WILLIAMSBURG, Ky. (KT) – When a Williamsburg pastor took the gospel onto the University of the Cumberland’s football field, 30 athletes experienced the greatest victory of their lives.
The Rev. Donnie Patrick began serving as chaplain to the Patriot football team in May, shortly after arriving back in his hometown as pastor of Main Street Baptist Church. Here, he encountered a group of young men with hearts open to the gospel.
Since then, the number of football players accepting Christ has continued to grow, including 11 who made decisions during a single team worship service in August.
“I’ve got a front row seat to watch God at work,” Patrick said.
Along with the salvation decisions, the pastor said four athletes have indicated an interest in full-time ministry. Two are interning at the church.
“When I first met Donnie Patrick, he was a student athlete himself, playing for our high school in Williamsburg,” said Paul Chitwood, executive director of the Kentucky Baptist Convention. “So, I’m not surprised to see this pastor’s heart for student athletes at University of the Cumberlands. Donnie’s ministry and the ministry of Main Street Baptist Church of making disciples on the ballfields and ballcourts will be a great example to other KBC churches.”
Sports was a major part of Patrick’s young life in Williamsburg. Football. Basketball. Baseball. Like many attending small schools in small Kentucky towns, he played them all.
“I call that my testimony building days,” Patrick said. “I didn’t realize it, but I had a chip on my shoulder toward God. I tried to fill my life with trophies, cars, relationships — a lot of things that never satisfy.”
Patrick said when he did go to church as a teenager — Van Halen blasting out of his Monte Carlo Super Sport — it was to see his girlfriend.
It was during Patrick’s time as a student at the University of the Cumberlands that he reached a turning point in his spiritual life. He was in Daytona Beach, Fla., for spring break when he encountered a man who he first thought was homeless handing out gospel tracts to college students.
“It turned out he worked for NASA and had been reaching out to college students during spring break for years,” Patrick said. “That was the first time I ever saw somebody courageous enough to love Jesus and love me enough to come to my turf and share the good news.”
Patrick said his philosophy is to minister to the entire community – not just those people inside Main Street Baptist Church.
“Pastor Donnie immediately began building relationships in the community at-large and on campus from day one on the job at Main Street Baptist Church,” said Chad Everhart, Kentucky Baptist Convention’s campus missionary in Williamsburg.
While serving as the Cumberlands’ football team chaplain, Everhart said Patrick has not only encouraged and ministered to students, but to the coaching staff as well. And in his spare time, the sports-loving pastor helps out with the Williamsburg high school football team.
“I want to follow Jesus to their turf,” Patrick said. “They may not come to church, but we can go where they are, love them and watch Jesus change their lives. We’re seeing people saved on a consistent basis on the campus and in the community.”
Many in community did come to the church when the Williamsburg school district decided to renovate the high school wing of its K-12 building. School officials needed some place to house 180 high school students for the 2017-18 school year and Main Street Baptist Church, conveniently located across the street, graciously opened its building to the kids.
“It’s like the mission field has come to us,” Patrick said.
Between classes students walk past flyers promoting church activities. In the old sanctuary-turned-cafeteria, high schoolers eat breakfast beneath banners of Scripture.
Patrick said while no student is subjected to religious speech, the aim is to provide a ministry of presence. To provide a safe, friendly place without a hint of proselytization.
“For a lot of students and parents, it was their first time in a church when they came here to register and get their books. You could see the angst on their faces,” Patrick said.
Free candy bars seemed to ease the tension. Patrick said the church is considering starting an after-school tutoring program—yet another way to reach outside the walls of the church and minister to the people of Williamsburg.
“It’s important for the church to be in the community and let the community know they are welcome,” Patrick said. “Start where you are and make much of Jesus.”