by DeNAIL SPARKS — My grandmother always worried that I’d follow “the bad influence” and the wrong crowd. She was right. That’s the way I went, and that’s what I became — the person all parents want their kids to avoid.
High school football coaches said that if I worked hard, I could play football at any Division I school I chose. They were right. I chose to play for the University of Southern California (USC) Trojans.
Tom Sirotnik, a campus missionary and team chaplain, explained the Gospel to me and told me to follow Christ. That was the most true and right thing I’d ever heard. I did that, too, and it made all the difference in my life.
There have been several key moments, special seasons, and turning points in my life. At the beginning, following Christ took the form of shadowing Tom (a.k.a. “Big Tommy”) as he shared the Gospel with high school and college students. Tom was a former USC Trojan football player who entertained assemblies, drew crowds on campus, and shared the Gospel by bending bars, blowing up hot water bottles, and tearing Los Angeles telephone books in half. I got my start in ministry with Tom by sharing the Gospel and breaking stacks of concrete blocks with my head.
I remember the day a friend talked to me about playing professional football with him in Europe. After ten minutes of pitching NFL Europe and the money he made, he spent an hour confiding in me how miserable he was as a professional football player, knowing all the time that God had called him to be something else. I responded, “No way am I going to do that.”
__I got my start in ministry with Tom by sharing the Gospel and breaking stacks of concrete blocks with my head.
Another memorable time was the day I rode with a campus missionary weaving through traffic in downtown Los Angeles. He was the first one to make a serious suggestion to me about serving God as a missionary. Ironically, the reason we were speeding through traffic that day was to pay his overdue utility bills before services were cut off. Although ministry was something that had been in my heart for a while, again I immediately said, “No way!” I just couldn’t imagine such a financially insecure lifestyle for myself or my future family.
By the time I graduated from USC, I had been introduced to the concept of ministry funding through a team of prayer and financial partners. That was a new paradigm for me, but I immediately understood it, believed in it, and committed myself to that process. Twelve months after graduation I was a fully funded campus minister at USC.
In 2005, after eight years as a campus missionary at USC and the University of Nevada, Reno, I became the director of Ministry Partnership Development for Every Nation Ministries. In that capacity, we have been privileged to train over one thousand missionaries on building and maintaining teams of prayer and financial partners. One thing that helps me train and encourage young missionaries is that I personally have chosen to continue my ministry funding with a team of ministry partners, many who have been with me since the beginning in 1993. Just like the young people we train, I send out monthly letters, take trips back to the West Coast for visits, and report to my team all that we’ve been able to accomplish together as Every Nation Ministries.
A majority of our young missionaries have been through the Every Nation Ministry Partnership Development training and gone on to become pastors, Christian leaders, and church planters. Only God knows how many other students they have collectively won to Christ.
DeNail Sparks is Director of Ministry Partnership Development for Every Nation Ministries.