“We reel them in with basketball, a little fun and competition and then we merge into talking to the kids about making the right decisions,” said Justin Pierce, recreational supervisor at East Pensacola’s Fricker Center.
On Super Bowl Sunday, The Rivers of Life Ministries held their annual basketball tournament. This year over 70 young men, ages 10-17, participated.
But the purpose for these series of match-ups weren’t all about the game.
“It’s a male bonding opportunity,” said Pierce. “Through basketball and football, the kids become more comfortable and are willing to share and ask more questions.”
Clarence Edwards, pastor of Rivers of Life Ministries, says he started the event 10 years ago to give children in the community a healthy outlet. It is also a chance to share the gospel.
“A lot of kids in that area are labeled as ‘high-risk,’” he said. “If we get them plugged into something positive, especially ministry, we may be able to help them.”
Edwards says he was inspired to start this event because he shares a similar background to the youth of the area.
“I come from the projects and it was ministry that helped me change my life.”
Still, one does not have to come from poverty to relate. Volunteers, mostly community members from various backgrounds, engaged the young men in a guided dialogue after the games.
“Seeing a man who is cold and saying something to him is one thing; giving your coat to him is another,” said Dr. Buck Waters, a 2012 activity volunteer.
He believes these events not only benefit the participant’s spiritual health, but their entire well-being.
“This is not about religion,” Dr. Waters added. “This is about being transformed into a better person – a new person.
The former Milton, Fla. resident says these events affect people’s impression and perception of the church.
“People in the community actually get to see the church living out its faith,” he said. “The bible says work without faith is dead; faith without works is dead.”