Saturday, July 4, 2015

Baseball Chapel's Excellent Service



This is the fourth season of my service to the Southern Illinois Miners, a Frontier League team of independent professional baseball, through Baseball Chapel. There are a number of things that Baseball Chapel does very well in their service of professional baseball at the Major League and Minor League levels. I would like to simply mention some of them and to offer them as wise models of effective service.

First, a glance at their website will allow you some history and a sense of their purposes for ministry in this sport. http://www.baseballchapel.org/ Below is an excerpt. 



-- About Us --

Baseball Chapel is an international ministry recognized by Major and Minor League Baseball and is responsible for the appointment and oversight of all team chapel leaders.

OUR MISSION

To bring encouragement to people in the world of professional baseball through the Gospel so that some become discipled followers of Jesus Christ.

OUR VISION

To see deeply committed players use their platform to influence people around the world to become followers of Jesus Christ.

OUR HISTORY

In the early 1960's, players from the Cubs and Twins initiated chapel services when they were on road trips. Services were usually held at the team hotel.

In 1973, Watson Spoelstra, a Detroit sportswriter, approached Commissioner Bowie Kuhn with the idea of organizing a chapel program for every major league team. Kuhn granted approval and Baseball Chapel was created.

In 1974 services switched from hotels to ballparks and chapels were first held during the playoffs.

At the start of 1975 all major league teams had a chapel program.

A minor league program was established in 1978 and chapels were first held during winter ball in Latin America. Baseball Chapel is a non-denominational Christian ministry committed to the spiritual development of people throughout pro baseball.

OUR IMPACT

Chapel programs are established for all 210 teams in the major and minor leagues and many independent league teams.

Approximately 3,000 players, coaches, managers, trainers, office staff and other team personnel, umpires and members of the media attend each week.

Chapels begin in spring training and end after winter ball in Puerto Rico, Venezuela and the Dominican Republic has concluded. Hundreds participate regularly in Bible studies that are conducted with many teams during the week.


One of the things Baseball Chapel does very well is to treat every level of baseball with the same respect it does the Major Leagues in the USA. The handouts, the Bible study materials, the umpire room materials, the reporting forms, virtually everything are the same for our independent league baseball club (where the players make very little money) as they are for iconic Major League Baseball clubs like the New York Yankees and St. Louis Cardinals.


Ministry to umpires is another thing Baseball Chapel emphasizes. These people are vital to the game and are too often overlooked or shunned by fans and even sports ministry people. We are required to report on our ministry with umpires just like we are with players and coaching personnel.


Baseball Chapel has a code of conduct and a manual for its chapel leaders. These are tailored to each level of baseball as the details vary widely regarding security, required credentials, etc… The code of conduct spells out plainly what one should and should not do at the ballpark. This removes a lot of grey areas and provides solid guidance.


Weekly themes and handouts are provided by Baseball Chapel for its leaders. Each spring I look at the Miners’ schedule, find the home Sunday games, and download the handout material for each week on which I will be leading a chapel. The themes and the handouts are the same no matter where one is serving. I have the freedom to choose a Bible text from which to speak, but I find the themes to be engaging and broad enough to allow me to speak to the hearts of our players, staff, and the umpires.


Baseball Chapel realizes the prominence of Latino players and has its materials in both English and Spanish. The New Testaments with Psalms and Proverbs they supply for me to distribute have both languages in them and the chapel handouts are bilingual as well.


Baseball Chapel helps its chapel leaders network well. They have a supervisor appointed to recruit, train, encourage, and oversee the service of each club’s chapel leader. In addition, inside the secure area of the website, they have contact information for each club’s chapel leader and for their player representative. This is of tremendous value as each Saturday I go to the ballpark looking for the player representative to prepare for Sunday’s chapel. This way I have a name and a phone number for making the connection.


