How do you bring together African-American and Caucasian adult men in a racially challenged city like Baton Rouge? The answer – Lunch Bunch Basketball (LBB).
Lunch Bunch Basketball didn’t begin with this reconciliation in mind. The idea began very humbly as pick-up basketball for church members on Wednesday nights before ML Woodruff, the Sports Outreach Minister at Istrouma Baptist Church (IBC) joined the staff and connected with CSO. The Wednesday night pick-up games ceased in 2011.
For about two years, the idea lay dormant. Then in 2013, Mark Cole, the Student Pastor at Istrouma, went to the new Pastor at Istrouma, Jeff Ginn, and asked him about having lunchtime basketball on Tuesdays and Thursdays for staff, friends, and acquaintances. Lunch Bunch Basketball began in 2013 with little organization and integration of basketball and ministry.
Things began to change when ML got involved six months later after being asked to bring Lunch Bunch Basketball under Istrouma Sports Organization (ISO), the sports ministry at Istrouma Baptist Church, and his leadership. He clarified that if Lunch Bunch Basketball was going to be a part of ISO it had to adhere to the mission of ISO that says:
ISO is a ministry of Istrouma Baptist Church that intentionally creates opportunities to glorify God and make disciples through sports and recreation.
The church leadership agreed and the current vision of Lunch Bunch Basketball emerged – to be a place where opportunities to glorify God and make disciples through adult basketball were intentionally created.
Several changes came about as a result of this new vision. They began by ML asking several questions including, “How are we going to
do ministry here at LBB?” As those answers emerged, ML asked Mike Fielding, a graphic designer at IBC, to oversee LBB and implement
the answers to that question.
Another interesting thing happened. The new vision brought a very different crowd of participants, including several African Americans, as Donald Freeman, an IBC member, asked his co-workers to play. The bringing together of African-American and Caucasian men began.
Then in the summer of 2015, God interrupted the ministry in an unusual way. A sprinkler connection on the second floor of the gym burst, causing significant water damage to the gym floor. A temporary solution enabled play to go on, but eventually the gym had to be shut down for more permanent repairs. At the same time, Mike Fielding left Istrouma to become the Youth Pastor at a sister church.
ML took this interruption as a time to “pause” the ministry and rethink the direction of LBB. A Leadership Team was formed. Significant prayer took place and after 5 months Lunch Bunch Basketball started back with a greater emphasis on the “Bunch.” Small groups were started that took place at “half-time” and included a devotion and prayer. Struggles were shared. Integrating the gospel into life was modeled. Relationships were deepened. Lives were impacted.
This past spring something very significant happened. Two of these African-American men expressed an interest in following Christ and indicating that desire by being baptized.
While the exact information is not known, these baptisms represented a significant milestone in the life of Istrouma Baptist Church and Istrouma Sports Organization. Look again at the picture of the whole group gathered to watch these baptisms. Look again at the two men’s faces who were baptized. Take a moment to reflect on the significance of these events in relation to the individual lives impacted by this experience, in relation to the overall racial tension in Baton Rouge and the place God has given Istrouma Baptist Church to bring reconciliation through the gospel to those parties in tension. Lunch Bunch Basketball is a great work of God that brings glory to the heart of the one who died to make this reconciliation possible and reaffirms CSO’s conviction in the value of the bridge of sports.
Currently, more than 175 different men have gotten involved since last fall when the ministry started back. Unlike when it started, there are now just a few staff regularly involved – i.e. the Pastor, Jeff Ginn, and Nathan Strong, the ISO Sports Ministry Assistant – with most of the players and leaders now coming from either IBC or the community. ML sensed it is time to take another pause. This August through Labor Day, LBB will be postponed while the Leadership Team thinks through what is next for this ministry. Will you pray for ML, the Leadership Team, the CSO Team, and LBB as we seek even greater reconciliation between men and God and men and each other? After all, what else might God do to bring men together in this racially challenged city?