By: Major A. Kenneth Wilson
The College for Officer Training in the USA East regularly scheduled evangelism events for the cadets to learn essential skills for their eventual officership ministry.
Back when I was a cadet, one Sunday in March on campaign, we went to a nursing home to lead a worship meeting and visit the residents. Most of the residents were elderly and frail, and some appeared to be barely clinging to life as if waiting for the Lord to take them Home. In our rookie arrogance, we planned to take church to those who could not get to church otherwise.
That nursing home was like most others we had ever visited—hot, humid to the point of being steamy, and filled with nasty medicinal smells. And of course, the television in the common lounge blared away with hardly anyone paying attention to it.
When I entered the room I spotted an elderly woman in a wheelchair in front of the TV screen, watching with far more intensity and interest than you might expect, seeing it was tuned to one of the regional games of the National Collegiate Athletic Association college basketball championships during what is affectionately known as “March Madness.”
Being an avid fan myself, I nonchalantly walked over and asked, “Who is winning?” I didn’t expect much by way of reply, so I was amazed when she told me: “North Carolina. They’re shooting the eyes out of the basket, nearly 75 percent from the field—and they haven’t missed a free throw through the whole first half.”
Sensing a kindred spirit, I pulled up a chair beside her and joined in watching the game. When she commented that she had seen all the games to date, I asked how Temple University, my alma mater, had done the day before. She proceeded to tell me how they played well in the first half and then fell apart in the second. “Hate to say it son,” she said, “but in the second half they really stunk up the place before they lost.” My esteem for her grew by the minute.
Several times throughout the game, various cadets motioned for me to take my place to sing with them or go on to talk to some of the other residents. I managed to deflect each request, indicating that serious ministry (along with some serious basketball watching) was going on and that they should carry on without me.
We followed the game, commenting on the coaching, the referees and some of the questionable calls. She even critiqued the mascots and the bands. Soon the game was over after a delightful afternoon, as my fellow cadets prepared to leave for our next appointment.
Knowing this was a unique opportunity from God, not on the standard order of service for a cadet, I thanked my companion for sharing a great Sunday afternoon and asked it I could pray with her not as an afterthought or something that spiritual people were required to do, but rather a sincere thank you to her and the Lord for a welcome break in the schedule for something we both enjoyed. I prayed and prepared to take my leave. But before I could go, she thanked me over and over again as she began to cry.
I hadn’t done anything special, other than to watch some basketball in a situation my brigade officer and session mates would probably see as either going off or dereliction of duty.
“You’re an answer to prayer,” she told me. “I thank God so much for you. I have been praying for ages for the Lord to send someone who likes basketball as much as I do and who would share the experience with me. I loved to watch games with my husband and children, but they are all gone now. No one here appreciates sports and I feel so alone. But the Lord heard me and sent you here just for me.”
Sometimes when we set out to bless others, we are blessed even more in return. God blessed me that day through that lovely elderly woman. I thought we cadets were going to minister and do something for them. Instead, she taught me a valuable lesson about getting to know people and relating to them on a deeply personal level before you ever mention the Lord and the possibility of relationship with Him. There is a time and place for the application of “The Four Spiritual Laws,” or “Evangelism Explosion,” but many times the best soul–winning comes from enjoying each other in the mundane, non–theological events of life—like basketball shared together. I suppose you could call it Basketball Evangelism.
Because of her age and health, I imagine she went to Glory long ago. Perhaps I will meet her one day sitting by a big-screen TV watching college basketball in Glory. I hope she saves me a seat.