Baseball Chapel has expanded its footprint to serve well across the world of professional baseball. This excerpt from the website will indicate how broadly Baseball Chapel is serving. “Baseball Chapel exists for Major and Minor League teams in all of the locations indicated above in the United States. Baseball Chapel's ministry also extends to professional leagues and academies in Mexico, Venezuela, Puerto Rico, Nicaragua and the Dominican Republic. Baseball Chapel began expanding its ministry into Japan to those players in the Nippon Professional Baseball League in 2005. We hope to begin expanding into the Korean professional leagues in the near future.”


I am thankful to be among the hundreds of volunteers serving in Baseball Chapel’s ministry to the thousands of people across the game of baseball. I hope these simple observations are helpful in your service of the men and women of sport.

Friday, June 26, 2015

Sports Chaplaincy Training in Ukraine

I have been absent from this space for over a month as I was traveling to Ukraine and then up to my eyeballs in running FCA Power Camps in my area. Four of our six camps are now completed and I am coming up for air today.

I would like to share with you the tremendous success we enjoyed at the Sports Chaplaincy School in Kyiv, Ukraine at the beginning of June. Sara Hurst of FCA at the University of Illinois (USA) and I shared the presentation responsibilities with the fifty people who had come from all across Ukraine for this training. Our colleagues of FCA Ukraine had received and translated into Russian, all the material on the web at www.globalsportschaplaincy.org and they translated the PowerPoint presentations I had created for the training. This work was done with excellence and fidelity.

We delivered the material as it appears on the web site, but with much more depth as we engaged them in many small group discussions to help them process and to enculturate the concepts of serving as a sports chaplain. We used the six session format and spread the training across three days. We were thrilled with the way all our Ukrainian teammates engaged with the material and with each other in learning and applying each section. We also provided a model for our Ukrainian teammate, Oleg, to lead further training sessions in Ukraine and in surrounding Russian speaking nations.

One of the greatest outcomes of this training is that we now have the materials, both in a workbook format and in PowerPoint presentation in Russian. This stands to further develop this form of ministry in sport across the Russian speaking portion of the world. Thank you to everyone from our FCA Ukraine team, especially those who helped us with translation, interpretation, and facilitation of discussion.


We anticipate similar opportunities in other nations, with other languages, and on other continents. Thanks again to everyone from across the globe for your contributions to the development of www.globalsportschaplaincy.org and the growth of this ministry around the world.

Friday, May 22, 2015

Sports Chaplaincy is Growing Globally

We are most grateful to everyone in our network of sports chaplains around the world. We each learn from the others and it is my aim through this weekly email and other avenues to share information I either create myself or gather from others.

Possibly the best expression of this worldwide collaboration is the training now available atwww.globalsportschaplaincy.org.

There is a growing movement of sports chaplaincy in South Africa. They just held their first conference and training earlier this month. Thanks to Bruce Nadin for his invaluable leadership. There is also a growing movement in East Asia, Hong Kong in particular. They are hosting a training event this week. Thanks to Jung Ho Jung and to Cameron Butler for their leadership in that area of the world.

Next week, Sara Hurst a sports chaplain at the University of Illinois, and I will lead a three day training with our colleagues of FCA Ukraine and other sports ministry leaders from that area of the world. We will be leading our training in conjunction with the material at www.globalsportschaplaincy.org. The trainees will have read all the materials and watched the videos before we meet. During our meetings together we will work with them to process that information, to enculturate the ideas into their sports cultures, and to apply the principles for effective sports chaplaincy.

Thanks to each and all who have contributed so richly to the growth and global development of this form of ministry in sport. I believe our best days are still ahead.

Saturday, May 16, 2015

Ministry in Minor League Baseball

The first weeks of May bring with them the beginning of the Frontier League Baseball season. The players reported to Rent One Park in Marion, Illinois on April 29 for the 2015 season of the Southern Illinois Miners. The Frontier League is a set of teams in independent professional baseball. Their being independent simply means these teams are not affiliated with a major league organization. The salaries are small, but the hearts are large and passionate.

I am thrilled to be serving this particular club because of the culture being nurtured by the manager, Mike Pinto. Mike has been the manager of the Miners since their first season in 2006, having declined opportunities to join other clubs of independent baseball as well as affiliated teams. Mike brings a professionalism and an attention to detail that is uncommon at this level of baseball.

