Bill Taylor sensed something special was about to happen.
Taylor, director of Lipscomb’s men’s and women’s cross country and track and field, gathered his athletes together for a retreat at the Ocoee Center prior to the start of the fall semester.
“We were at a bonfire,” Taylor said. “We had a great time of singing praise songs together. People were praying and being bold about their prayers…speaking encouragement to each other. It was something we had never experienced at that level. ”
He sensed it even stronger when the cross country team attended Ethos Church and heard Dave Clayton preach. The services are held at The Cannery.
“That was the first time I had scheduled all of us to go to Ethos for its evening service at 5,” Taylor said. “We were there as a team. The place was packed. It was standing room only.”
Clayton told everyone that there would be baptisms that night.
“I guess they only get to do baptisms there two or three times a year,” Taylor said. “They bring out a big trough and fill it with water.
“The sermon didn’t have anything to do with baptism. But at the end there was talk about baptism.”
Junior Dan Coleman, from Champaign, Ill., and freshman Cooper Wall, from Poulsbo, Wash., made the decision to be baptized there. Andrew Jones, a former member of the cross country team, was also baptized.
“We were all excited to see that happen,” Taylor said.
But those three baptisms were not the last of the night.
Gordon decides it’s time
The team met on the South concourse at Allen Arena for a chicken dinner to close out the week of training.
Brooke Gordon, from Arden, N.C., let it be known at the dinner that she had made the decision to be baptized. Actually, she had expressed her desire to be baptized while at Ethos, but wanted her parents to see it on FaceTime. Team members left Allen Arena after dinner and gathered at the Osman Fountain in Bison Square.
“She called her parents and talked it over with them,” Taylor said. “They wanted to be at her baptism, but she wanted to do it now.
“We pulled the grates up. Brooke requested that Minna Fields perform her baptism.”
“We could not get a signal strong enough for FaceTime so the team did what we do best,” Gordon said. “We collaborated to document as much as we could.
“We had teammates taking videos, singing worship songs together, praying and taking pictures. My roommate was in the fountain with me on speaker phone.”
Fields had talked with Gordon at Ethos and helped her to make her decision to be baptized before the day was done.
“Minna was important because she was the one in Ethos who was watching me and helped me follow my heart and the voice of the Lord,” Gordon said. “Had she not been looking out for me, and had she not been persistent in having me listen to my heart and the Lord’s plan, I might have ignored God’s plan for me and missed out on what was easily one of the best moments of my life.”
As the group was preparing to leave after Gordon’s baptism, Grant Stromberg, a sophomore from Pacific Palisades, Calif., decided it was time for him to be baptized as well.
Taylor was not surprised at the decisions based on what he had been observing since the athletes returned to school.
“This unifies our purpose and puts it in perspective,” Taylor said. “We are taking these steps of hopefully being a program of revival.
“I am excited about the people that we have and the way the program is going. There is spiritual growth and the desire to be bold and make public statements about Christ. God is blessing us with the right kind of people.”
Taylor’s voice shows the emotion of what he is seeing with the team and he apologizes for shedding a tear or two.
“It was unexpected and it was awesome,” Taylor said. “Everyone on the team was excited.
“People were happy. People were emotional. It reminds us of what is most important. Whatever I have done in my coaching career, if I have done nothing for 24 years of coaching but got to this point where there is an opportunity for people to be baptized into Christ, which is more than enough.”
End of a struggle
Stromberg admits that he had been struggling with his faith during the summer.
“Personally, I have had a really tough time in all aspects of my life the past four years,” Stromberg said. “But at the end of the summer God reached out to me and stopped me from making a life-changing decision.
“As I came back to school I felt the love from my team surrounding me constantly, which is truly what I needed. I had not been baptized before because I never felt that I understood enough. But after this summer I learned it was not about what you know, it is about if you know. It was time for me to take the next step in strengthening my faith.”
Answering a heart tug
Coleman was baptized at what he says was “a very young age” because it seemed like the thing to do.
“I didn’t know why,” Coleman said. “That was just the way it was.
