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Glencoe man shares love of God through extreme sportscomment (0)

January 5, 2006

By Erin Webster

For Joe Brothers of Glencoe, a love of nature’s extreme sports has been an inspiration for ministry.
Brothers first experienced the thrill of rappelling down rock faces as a Marine in the 1970s. From there, his love of nature and extreme sports was expressed as a youth minister at East Walnut Baptist Church, Gadsden, in Etowah Baptist Association as he led hiking and camping trips.
It continued when the Brothers family moved to First Baptist Church, Glencoe, in Etowah Association. Brothers would lead rappelling exercises during the Royal Ambassadors (RA) father/son camping trips.
But it was two sheets of plywood that would turn his love of extreme outdoor sports into a portable ministry.
Brothers’ daughter Jill shared his love for rappelling, but as she neared her teens, she began wanting to climb up rocks instead of rappelling down them. 
Brothers bought two sheets of plywood and some rock-shaped grips so he and Jill could develop the muscles needed for climbing.
“I would never have dreamed that the Lord would’ve used two pieces of plywood and a couple of (fake) rocks to accomplish what has been done because (the wall) has been everywhere,” Brothers said.
The wall turned into a crowd-drawing ministry about five or six years ago at the annual RA Congress. At that time, the congress, held by the Alabama Baptist State Board of Missions (SBOM), offered a ropes course. The man who coordinated it quit, so Steve Stephens, an associate in the SBOM office of men’s ministries, called Brothers to ask about rock-climbing walls.
Brothers built two walls and some of the RA Challengers from First, Glencoe, went to help with the 600 children who climbed that weekend.
From then on, the rock-climbing walls have been a staple at the RA Congress. 
They have also become a staple of ministry for First, Glencoe, said Pastor Vince Whittington. One wall  appears at the church’s annual Labor Day picnic for the Glencoe community — Awesome Activities — in the local park.
“The climbing wall is an interest point for kids,” Whittington said. He noted that the church advertises the Labor Day picnic in the community and sets up the wall in combination with a caving maze, ropes course and other “games with a purpose” to draw families with children. 
As the children play, church members talk with the parents, inviting each family to join the picnic and visit the church. The church will also shut down the games for a Bible study time for each age group in the park.
“We have had a lot of unchurched people come,” Whittington said. “We register those who come and use it for follow-up.”
The wall has also traveled with First, Glencoe, on missions trips to Pennsylvania and Texas. On those trips, the church uses the same setup with a twist, Whittington noted.
The local churches will advertise the games in the park two to three weeks before the missions group arrives. After they arrive, the teams spend the morning setting up for the games and doing Backyard Bible club activities. In the afternoons, teams will visit the homes of children who registered in the morning, inviting families to attend the local church.
On the church’s most recent missions trip to Texas, they held a Bible study class as well as the classes for children.
“It works well in areas where you’re seeking to start a new church or build up a struggling one,” Whittington said, explaining that it draws families to a church event. The local churches can then follow up with those who registered. “It’s been an interesting ministry so far,” he added.
Brothers also continues leading trips to rappel and climb, usually with a core group of people including youth and adults from First, Glencoe.
While the trips are not overtly evangelistic, they can help draw people to Christian fellowship.
Brothers said sometimes youth may think of church as not cool or not active enough. But “once they’ve had that fun activity in something a little on the dangerous side, they see that Christians can be cool and have fun,” he said. “The fact that you’re out there with a bunch of Christians and they’re pulling for you; you get a lot of help and encouragement from those on the ground that you don’t get in the secular world.”
At events, the rock-climbing wall also serves as a visual for several lessons about God and the Christian life. “Almost every activity (Joe) does is like that,” Whittington noted. “He ties in a person’s need for Christ.”
Every person who climbs the wall is attached by a rope to a person on the ground, called a belayer. This person’s job is to stop a climber’s fall by pulling back on the rope.
In a demonstration about faith, a helper will climb the wall, then release their hold and flip upside down as the belayer keeps them from falling. The belayer has complete control of the climber’s life. “That’s the way Christ holds you and becomes your belayer,” Brothers said, noting that Christians need complete faith in God.
The wall also helps develop character and confidence in those who climb it. “It gives them satisfaction of being able to accomplish something,” he said. “It’s amazing to see the kids light up when you bring them back down (after finishing the climb).”
Rock climbing also has strong parallels to a Christian’s walk with Christ, Brothers said.
“All of it is mounted on trust, knowledge and hard work,” he said. “The Christian life is something you have to work at, too.”
In rock climbing and rappelling, if one quits climbing and training for even a few weeks, then the muscles get soft and sore, he said. If Christians neglect their daily Bible study, prayer and walk with God, then it will show up in their lives.
For Brothers, the next step has been to try some caving trips, rappelling into caves and continuing the rock-climbing wall ministry.
“I am amazed that the Lord has used (the climbing wall), and it’s been so successful for no more than it is (plywood and) artificial rock,” he said. “It’s a fun ministry.”
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