God-fearing footballers

KIRK PENTON -- Winnipeg Sun

, Last Updated: 8:46 AM ET

Pro football is a violent game.

Players try to rip each other's heads off for 60 minutes if it will help their team win.

Then, after all the hitting is done and the outcome has been decided, a group of players from both teams assemble at midfield ... and pray together.

Their relationship with God doesn't end there. For some, like Winnipeg Blue Bombers linebacker Barrin Simpson, it's a lifelong journey.

It was during his freshman year in college when Simpson gave his life to the Lord.

"I was scared to be a hypocrite. You know, living like the devil Monday through Saturday and going to church on Sunday," said Simpson. "I didn't believe in doing that. I was scared to death to do that because I felt God would discipline me for it."

ORDAINED MINISTER

Ten years later, the 28-year-old is an ordained minister with the Church of God in Christ. He doesn't live like the devil at all, and he attends church regularly.

"Now I live it out and do it wholeheartedly," he said.

And if Simpson needs it, Dave Johns is there for him.

Johns is a representative for Athletes in Action, and he has been the Bombers team chaplain since 1992. Some of his duties include leading a weekly Bible study, conducting chapel before home games and meeting with players individually.

Athletes in Action's goals are to help athletes discover their spiritual life and their relationship with God. After that, they hope those athletes will help spread the word of the Lord.

"Sport and music are probably the two most common languages in the world, so athletes have a platform," said Johns. "And so we utilize the platform of athletes to get the message of Jesus out to a culture that sometimes has stereotypes of what religion is and what Christianity is.

"Sometimes the stereotype can be broken when a high-profile athlete speaks about their relationship with God."

There are about a dozen Bombers who participate regularly in the Bible study, which takes place on the second day of the team's work week.

"We just look at how the Bible applies to sport and marriage and anything in life. It's open to anyone," said Johns. "You don't have to be a believer to come. You just show up and we bat around issues."

Bombers offensive lineman Mike Abou-Mechrek is more about learning the Bible than living it. He attended most of last year's Bible study sessions, but he hasn't gone to any this year.

Despite majoring in religious studies during his university days, Abou-Mechrek is still trying to figure it all out.

"I'm a guy that needs proof of things, and when it comes to religion you're not going to get proof," he said. "So (Johns) kind of breaks it down as best as can be done for me to understand it, because I need help."

Third-string quarterback Brad Banks, who was selected in the Ottawa Renegades dispersal draft in April, is already firmly entrenched in the team's religious fraternity. Banks is often seen chatting with Johns in the locker-room or at restaurants near the stadium about what Christianity means to him.

"It takes you through life," said Banks. "It helps you build your character. And Dave, he's been a great person for this, being a chaplain for us and being an inspiration for our lives.

"It's helping us remind us what the important stuff is about and keeping us grounded as Christians."

Other Bible study regulars include Milt Stegall, Kelly Malveaux and Arjei Franklin. Johns is one of the few people who have access to the locker-room, but he doesn't beat players over the head with his message.

A simple note about that week's Bible study time is put in the corner of the message board, and whoever wants to participate is welcome.

Despite being an ordained minister, Simpson still learns a great deal at each session.

"It's definitely a blessing each week to go the study," said Simpson, "because not only are we prepared for our job, but, at the same time, we prepare ourselves spiritually, getting closer to that ultimate goal of getting to heaven."


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