Vanessa Johnson, an associate pastor at Salem Baptist Church, had an excellent idea. She said, “The Lord placed on my heart a new ministry for Salem, a co-ed softball team. I was excited to get started.”
Salem’s senior pastor, Selwyn Q. Bachus, gave her the go-ahead and encouragement to pursue the idea.
The co-ed softball team was not going to be an ordinary team. The vision was a group of believers going into the community and sharing God’s love, as well as having some good old-fashioned fun.
Johnson and others worked diligently to put this plan together and to be a part of a fall softball league. They needed at least 12 players on the team. Johnson said, “God blessed me with 24 energetic people to sign up. I was so excited as a coach!”
The name of the team is the Salem Sluggers. Their assistant coach is Raymond Willis, who designed the T-shirts for the team. They have a nurse on the team, Shanda Ross, who will take care of any minor injuries team members may suffer. Ruth Gooch is the team assistant who provides water, snacks and inspirational cheer for each of their weekly practices and Sunday evening games.
Keeping with the Bible verse Matthew 22:39, “Love thy neighbor as thyself,” the team shows its love by giving cold bottles of water labeled with Salem’s name and address to each opposing team member. This act of kindness is an invitation to come and worship at Salem. If the opposing team members are receptive, the Salem Sluggers will pray with them before the game. Otherwise, the team prays on its own.
The players are also gaining other benefits by playing softball. According to the Health Fitness Revolution, the average player burns about 300 calories per hour of play, gains mental health advantages such as more confidence and self-esteem and, through the encouragement of teamwork, develops leadership skills. One is never too old to learn or practice new skills.
And the fact that the team is able and willing to share the Gospel with others aligns with Bible verses like Mark 16:15 (“And He said to them, ‘Go into all the world and preach the Gospel to every creature’ ”) and Psalm 96:3 (“Declare His glory among the nations, His wonders among all peoples”).
According to coach Johnson, the Salem Sluggers are having great fun. It doesn’t make any difference to them who wins or loses if a joyful time is had.
One of the highlights for the team was having Pastor Bachus praying and playing in a game in which the Sluggers were divided into two teams because of a no-show opposing team. Seeing their sophisticated pastor dressed casually on the field was a delight. They usually see him in a shirt, tie, suit, shined shoes and a manicured beard. This is his normal attire whether at the pulpit, on hospital visits or in meetings.
Bachus not only looked the part of a softball player that day, but he also slammed the ball across the field, ran and unconventionally touched the first base with the bat to ensure that he was safe. Coach Johnson said laughingly, “It was priceless and a moment we will never forget!”
Johnson said, “This has been an amazing journey, and I am so glad I was obedient to what God pressed upon my heart. I have a closer relationship with members of my own church and now in our community. We are sharing God’s love one swing at a time.”