Among the factors that make for good ministry with this club and at this level of professional baseball are these:

· My relationship with the manager and the coaches. From the first day of my service, Mike has welcomed me into every part of the team’s life. I am careful to not overstep my bounds, but when I consult him with opportunities to serve, Mike is quick to make room for our ministry efforts. In addition, being intentional to build relationships with the coaches (hitting, pitching, bench, etc.) and the support staff (clubhouse manager, athletic trainers, ushers, front office, etc.) has borne fruit as well.

· Baseball is a “hang out” culture. To build relationships with baseball players, one must simply show up, hang out, and talk about whatever comes up. For type A people, like your humble correspondent, this is often difficult. I am much better with an agenda and a set of objectives, but to faithfully serve this group requires flying by the seat of one’s pants. To stand around the hitting cage as batting practice takes place is invaluable. To lean on the dugout railing and to idly chat wins favor and trust. To ask questions about family, home towns, college teammates, or one’s path through baseball that landed him in Marion, Illinois is the stuff of relationship and the foundation for more meaningful and spiritual conversations in the future.

· A 4/1 ratio of appearances to talks. It seems to require four appearances at batting practices to each Sunday home Baseball Chapel talk to be effective. The more faithful I am to make time to hang out at batting practice, the more the players and coaches trust me and the more they will take their pregame time to sit with me in the dugout after batting practice on Sunday afternoon to hear my five minute talk and to pray with me.

· My home is 16.1 miles from the ballpark. From my garage to my parking place at the baseball park is short enough for me to make time to be there. If it were 30 miles, it would be significantly more difficult, but would still be worth it. If it were 50 miles, I would likely not serve well.

· These players are desperate to play baseball. If I told you the amount some of these young men are paid you wouldn’t believe it. They live with host families who provide a room, meals, and laundry when the players are in town. Some of our players have recently exhausted their college baseball eligibility and were not taken by the major league draft. Some of our players have already played a number of years in affiliated baseball, but have been released by those clubs. Some of them have been in other independent baseball organizations and still others have simply been out of baseball for a while due to injury. Some of them are Latino players from the Dominican Republic, Venezuela, Panama, or Mexico and staying in baseball allows them to stay in the USA and to send some money home to family. All of them are twenty-seven years or younger. All of these factors lead to a desperation to be in baseball that enables them to press through low pay and often rather Spartan conditions. This desperation also places their hearts right at the surface. After earning their trust, I find them eager to ask for advice, to air problems, or to ask for prayer. The come to Baseball Chapel services on Sundays and excitedly make time for our discussions of scripture midweek during home stands.

· Baseball Chapel’s legacy and reputation in baseball. This ministry has long been the standard for faithful ministry within professional baseball at every level. It is of tremendous value for me to be able to open a chapel talk by saying, “This afternoon, at every level of baseball from Yankee Stadium in New York to stadiums in the Dominican Republic to Rent One Park in Marion, Illinois, men just like you are sitting in dugouts to pray and to hear the truth of scripture applied to their lives in baseball.” Baseball Chapel provides handouts, in English and in Spanish, that we can download from their website to use with the players, coaches, umpires, management, wives of players, and even support staff. The faithfulness of Baseball Chapel and that of their wide network of men who serve in their ministry have paved the way for many relative newcomers, like me.


If you should have opportunity to serve a minor league baseball club, if you have any background in the sport, if you are adept at “hanging out,” or even if you can make yourself do it, please consider serving in this way. Please consider the various factors listed above as potential keys to effective ministry and jump in with both feet. I have just begun season four with our club and cannot wait to see what will occur this summer. Between this 16th day of May and the early weeks of September are a myriad of opportunities for the Lord Jesus to invade the lives of desperate young men, grizzled older coaches, ambitious management personnel, and the families of each and all.

