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AAU team leads sports camp in New Orleans as part of church's mission trip


INDEPENDENCE—Chris Grubbs has been coaching Amateur Athletic Union teams for 11 years. Some of his players, now seniors at Walton-Verona High School, are potential college recruits. So, when he learned his church was planning a mission trip to New Orleans, it's fitting he would want to use his coaching skills to lead a basketball camp there.

Not only does Grubbs have a reputation for coaching his teams well in AAU tournaments, he also strives to instill integrity in his players—three of whom have been with his team for all 11 years. This season, when the players and their families requested that he finish out their high school careers, he seized upon the opportunity to conclude the season by leading them on a mission trip.

The idea was "pretty well received," Grubbs said, adding that eight out of nine players committed to go on the trip and their parents agreed to support them.

Grubbs, a local funeral home director and deacon at Hickory Grove Baptist Church in Independence, met with his pastor, Bill Clark, and shared his heart for missions. Grubbs also learned of a possibility to be part of the church's missions trip the first week in August.

Coach Grubbs, left, talks over drills planned for the sports camps and the day's missions activities with Hickory Grove Pastor Bill Clark.

"It seemed to me that God was opening doors for us to go to New Orleans and put on a free basketball clinic," Grubbs said.

Planning for the trip, though, was a difficult process, Grubbs said. "We ran into one obstacle after another" in lining up facilities and housing, "but we just went on faith that it all would work out," added Grubbs.

"We knew this first trip was a pioneer trip in so many ways. So, we weren't sure how successful some of our initiatives would be," Pastor Clark said. "It was the first time anyone had ever run a basketball clinic at the Sanchez Center," he noted.

A group of about 35 from Hickory Grove, including Grubb's team and assistant coach, made the trip, which was connected with Northern Kentucky Baptist Association's ongoing partnership with the New Orleans Baptist Association.

Jim Wooloms, director of missions for Northern Kentucky Baptist Association, explained, "Our partner there is Rebuild Church, a church plant headed up by Richard Johnson, a New Orleans native." Johnson spoke to the group on the last night, challenging the players to take what they've learned and serve their communities back home.

The association's primary partner, though, was Harbor Community Church, a post-Katrina church plant in the Lakeview area, added Woolums. "Harbor is one of the top 10 churches in NOBA in baptisms and reaches primarily first-generation Christians," he noted.

The missions team—including Grubbs' players and Wooloms—did survey work of about 2,000 homes to help raise Harbor Community's visibility and make connections with young professionals moving into the area.

The group also partnered with Calvary Baptist Church and Christian School, which is in the West Bank area near a military base, Woolums said. They did repairs, grounds work and prayer walked classrooms.

"We have done numerous home rebuilds here and have a couple of more construction projects we are working toward," Woolums added, sharing future plans to help with a transition home for men in recovery and a church facility that needs "rehabbing" before being re-launched.

The AAU team's sports camp was held in the afternoons at the Sanchez Center in the Lower Ninth Ward. "We were hoping to have some kids show up. We were mentally prepared for no one to show up, but instead we had dozens show up," Clark said.

Although some of the participants were older than what had been anticipated, they seemed to love being taught drills by the high school students from Kentucky. "I think they loved getting to play with some very good ballers that weren't from there," Clark added

"What's also so cool is that our non-AAU team members got right in there, too," he said. "One of the biggest highlights for me was seeing one of our high school girls, Mia Derks, just a nice soft-spoken young lady, stand up boldly and confidently and share the gospel with 40 young men and women in the Lower Ninth Ward."

The group made sure that everyone who came to the basketball clinic left knowing how to receive eternal life. "God just blew us away with what He did all week long in New Orleans," Clark said.

"It was pretty amazing," Grubbs agreed. "A lot of those who attended the basketball clinic were very receptive to hearing the gospel and seemed to very much appreciate that we were there."

In spite of the wide range in the participants' ages, "we didn't want to turn anyone away," he added. "We felt they were there for a reason, and that God had opened these doors, and we had an opportunity to plant some seeds" for the gospel.

While those at the Sanchez Center may have been apprehensive at first, by the time the team left, "they were hugging us and asking us to come back," Grubbs said. "We really formed friendships in the community and with area pastors. God really opened some doors and used us to establish some good relationships there."

The missions trip also was a great missions experience for his players, Coach Grubbs said. "I'm anxious to see how God continues to work in their lives. I think they came away with a great appreciation not just for missions, but for how people who are willing to be obedient to God's call can impact people's lives."

"It was fantastic. I can't explain what a blessing it was seeing how well our guys worked with the kids and youth during the camp," said Mickey Pardee, the team's assistant coach.

The missions experience was "very eye-opening," said his son, Kameron, one of the ball players. "It was amazing to help out by using a talent like basketball" to share the gospel, he said.

And while he admits he didn't particularly enjoy walking all those miles that the group did in canvassing neighborhoods and hanging fliers on door knobs, Kameron said, "If one family puts their faith in God, it was all worth it." (WR)

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