By Analiz G. Schremmer, Contributing Writer
Most men love sports. And competition. It’s what makes basketball one of the best avenues to draw them closer to God.
Texas Baptist Men (TBM) has been capitalizing on that knowledge for almost 50 years through the Royal Ambassadors program.
“Local churches use RA to enlist men and boys to learn basketball and compete,” said Keith Mack, children and youth mission and state Royal Ambassadors and Challenges director. “It also gives them the opportunity to evangelize. It opens doors to disciple young men and help them grow in their walk in faith and testimony.”
Mack said the Royal Ambassadors has such a lasting impact on participants, that some of the men who aged out have turned around to help organize and coach others. Paul Urseti is one of those men.
Urseti comes from a sports-loving family. His love for basketball grew even more with the influence of his uncles and the RA program at Westmoreland Heights Baptist Church, where he grew up.
He started playing with his three uncles when he was only 11. And since they all participated in his church’s RA program, he decided to try it as well. And the experience taught him a lot more than just basketball.
“A lot of the RA program is a missionary program,” he said. “One of my uncles would take us out to witness to other people that he knew and even people who were just strangers in the street.”
Urseti, who grew up in Oak Cliff, said the RA program helped him climb out of poverty and thrive as an adult.
“It improved my ability to work with other people and has been a big part of the success I’ve had in my lifetime,” he said. “It did so many things for me. It helped me learn how to interact with people of all different ethnic groups. It helped me learn how to manage my emotions. It helped me learn discipline and exercise self control.”
Today, Urseti serves as the director of the Dallas Basketball League for the RA program, supported by the Mary Hill Davis Offering. Before that, he served as a coach.
“Men sacrificed their time and talents to give me this opportunity as a teenager and I want to give other young men the opportunity to do the same,” he said. “I want to share with other young men about how a relationship with Christ can make a huge difference in your life.”
As a volunteer, Urseti makes no money for the time he invests in the program. He admitted that his involvement actually results in some financial loss. But he said it’s completely worth it.
“Even today I’ll bump into some of the men that I coached when I was in my 20s and they talk about the difference it made in their lives,” Urseti said. “They’re now in their 30s and 40s.”
“It’s taken people out of bad situations. We’ve helped young men who didn’t have fathers. Young men who were in situations where there was a lot of crime, and they are now successful businessmen. They are contributing to society and are part of a church somewhere.”
A lot of anticipation mounts until the big tournament day, when men and boys from sixth grade to age 35 compete in leagues that are separated by age (grades 6th-9th, 10th-12th and ages 18-35).
Before each game, the teams prays and shares a 2-5 minute devotional. They also end in prayer.
A worship service that includes a sermon and invitation to accept Jesus takes place in the middle of the tournament. The Mary Hill Davis Offering provides resources for TBM basketball tournaments, which are used as an opportunity to share the message of Christ and disciple young men.
“There are a lot of things that you see in this basketball environment that you won’t see anywhere else,” Urseti said. “Over the last 5 years, I’ve seen over 400 young men make decisions for Christ.”
State Basketball Tournament Director Elgin Taylor is committed to the program’s success. He has been involved in RA for 35 years.
“The tournament is very organized,” he said. “Very official. We don’t put up with any foolishness or running around the court. We maintain the discipline that individuals and teens need to have.”
He said that every year, he reminds participants that no one deserves to be at the tournament, it is a blessing and a privilege.
“The young men in this country need programs like this that open doors for discipleship,” Taylor said. “In basketball, you learn to compete, but you also learn about life. Most of the participants join RA with the idea of playing, but they leave with a lot more than that.”
Besides, of course, the opportunities that RA provides to draw people closer to Christ, Taylor is passionate about diversity in the program.
He said the diversity of the program helps young men get a better understanding of the Kingdom of God.
“I believe that God’s design for us is that we live here as a nation of his people,” he said. “Looking at the diversity in this country and the diversity shown in the image of Jesus, we certainly see that God’s laws and the book of Proverbs show us how and what we should do to live in unity as His people here on earth.”
The 2018 MHD Offering statewide goal is $3.6 million and the Week of Prayer for Texas Missions is September 9-16. Click here to give to the MHD Offering to support missions and ministries for discipleship and church multiplication across Texas. Click here for promotional materials to share about the offering in your church.