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Legacy - Lessons from the All Blacks

During a recent preseason workout of the minor league baseball team I serve as team chaplain (http://www.southernillinoisminers.com/), as our manager addressed his team in the dugout, he referenced the book, Legacy - 15 Lessons in Leadership: What the All Blacks Can Teach Us About the Business of Life by James Kerr. He talked about their culture of excellence and imported their practice of cleaning up after themselves to our club. Rather than the players regularly drinking from a paper cup and then throwing it onto the floor of the dugout, he said we will no longer do that. Instead of leaving the visitor’s clubhouse (changing room, locker room, shed) in total disarray and covered with the litter of athletic tape, dirt, mud, soiled towels, etc., for the clubhouse manager to clean, we will bring our own cleaning equipment and we will leave the place even cleaner than when we arrived. Noble intentions for sure. We will see how well the players, especially the team leaders, embrace this ethic and make it their own.



Following is a simple paragraph that describes the book, which I will soon purchase and read. “Champions do extra. They sweep the sheds. They follow the spearhead. They keep a blue head. They are good ancestors. In Legacy, best-selling author James Kerr goes deep into the heart of the world’s most successful sporting team, the legendary All Blacks of New Zealand, to reveal 15 powerful and practical lessons for leadership and business. Legacy is a unique, inspiring handbook for leaders in all fields, and asks: What are the secrets of success – sustained success? How do you achieve world-class standards, day after day, week after week, year after year? How do you handle pressure? How do you train to win at the highest level? What do you leave behind you after you’re gone? What will be your legacy?”



It seems that Yanks like me have some things we can learn from our Kiwi brothers, especially from a culture of excellence like the All Blacks Rugby club.

Friday, April 24, 2015

A Wonderful Surprise

On occasion, if we persevere, we receive a thank you or an “attaboy” from an unexpected source. If we serve faithfully, not forcefully, and serve in an intensely relational way, we are in position for such wonderful surprises. One such occasion rose for me earlier this week.

For the past three years, I have been serving the university baseball team in my community. My service mostly consists of going two hours prior to game time to speak casually with those who care to chat. I station myself right by the dugout at the edge of the seats as I have yet to be invited onto the field for batting practice. While there I always get a few moments to talk with the head coach, often with a couple of the assistants, and regularly with a number of the players. I send eighteen of the players text message prayers and sometimes scriptures on game days. I meet them for game day chapels three hours and fifteen minutes prior to game time, in the dugout, on home Sundays. For those chapels I bring a devotional thought on paper, in letter form, and I prepare a five minute talk from scripture that is both motivational and inspirational. Simple, brief, and in my estimation, with little depth.

To my surprise, I received the following text message from one of our pitchers on Monday morning. He and I have very little depth of relationship so I was stunned by his remarks.

“I apologize for not making it to Chapel...I look forward to it every home weekend and I did not get up early this day!

I truly do appreciate your support greatly and I most enjoy the guidance you give as it is through Jesus Christ!

Thanks so much for your love and I want you to know that on a personal level even though I may not have shown it you have helped me become a much better Christian and have assisted me through a tough personal situation I was in last year!

Thank you so very much Roger!


I was stunned at his remarks, but immeasurably gratified to receive them. Even on t
he days when I, or you, don’t perceive the impact of our service, the Lord Jesus is speaking , by His Spirit, to the hearts of those we serve. If we are careful to speak the truth of scripture and to prefer people over programs, we can have a depth of impact far beyond our perceptions.

May I challenge you to remain faithful? Do not stop short of consistent, faithful, service of the sportspeople in your charge. They are worth it and you may even receive a wonderful, soul-enriching surprise on occasion.

Saturday, April 18, 2015

Wide and Deep Ministry in Athletics

One of our most highly valued colleagues and friends is Stuart Weir of Verité Sport in the United Kingdom. Stuart has carved out a tremendously unique and effective ministry in the world of Athletics and elsewhere around the world. 

Below, please find his April 2015 ministry update. His model is unique as he serves as a journalist as well as a personal mentor and sports chaplain to sportspeople, but his influence is much wider than one might gather at first glance. Through his writing, website, and wide distribution of written materials in several languages, he has a global impact. 

