Miami churches change lives with pre-game meals

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Two Miami-area churches are scoring inroads into local schools by providing pre-game meals for their football teams–while changing lives of players and coaches alike.

Each week during football season, pastors Patrick Coats of Kingdom Covenant Baptist Church in Homestead and Erik Cummings of New Life Baptist Church in Carol City, along with church members, prepare and serve hot, nutritious meals before games, cleaning up afterwards and subsidizing all costs.  It is a ministry they call “Huddle Touch.”

“We were looking for better ways to engage families,” in the community, explained Coats. “Every school we approached was overly receptive.”

Coats initiated the pre-game meals at South Dade High School where his son Patrick II had been the star quarterback. As an involved parent, Coats had gotten to know the team’s head coach. At a team meal for the families the coach asked Coats to give a blessing.

After creating those relationships, the coaches asked Coats to lead a weekly Bible study for them that resulted in the head coach “giving his life to Christ.”

As the church began the Huddle Touch ministry, the trust factor deepened and Coats felt God telling him to call an “audible.” One night he shared the gospel message with the team. Forty-five students made spiritual decisions. “Students began praying in the locker room. The players would call me over and say ‘pastor we need to pray before the game.’”

“The response was more than I could have imagined,” said Coats. “It was as if God had infiltrated the darkness.”

Coats planted Kingdom Covenant in 2009 meeting in a Homestead movie theatre. Inviting the team to church, Coats showed “Woodlawn,” a film about football and faith. At the conclusion of the movie, “It was prayer fest,” said Coats. “God was moving in these players’ lives.”

Eight senior high school players were baptized. And three families have become active members of the church.

Providing meals at the football powerhouse Miami Carol City High was an easy decision for Cummings and New Life Church. The pastor had a relationship with head coach Aubrey Hill. The school is close in proximity to the church and many church members attended and even played sports at the school.

But another driving force for their involvement, said Cummings, is that Miami Gardens needs Christ. The community has one of the highest violent crime rates in Florida with 60 school-age children impacted by gun violence in Miami-Dade County in the last calendar year.

“We went in to give, that’s our mindset,” said Cummings. “We are there to give to the young people in our school and community.”

“We show up and are not self-promoting. We are taking the servant role.”

As they have gotten to know the players during the meals and the preparation at school beforehand, church members ask if they can pray for the players. Now athletes approach them asking for prayer and sharing family issues.

“We have to serve in a way that earns the right to be heard and develop trust so they will share with us,” the pastor said.

Since spearheading the meals, two families have become involved in New Life, several students have made professions of faith and three are awaiting baptism. The church plans to broaden their reach, providing similar ministries to other athletic teams at the school.

“Our community needs transformation,” said Cummings. “There is a need for hope and the gospel of Jesus Christ. That is our passion that is our purpose.”

The two Miami pastors were taking a lesson from the playbook of Jeffery Singletary, who developed the “Huddle Touch” ministry while serving as pastor of Exciting Central Tampa Baptist Church.

Singletary had led his congregation to provide pre-game meals for football teams in multiple Hillsborough County schools.

Every time he would approach school athletic directors and principals to offer assistance, school leaders were immediately receptive, he said.

Between logistics and cost, “coaches struggle to feed their kids each week. I tell them, ‘we will be there for every game of your season. It will cost you nothing. We are doing this because we are supposed to be do-gooders.’ The church is supposed to be do-gooders.”

Singletary, who now serves as the Florida Baptist Convention’s regional catalyst in Central Florida, believes other churches could call a similar play in their community. The ministry gives pastors a natural way to reach out to families in their churches while helping students and schools in their community, he explained.

An extra bonus for players and churches involved in the Huddle Touch ministry is an opportunity to attend the Men of Valor Conference held annually at Innisbrook Resort in Palm Harbor. The event, sponsored by Exciting Central Church, provides scholarships for high school athletes and is supported totally by donations from Christian athletes, businessmen and benefactors. The program includes some of football’s most notable Christian athletes including former Tampa Bay Buccaneer coach Tony Dungy.

Both Miami churches plan to take students to the conference.

For more information on how your church can develop a Huddle Touch ministry at nearby schools, contact Jeffery Singletary at jsingletary@huddletouch.org.

By Barbara Denman, Florida Baptist Convention, May 23, 2016

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