the CFOT sports ministry
“You may have noticed us praying before every game. And that’s because we’re followers of Christ,” said then–Cadet Taylor M. Senak during his opening remarks at the College for Officer Training (CFOT) in Suffern, N.Y. He spoke to a packed audience at the annual Sports Ministry gala, held May 21, 2015. An estimated 30–40 basketball, soccer, and volleyball players ranging in age from 16 to 35 and their friends and families enjoyed the evening. Coaches and referees, who served at the college or lived in the Suffern, N.Y., community, also attended.
“If it wasn’t for sports and for the grace of God, I don’t know if I could have made it through these two years [of training],” said Senak. “Because [being a cadet] is very hard.” Senak, who in June was ordained and commissioned as a Salvation Army officer, also paid tribute to the founders of the program.
“It started as a few guys wanting to play sports and grew into a basketball league,” said Senak. “And eventually, we allowed people from all over to come and join. It took the vision of Major David Davis, Major Ron Foreman, and Bob Meitrott,” he said.
At the time, Davis served as director of personnel at the college. Today, he is the divisional leader of the Massachusetts Division. Foreman, then the college’s principal, is now divisional leader of the Empire Division. Meitrott continues to serve as the college’s director of sports ministry.
Lieutenant Darell Houseton, field training officer at CFOT, shared a moving testimony. In doing so, he graphically illustrated just how critical it is to have programs such as this in troubled neighborhoods.
“After my first summer at Camp Tecumseh, I came home to discover that 29 of my friends had been killed,” Houseton said. “But because of the camp experience, I also returned home with a sense of hope, knowing that I had the backing of the risen Lord Jesus.”
Willie Marquis Pile, a former NFL linebacker and safety, delivered the gala’s keynote address. Pile, the son of Sharon Barber, MSW, senior substance abuse counselor at the Army’s Harbor Light Center in Washington, D.C., spoke with passion for the game of football, and for Jesus Christ. He shared his rise to the NFL, the great coaches he served under, and the humbling experiences that kept him grounded in faith.
At West Patomac High School in Alexandria, Va., Pile was a letterman in football and in basketball. As a senior, he was named the Patriot District Offensive Football Player of the Year.
At Virginia Tech, Pile was a three–year starter at free safety and finished his career with an amazing interception and a 97–yard touchdown run.
Drafted into the NFL in 2003, Pile played for the Kansas City Chiefs and the Dallas Cowboys. He also played in the Canadian Football League for the Toronto Argonauts as well as for NFL Europe as a member of the Amsterdam Admirals.
During his presentation, Pile described the process of relational evangelism with athletes.
“For me, one of the greatest challenges in the NFL was being a Christian in the locker room and learning how to share my faith and be bold in that context,” Pile said. “Initially, as a young guy, you’re just trying to fit in, you’re just trying to earn a job. So you stick to yourself,” he remembers. “But at the same time, people notice that there’s something a little bit different about you.
“Maybe you just want to play dominoes or shoot hoops, or something like that. And then they ask you, ‘Hey man, what’s your deal?’ And then you say, ‘Hey, I believe in something different. I believe there’s other ways to have fun.’
“And so you kind of get that crew coming. And the next thing you know they’re asking, ‘Hey, when’s the next Bible study? When are you going to have Game Night again?’ These are ways to build relationships. Because before you ever bring up the Bible—it’s about getting to know somebody.
“I ask, ‘Where did you grow up? What did you do when you were younger? What’s your family situation like?’ So you get to know [the athletes] on a one–to–one–basis. And then, you turn around and say, ‘There’s a reason why I have a hope and a joy and an inner peace. I believe in my Father in heaven. And because I have that faith, football is just a vehicle and a platform on which to share that message.’ ”
This year’s sports gala will feature another outstanding athlete and will reach even more people in the community, says Captain Cindy–Lou Drummond, assistant training principal for administration. “And during the games, we’ll have relational evangelism with the spectators and participants. We want the players and cadets interacting to establish an ongoing relationship.”
by Warren L. Maye