Written by Hugh Dwyer, Missionary-Athlete, New Jersey
The year was 1998. I remember going to my first practice, I was excited and determined to show the veterans I could play. It was my first time meeting Dale, Shrop and DC as softball players (we had met previously when I was introduced to the Saints on the basketball court in college) and my first ever meeting of many other teammates, including the gentleman who would become my close friend and roommate on countless Saints crusades, Jeff Marthins. These were the men I wanted to impress that day. I had no idea that one afternoon practice I attended for two hours in Moorestown, NJ would turn into so much more.
As the calendar turned to May, practice was over and it was now time to play. I wish I could recall where we went that first date but being as excited and nervous as I was I am not even sure what state we were in, let alone what facility. There is no sound quite like the first time you hear the heavy metal gate close behind you!
Throughout my first season I learned a ton – almost all of which did not involve softball. Our Coach drilled into us the importance of playing well so that we can honor the One we play for and to capture the respect of the men in the yard. Of course, I was also reminded what my approach should be when I was leading off an inning or how important it is to never make the first or third out at 3rd base. I also quickly learned being a younger player meant you would be the pinch runner all the time!
The real lessons I learned in that first year and the years following were far more important than leading off an inning or running bases. The veterans with whom I ministered shared more than ministry – they shared life-altering lessons with me on every trip:
- Being flexible is the key to prison ministry. God’s plan not ours.
- Real men pray
- Real men do cry even in front of other men
- Being willing is far more important than being skilled
- Breaking down the walls a person may have is essential to sharing the Good News. Laughter can be one of the best methods of doing this.
- Your story (testimony) is God’s unique work in your life. It can be the exact story someone needs to hear. Don’t ever sell your story short.
- Being single I learned so much from the veterans about being a loving husband and what a true father looks like.
Many years have gone by and the roles have changed. Now I am one of the veterans and the coach of the New Jersey team. I miss the men who have come before me and wish they still ministered alongside me. I cherish the times now when they join us for prayer before we depart for a day of ministry or when they join us for an entire crusade.
They set the standard for being a missionary-athlete; and it now falls on me to ensure the lessons they taught me are passed down to the current missionary-athletes. They have run the race with faithfulness and now my charge is to run and ensure I pass the baton faithfully as well.
That is all they would ask of me.