 75 to 80 adults participate.

For Henderson, the most important part is that the ministry has stayed true to the gospel.

“It was always about the gospel,” Henderson said. “We will share the gospel and be open about our faith.”

This means that the teams pray and make devotions after each game.

“We gather around home plate and invite the other team to [for the prayer time]”, Henderson said. “These are just special moments. The testimonials of our coaches will amaze you.

Equip learned to incorporate baseball with evangelistic tools. For example, Gloves4God is a five-color baseball glove that connects each finger to a part of the gospel message. Developed by the ministry of First Baptist Church in Woodstock, Georgia, the gloves help baseball players simply communicate the gospel.

“It’s one of our main tools for sharing the gospel because it gets attention,” Henderson said. “I’ve had kids playing shortstop when an umpire notices the weird looking glove and asks the kid to tell him about it. So you have a child sharing the gospel with a referee. We had to delay games for that.

Most children involved in ministry are not from the church. Equip offers more than just an opportunity to hear the gospel. It also connects children with adult role models.

For example, Andrew Freemannow in his second year of college, played eight years in the Equip program.

“I learned a lot about the skills and the sport and how it’s played,” Freeman said. “I had good coaches. Everyone knew what they were talking about. But looking back, they taught me much more than sports. I think it was more impactful for me to see what a godly man looks like, not just to us as children, but to their wives and family.

Henderson urges lay people to think beyond preaching and singing in the choir and look for ways to use their skills — and their passions — in ministry.

Henderson is certainly happy to have found his form.

“God says there’s a hole only he can fill,” Henderson said. “Athletics gives me the opportunity to be around these tough guys who would never get into the church. They don’t care about the church, but they love the sport. These are just the facts. And that It’s what lights my fire It’s what gets me out of bed every day.
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Tobin Perry is a freelance writer with over 20 years of writing experience with Southern Baptist organizations. He can be reached at TobinPerry.com. Eric Henderson is Recreation Ministry pastor at Mount Vernon Baptist Church, Boone, NC He can be reached by email at [email protected]. For more information, visit facebook.com/equipsportsministry.)