I wrote this piece over a year ago, about our church softball team. I’m not sure why I did, but it was prior to having a blog and I guess needed some creative outlet for how I felt. I gave it to my mother to read, who promptly gave it to my Pastor, who asked if he could put it the book he was writing at the time about the homeless shelter. I agreed and thanks to his book, I actually was published and got to see my name in print, although looking back now, I inwardly cringe at the quality of the writing. However, the sentiment is the important thing and I wanted to share it. Here it is…
Trinity has a softball team. Although a church softball team is not unusual for many churches, for a homeless shelter this may seem a bit ridiculous. Most of the players we have had on our team do not have a job, a home or even a bed to call their own, so why would God think its a good idea for them to run around a softball field, chasing balls and swinging bats? Maybe because he loves us and wants us to have fun and because he knows that not every person who is lost will find their way into a church. He seeks us out and comes to where we are and so, he uses the things that we love to draw us to him. Never this has been more evident to me, than with our softball team this year.
In previous years, we have had plenty of players. Usually, 15-20 young men show up to our first practices, some with sneakers and athletic skills, many with cigarettes, most with the energy and bravado of youth but none with a bat, ball or a glove. The team is unique in that the players come and go throughout the season, as some find jobs or get their “vouchers” for housing and others come in. Someone who might have been a home run hitter and star left fielder one week, might be gone and could be replaced by a man who has never played the game but who wants to be a part of a team or maybe just wants to get out of the shelter for a bit. Because our team is so fluid, we have not had a winning track record by any means. Trinity has always been known throughout the church league as a “bad news bears” sort of team. The kind of team that cheers not when we have won a game, but for when we have not lost too badly. For this reason, and because we are disadvantaged in many ways, the league commissioner and other teams have been very kind to us. One team allows us to use their field as our “home-field” and games are almost always scheduled there for us, as transportation can be a problem, sometimes requiring multiple trips to and from the shelter or coordinated efforts on the part of the non-residents to bring the players back and forth. We have also been given bats and catchers equipment, and one time, a player from the other team brought over two pairs of cleats. For the man who was wearing work boots at the time, as that was all he had, this was quite a blessing!
This year was a little different. For some reason this spring, there seemed to be far fewer young men at the shelter, a wonderful thing except when it comes to a softball team. Determined to have a team, my husband searched outside of the church to recruit some people from our town to play. He knew of a group of young men who enjoyed playing softball so much that they organized a pickup game every Sunday. However, these games did not always end well as the participants were at times “three sheets to the wind” and disagreements and fights often ended the play abruptly. Several of these guys were excited about the prospect, even though they were warned that this was a “Christian league” which would not tolerate drinking, swearing or smoking on the field and that weekly church attendance was a league rule. We didn’t worry about them following any of the rules except the last one, as at least one of the guys was overheard saying, “church would probably catch on fire if I went in.” We shouldnt have worried though because God provided the answer for us. Of course he did!
One of the guys who was recruited was a huge red-head, named Scotty, who was 6’6, 280 pounds with size 18 feet! Despite his hulking appearance, he was an encouragement to all and was never hard on anyone when they missed the ball except himself. He was having a rough game one night, early on in our season. He missed a ball he thought he should have been able to catch and was upset with himself. Because of his competitive nature, the next time the ball was hit to left field, he ran and dove over a fence in an attempt to catch it. The fence tripped him up and this big guy, with all that weight, landed on his side and on top of the fence, nearly impaling himself on the spikes. We all ran over when he did not get right up. We found him struggling to breath and in obvious pain. He was helped off the field and the decision was made to bring him to the hospital to be checked out. My husband ran to get our jeep to bring to the field as it was a long walk to the parking lot. While we waited, I asked if we could pray for him. “yes please, anything” he said, as we gathered around and laid hands on him. We finished as my husband arrived with the jeep and they went to the hospital. We continued on with our game, although we missed Scotty and wondered how he was doing. Later that night we heard that he had been discharged and that nothing was broken. We were relieved to hear this, but a few days later we heard from his point of view what had happened. He said that he was sitting on the stretcher in the ER, in pain and struggling to breathe, with what he was positive were broken ribs, when suddenly he felt the presence of God. Immediately, the pain was gone and he could breathe normally. He knew that God had healed him and from then on, he started carrying a pocket bible with him.
As happy as we were about Scotty, we were concerned about the fact that many of the players were not going to church. This had never been a problem in the past, as most of the players lived at the church. Now, we were saddled with the task of telling these excited guys that they either attend church or they couldn’t play. Although we knew we needed to be respectful of the league rules, this seemed like a lose/lose scenario. We needed them in order to play, and more importantly, they were being exposed to the love and mercy of God, all while having a lot of fun. My friend, our scorekeeper, and I were discussing this quandary when she said, “too bad we couldnt bring church to them, you know, like a bible study.” What a perfect, God-given idea! Excited by this, she contacted one of the church’s elders, a man who also stepped in to play with us when we needed an extra player, and he graciously agreed to help us by leading the bible study. We told the guys that we would now be having bible studies before games, and if they wanted to play, they had to attend. No one balked or complained, in fact this information was greeted with quiet acceptance.
Before our next game, the whole team sat in the shade, lined up against the back of the dugout like good little soldiers. We shared Bibles that I had borrowed from the church and helped each other find the scriptures. We took turns reading, even one man who said “I’ll try, but I’m not that good at it.” All 12 of us, including 2 from the shelter, listened quietly as God, through the message, brought Saul to life, with encouragement that no matter what you have done, you are never too far gone for God. Throughout those 10-15 minutes, everyone was quiet, focused and listened intently, taking all the information in. After the final prayer, everyone jumped up, ready to play our game, but Scotty seemed stunned and was overheard several times that night saying, “I can’t believe this! My mind is blown!” To top off the night, we actually won that game and took celebratory pictures after.
For the Son of Man came to seek and save those who are lost.
Since that time, we have continued with bible studies before games. The players accept this and no one complains, from the 19-year-old, fresh out of high school to the 55-year-old grandfather. Jesus came to where these people were, and because of that, they have been touched. We were given the freedom to observe the spirit of the law, rather than the letter of the law, and in turn, seeds of hope were spread. Scotty still carries his pocket bible around and has been known to spontaneously start reading aloud, especially from Psalms. He is the first to remind us that we need to pray after practice, even leading the prayer once, after which he said, “I’ve never done that before and I was so nervous!” Oh, and our team? We won more games that year than in all our years as a team combined. Of course we did.
Afterword: Originally published in the second of two books written by Pastor Richard Berry about the many miracles happening at Trinity Evangelical Free Church and Homeless Shelter, available on Amazon.