“I had learned in Sunday school that Jesus was baptized and that he called us to, but I didn’t really understand why. So I got baptized and my family celebrated.”
It wasn’t a snap decision for Coleman to be baptized again. He had been contemplating it for several months. The time to follow through was Sunday night before the start of the Fall semester.
“For the last year getting baptized has been something tugging on my heart,” Coleman said. “I had felt a pretty persistent pull of something telling me that I should do it.
“For a long time I was battling with whether it was something that I was supposed to do to have self-affirmation, or if it was something that the Holy Spirit was calling me to do. The night I was baptized was the night I felt the clear message of the Holy Spirit.”
Coleman also was moved by what Andrew Jones, a close friend as well as a former teammate, said as he was being baptized.
“Andrew pretty much said exactly how I was feeling when he was getting baptized,” Coleman said. “Through him I felt the Lord talking to me, telling me to be at peace with my fears and take a bold step of faith. I decided to get baptized because it was new step for me.
“It was a decision to live a new life. It was a new journey, a journey where I was not the leader, but the follower.”
A seed grows at Lipscomb
Wall draws on the parable of the sower in talking about his desire to be baptized.
“God was the gardener and I was a seed he was trying to place into fertile soil,” Wall said. “The trouble was I had a river of pride and selfishness that kept flowing through my life that kept washing the little seed I was from the place where God wanted me to be into other rocky soil.
“However, coming to Lipscomb and joining the cross country team/family was, in a metaphorical sense, the action of the little seed that I was. I was placed into the middle of 1,000 acres of fertile soil, making it impossible for me to wash onto the rocky soil again.”
Wall saw God working in the lives of every member of the cross country team as he went through training week. When the team went as a group to Ethos to close training camp, he knew the time was right.
“We were all praising God together at Ethos,” Wall said. “A new river began to flow through my soul. I felt chills rush through my body as I stood there with my team. I felt God telling me that I need to start the new school year with him.”
When the invitation call was made Wall didn’t hesitate to answer.
“Coach Taylor talked all week about `buying in’ and `committing to the team,” Wall said. “But what I didn’t notice was that there were two teams I needed to buy into – the Lipscomb Cross Country team and Team Jesus.
“I realize that life isn’t going to be rainbows and unicorns. College is going to be hard. However, what I also know is that I have a team that will surround me with love and Christ-like values and that will also encourage me in my journey to become more like Jesus. God is good.”
A loving team
Gordon pointed to the importance of being surrounded by teammates and an overall campus environment that helps her to thrive in her Christian walk.
“The overwhelming level of love, joy and comfort given to me by this team during training camp week played a huge part in my decision,” Gordon said. “All week, you could see the Lord’s work through the members of my team.
“The ability to be in a place where you can drop everything you are doing and just thank the Lord for All he does is truly amazing. Seeing girls so strong in their faith allowed me to find comfort in my own.”
Gordon is convinced that God led her to Lipscomb for a purpose.
“The cross country team welcomed me with open arms,” Gordon said. “They allowed me, as well as the other freshmen, to be part of multiple prayer and worship sessions that truly warmed my heart and verified my decision. I definitely knew I was in the right place.
“Being able to pull everything together and have this ceremony with my team made it all the more special because I truly believe they are all placed in my life to shape me into an even better person each day I am here. I had been waiting for years to find the right day, time, place and group to share my baptism with. I truly think it could have not gone any better.”
Muller gets double blessing
Tim Muller, a senior, received a double blessing when he baptized Coleman and Stromberg.
“It was definitely the most amazing way to end training camp with so many of the people on our team being baptized,” Muller said. “I know people say it a lot but our team is so much more a family than anything else. We all depend on each other for so much. I know the people who got baptized were in the presence of family.
“I was extremely humbled to be able to do the actual baptizing. It has been awhile since I got baptized and you lose appreciation for what a statement it really is. It is so amazing to be with a brother who is acknowledging he is dead to sin but alive in Christ. To be able to be part of that and glorify God all the way is truly an amazing experience.”