Making an impact through sports

Hearts and minds — Members of Impact Sports took Ultimate Frisbee to an East Aftrican village, as well as the Gospel. Photo provided

John Wooden once said, “Never mistake activity for achievement.”

Pat Riley said, “There are only two options regarding commitment; you’re either in or you’re out. There’s no such thing as life in-between.”

And executive director of Impact Sports International, Scott Duke, who plays softball in prison rec yards, ultimate Frisbee in East African villages and basketball in Middle Eastern gyms once said, “We’re not going to do something if we can’t share the Gospel.”

That’s the concept behind Impact Sports International, founded by Duke after realizing how the universality of sports could be a platform to share the gospel.

“[T]o use sports as a vehicle to take the Gospel to places it’s never been, is not allowed, or the delivery of it has been previously been ineffective,” according to Impact Sports’ literature.

“Our heart is the ends of the earth,” Duke said. “The uttermost. The 10/40 window (10 degrees north latitude to 40 degrees north latitude). Most of what we do is in that window – 90 percent of the world’s unreached are found there.”

Duke was introduced to the game of basketball as a fifth-grader when he got a basketball hoop for his birthday. A couple thousand driveway free-throws later, Duke played basketball at Wofford College in Spartanburg, S.C., where he first felt a tug toward ministry.

“Between my sophomore and junior year in college, God called me to coach, so I entered the education world with the intention of using that as my platform and that became my mission field,” Duke said. “But I never really saw it go beyond the school where I was teaching. God had a larger perspective and a bigger focus and I just couldn’t see it at the time.”

Duke taught in the public school system and coached basketball for eight years before he was introduced to the idea of using sports to reach the lost.

“I was introduced to the concept of sports missions by a guy who came to our church and said ‘Hey why don’t you go to (East Asia) with us and play basketball and tell people about Jesus?’ And my response was ‘You can do that?’”

During the summers in between teaching, Duke traveled to the region five times on mission trips that featured a ball as the main form of communication, and ultimately, a vehicle to share the Gospel.

“Toward the end of 2005, God was leading me in a different direction and Jan. 1, 2006, I started Impact Sports.

Since then, Impact Sports has sent teams on 25 international trips to “closed-door” countries and has visited eight different prisons throughout the Southeast dozens of times.

“Sports is a universal language and that’s why we’re able to go to places others can’t go. There may be political issues at the government level, but team to team, player to player, coach to coach, it doesn’t matter. We’re enjoying the relationships being built through our time together playing and coaching.”

A recent trip to a volatile Middle Eastern country required Duke to be escorted by armed bodyguards.

“They were very job-oriented, tough, wouldn’t open up early in the week,” Duke said. “They’d never played basketball before, so I taught them how to shoot. Even in their suit coats with their guns underneath their arms, they were still trying to shoot jump shots and relationships were organically built.

“By week’s end, they were wanting to send video messages to my family, tell my wife (and kids) hello. The relationship and the melting of the ice was visible between us and I had a chance to share the gospel with them.”

It’s stories like these that keep Duke going.

“There are some places we continue to go time after time. There have been times where people have come to know Christ on the second or third visit to a place,” Duke said. “It takes the sport, it takes the relationship bonding, to break that boundary… I have been face to face with people who have no idea who Jesus is or what Jesus is and it’s because someone else decided for them that they weren’t going to hear it.”

Ministry is not abstract, Duke said. It’s not a skill-set. It’s as simple as a ball, a gym or someone willing to go to the places God is crying over.

“Matthew 28 says ‘go and make disciples’ and when we hear that word, ‘go’, we think that means somewhere else,” Duke said.

“But the tense of that word in Greek means ‘as you are going,’ make disciples,” he said. “And so, it could be pickup ball at the student center, it could be a church-league softball game, or it could be at the restaurant. It could be wherever.”

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