Please give Stuart’s ministry update a thorough read and I pray it challenges you to widen and deepen your circle of influence as it has challenged me.

Update - April 2015

Athletics
Ministry in athletics continues to be one of my priorities. Already this year I have been to 4 indoor events.

The season started at Glasgow, which in the past has proved to be an excellent event for meeting athletes for the first time. 

This year, with no TV coverage, there were no American and no Commonwealth athletes. Moreover, a significant number of British athletes effectively opted out of the indoor season. So at Glasgow, for the first time in six years athletics ministry I found myself without a known Christian to meet and without an Oxford athlete to write about!

It was great to have Jules Wilkinson at the British trials in Sheffield. The logistics of the event made holding a meeting impossible but we were able to support a number of Christian athletes individually. See http://www.veritesport.org/?page=Sheffield15

Jules was also at the Sainsbury's British Grand Prix in Birmingham where I organised and she led a Bible study for nine athletes, only one of whom had ever been to one of my Bible studies before.

I also attended the European Indoor Championships in Prague. I had hoped to repeat the Sunday service for the British team that I'd done twice in 2014. However, none of the athletes who attended the services were competing this year. See http://www.veritesport.org/?page=euroindoor2015

In one sense it has been a slow start to the season but as I see this as long-term ministry, that is not a problem. I was able to have significant conversations with coaches and administrators.

In addition to attending events I keep in touch with athletes through my weekly devotional email, personal emails and meetings at training centres.

My next event is the London Marathon on 26 April, where last year three of the four main races were won by Christians.

Bangladesh
Four years ago, I received an email from a person in Bangladesh whom I had never met. He said that he received and enjoyed my weekly devotional email and that he had also read Born to Play, a book that I wrote with Graham Daniels in 2004, and was keen to have it published in Bangladesh. At the time, I was unable to find the funding to help him translate and publish the book but we kept in touch. Finally last year I was able to find the money. Last month I received copies of the printed Bengali version of the book. This is the 12th edition of the book in eight languages to be published. Thanks to everyone who gave specifically to this project. See http://www.veritesport.org/?page=bangla

International projects
Supporting international projects has always been an important aspect of the work of Verité Sport. Here is a quick update on some of our partners, with more information available on the website.

Togo
The girls’ football team finished second in the National League - equal on points but pipped on goal difference. The performance got them an invitation to an international tournament in Ghana. See http://www.veritesport.org/?page=league2015.

Argentina
Laura is back in Argentina working with local athletes. She was able to take back with her and quantity of new but out of date British Athletics clothing, on which they had embroidered the logo of the local club in Cachi, Argentina. Laura's latest update can be read at http://www.veritesport.org/?page=argapr15

Pakistan
Each year we sponsor the Easter cricket tournament which Victor runs in Pakistan. See http://www.veritesport.org/?page=2015Pak.

Ukraine
Zhenya has been elected vice president of the Rivne County Football Association. He is delighted but daunted by the responsibility and is determined to continue to fight corruption which, sadly, is rife in Ukrainian football. See http://www.veritesport.org/?page=UKRnewsletter

“Have you retired?”
As people keep asking me this question, I have obviously not communicated clearly my current circumstances. The simple answer is that I continue to work full-time as director of Verité Sport. However, having reached the age of 65 I am able to live on pension income. Thus I no longer take a salary from Verité Sport but continue to raise money to cover expenses and grants to projects.

Annual accounts
One of the first tasks in 2015 was the production of our annual accounts; our financial year ends on 31 December. Most of the work is done by my indefatigable treasurer, Ros, to whom I will be eternally grateful. The accounts are now with the examiner and will be available to everyone in a few months.

Prayer
Pray for the continuing ministry in athletics. 
Pray for the work of our partners – Laura and Fabio (Argentina), Aimé (Togo), Zhenya (Ukraine) and Victor (Pakistan). 
Pray for the distribution of Born to Play in Bangladesh.