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Montgomery’s Gateway Church uses basketball to change students’ livescomment (0)

April 16, 2009

By Jeremy Henderson

It was a slam-dunk.

Drew Burton knew it from day one. He knew it before day one. He wasn’t being cocky. He was facing the facts.

Gateway Baptist Church, Montgomery, the church without a regular Royal Ambassadors (RA) program that never entered basketball teams in competition, was going to dominate.

“Most had never played in an organized league, but they’re all pretty athletic guys,” Burton said of the basketball teams’ members. “We knew we could put five, six or seven out of 10 on the floor that could be the best player on any other team.” 

And he was right — both the varsity and junior varsity (JV) teams were crowned city champions in RA basketball. The JV squad went on to win the state tournament in Mobile, with Gateway Baptist members cheering it on.

But the trophies are just gravy. The real meat and potatoes of what happened out on the hardwood is the fact there were teams out there at all.

It all goes back to a missions trip.

“Last summer, our junior high and high school students went on a missions trip to Houston,” said Burton, Gateway’s associate pastor of student ministry. “They just really caught a vision for serving other people, and when they came back home, they wanted to apply it in their own back yard.”

The church’s youth group started an outreach called Kids Club. The target group was young children from inner-city neighborhoods adjacent to Gateway — little girls with pigtails and jump ropes and little boys needing someone to throw a football to them.

What it got were teenage boys. Some were high school dropouts. Some were former gang members. All were wanting something more.

So when Burton read the letter announcing the new season for the Montgomery Baptist Association youth basketball league, he went for the rim.

And the results have been life changing.

“We have been praying for our community for a long time,” said Gateway’s Senior Pastor Alan Cross. “I think that our church understands that getting involved with these kids is our response to God answering those prayers by sending them our way. Basketball has been a great tool to reach these guys, but they keep coming back and allowing us into their lives because of the love of Christ that they are experiencing from our people.”

Burton agreed.

“These guys are an integrated part of our church family, and they’re an integrated part of my family,” he said. “It’s certainly not business as usual in terms of where we are and where we’re going. There’s the athletic outlet but we’re trying to discipline them spiritually.”

Burton said devotions are a regular part of Kids Club events.

“One night, I’m talking about a relationship with Christ and I said, ‘If that doesn’t make any sense to you or if you want to know more, come talk to me,’” he said.

“One of the guys came up to me and said, ‘I want to know more about that,’ and another guy said, ‘Me, too.’ So the three of us went and sat in our little church library and they accepted Christ. They were baptized in our church a few Sundays later.”

Fifteen-year-old DeQuawn Davis plays power forward on Gateway’s JV team, which he says can play the varsity “neck and neck.” The church is about three miles from his house.

“It’s a good church,” DeQuawn said. “The message is more clear. Drew? Yeah, he’s awesome, awesome, awesome.”

Burton said the effort has been churchwide.

“Our church as a whole has really embraced the ministry,” he said. “It’s not something the youth are doing on the sidelines, ‘Oh good for them.’ The congregation has been taking them into their homes, stepping up and discipling the guys.

“They’re really starved for relationships, and just taking a little time to develop that with them has done wonders.”

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