21 September 2017

Firefighters for Christ

Sport, like few other human endeavours, often serves as a catalyst for unique and life-changing human encounters. Especially when the venue is of an international nature such as the recent World Police and Fire Games held in New York City, August 26th to September 4th.

These games are held bi-annually and are open to all active and retired full-time firefighters and police officers. Previous versions of the games have been hosted in Korea, Australia, Canada and Hong Kong. The 2011 Games were awarded to New York City and were held just two weeks prior to the 10th anniversary of the infamous terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001. The Olympic style competition attracted over 16,000 athletes from 70 countries to participate in over 65 sporting venues.

For nearly as long as the games have been held the ministry of Firefighters For Christ International (FFC) has actively participated. For the New York games FFC saw an opportunity to expand their role in the games through both competition and outreach. The local FFC chapter in New York took the lead in developing the venues for the outreach while a team of FFC members from the United States, Canada and Northern Ireland was assembled.

FFC International President, John White, who has gone to these games representing FFC for many years building lifelong relationships with fellow competitors, emphasises the nature of the ministry as one of mere presence. “When we show up, we bring Jesus with us,” White explains. “People see us compete, see our uniforms and know who we represent. The games open doors for sharing the love of Christ in a unique and long-term manner.”

Relationships are formed across language barriers and athletic ability as the games are open to all ages. An example is the experience of Northern Ireland firefighter, Ross McClean of Newtownards Station. Ross signed up to participate in several track and field sports of which he was a relative novice. He also decided to jump into the ring and try his hand at boxing. This was in fulfillment to a commitment he had made to several youth he works with at a local gym in his hometown.

Against his wishes, Hurricane Irene did not wash out his bout and Ross stepped into the ring against a stout firefighter from Kansas City. While he held his own and lasted the entire three rounds, Ross took a beating. After recovering from the relentless pummeling Ross saw an opportunity to reach out and later made contact with his opponent. He was able to spend time with him learning that he too was a Christian and through Ross’s encouragement is now interested in initiating an FFC chapter in his department.

Ross, along with several other FFC members would go on to claim medals in other events. After taking gold in the hammer and shot put, Ross was able to stand on the victory platform with famed Northern Ireland Olympic gold-medalist, Dame Mary Peters. (Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will lift you up. James 4:10).

For more information on Firefighters Christ Northern Ireland contact Robert Blair on 07533158759 or go towww.firefightersforchrist.co.uk Northern Ireland’s Christine Murray from Ballyclare Station competed in the 10k cross country event in Van Cortlandt Park in the Bronx. She and fellow countryman Davey Paden took on the gruelling course finishing in the leading edges of the pack. It took time to unravel the results but Christine would eventually learn that she earned the gold medal for her bracket.

She found out hours after the event while in a Manhattan coffee house. At the race site she was told she finished fourth and, while very gracious, was disappointed by that outcome. When she received the call later correcting the result, needless to say she was deservedly elated giving God the glory through her joyous expressions.

Besides competing, the FFC team hosted a booth at the games EXPO hall and conducted two major outreach events including a night of testimonies from noted North American athletes including Super Bowl quarterback Kurt Warner. The other event was a private screening of a Christian-based family film “Courageous” at which several people made decisions to accept Christ as Saviour after the movie.

The next World Police and Fire Games will be hosted by Northern Ireland in Belfast, August 1st-10th, 2013. Billed as the “Friendliest Games Ever”, these games will be sure to attract a large European contingent and will be an outstanding opportunity for the ministry forged through the relationships established in New York and earlier games to continue.

Firefighters For Christ will be prayerfully considering its role in the 2013 games. There is a very active FFC chapter in Northern Ireland that has previously hosted outreaches to firefighters there. Taking lessons learned from those experiences along with what they witnessed in New York will give them plenty of ideas on how best to reach the thousands of fellow first responders who will converge upon their homeland in two short years.

Mike Bell