For the past week, Lauren Gross and Ashtyn Baker have been playing basketball. That’s not new to the pair who played for and led Northpoint Christian School to Tennessee Secondary Schools Athletic Association (TSSAA) Division II-A state championships and became best friends while doing it.
What is new is that Lauren, who finished her freshman year playing for the University of North Florida, and Ashtyn, a sophomore playing at Liberty University, this week were both playing together again, while also sharing their faith to youngsters in Puerto Rico.
They were part of a team sponsored by Athletes in Action, founded in 1966 and based in Xenia, Ohio. It is the sports ministry arm of Cru Ministries, which some may also know as Campus Crusade for Christ.
“It’s an organization with all kinds of sports to spread the Gospel all over the world,” Gross said. “They have in-States mission trips, out-States mission trips, summer programs and all kinds of training camps and everything. They want to teach college athletes in leadership and sharing their faith using sports to do that.”
“They're a gateway to share the Gospel and influence kids in every way,” Baker added. “What Lauren and I were doing is called a tour. You have to play collegiate ball to be a part of this. We’ll be in the community and play some games, then go to some schools, share and work throughout the community.”
The pair left for Puerto Rico this past Monday and joined the rest of the team for a brief training camp followed by work in the community and games with some high school and college-age teams located there.
Gross said she was looking for ways to play and minister over the summer and came upon Athletes in Action.
“I started Googling ‘mission trips that use sports,’ because that’s how I want to take my career in some way, use sports to share Christ as my passion,” said Gross. “I stumbled across it and started doing some research. When I discovered the tours where you can play, I knew this was something I wanted to do.”
When Lauren followed up and was able to take part, she contacted Ashtyn, who said she was in to do it, as well.
“I had no hesitation because I was getting to play with Lauren again, being able to travel and play basketball all at the same time,” Ashtyn said. “I didn’t even hesitate, I said, ‘I’m all in.’ I just made sure the dates worked out.”
Being on the team meant an application process was filled out that included questions not so much about basketball skills, but more about character.
“The questions are more focused toward what your beliefs are, what is your relationship with Christ is like,” said Gross. “You don’t have to be a Christian to go, but it is a Christian organization.”
It was not the first time for Baker to play overseas, as her Liberty University squad visited Israel and played there before the season started last August.
For Lauren and Ashtyn, the trip to Puerto Rico allowed both to play together and share their faith with others. It marked the first time for them to play together since high school, as they now play against each other at least twice a year, since North Florida and Liberty play in the same Atlantic Sun Conference.
But, both were glad they were on the same team again, playing basketball together and sharing Christ together at the same time.
Bob Bakken is Managing Editor for the DeSoto Times-Tribune.