Sports camp builds character

Midwest churches partner with Utah congregation for two summer events that they pray will be a "game changer" in the lives of the local children and their families and the team of volunteers.

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Game Changers coaches huddle before campers arrive for the character-based sports camp offered by Greenhouse Community Church, Saratoga Springs, Utah, in partnership with a team of Midwest coaches and athletes. Photo: Bailey Kaufman

Hungry! Humble! Hustle!” The sound echoes through the dry Utah air as young athletes huddle-up under a pavilion and chant these words at the top of their lungs. The energy is contagious, but even more contagious is the love of Christ being displayed through coaches who have volunteered their time and vacation to serve.

For the past two summers, this has been the scene in Saratoga Springs, Utah, where Greenhouse Community Church (GCC) partners with a team of Midwest coaches and athletes to provide character-based coaching to youth in the community.

Coaches prepare for Game Changer character-based sports camp, held in a community park. Photo: Bailey Kaufman
The Greenhouse story

Greenhouse was planted in 2013 by Tabor graduates Jason and Nicole Quiring, and the leadership team has since expanded to include fellow Tabor graduates Drew and Allie Pankratz and Logan Whitney, who met and married Miranda after moving to Utah.

Jason, who serves as Greenhouse’s lead pastor, grew up in Henderson, Nebraska, while Nicole grew up in Houston as the daughter of current Tabor College president, Jules Glanzer. Jason and Nicole have served USMB churches in Oklahoma and Nebraska. The Quirings also spent two and a half years serving in student ministry in Northern Utah County.

In the summer of 2013, the Quirings moved back to Utah and have called it home ever since. “We came for the opportunity to live out the Good News in Utah County,” Jason says, “but we fell in love with the people, the culture and the amazing landscape too.”

Both Whitney and the Pankratzs joined the Greenhouse team in 2016. Whitney serves in many different areas for the church, including discipleship and event planning. He also works in the community for a wilderness therapy program.

Coaches and volunteers form a human tunnel as kids make their way to a station at Game Changers.

Drew Pankratz grew up in Buhler, Kansas, and spent his childhood attending MB youth events. His love for working with students led him to pursue youth ministry, and he says serving as the youth pastor at Greenhouse combines his interest in missions with youth ministry. Drew’s wife, Allie, serves as the church’s worship leader. Both are bi-vocational, using their education degrees to work in local schools.

Greenhouse Community Church is located in Saratoga Springs, a city in Utah County, which is home to less than 1 percent evangelical Christians. The church currently meets for weekly gatherings in a dance studio and focuses on building relationships with members of the local community.

“We view our work as missions and partnerships rather than viewing it as a church plant,” Quiring says. He adds that in all of its outreach, Greenhouse must be sensitive to the religious culture of Utah County and the Church of Latter-day Saints.

Henderson church lends support 
Christine Quiring, center, leads worship time at the 2019 ROAR Summer Bible Adventure. Photo: Bailey Kaufman 

In 2015, Jason and Nicole’s sister-in-law, Christine Quiring, began conversations with the pair about how members of Living Hope Church (formerly Henderson MB Church) might be able to encourage and support Greenhouse’s work in Saratoga Springs.

“We decided to launch a VBS,” Christine says, “and use a team from our church with the same curriculum our church used, just making it work for Utah.”

During the summer of 2015, Living Hope Church sent a team to Utah to host a three-day, outdoor summer Bible adventure. In order to present the gospel while remaining sensitive to the culture of Utah County, Jason and Nicole worked with Christine to tailor the curriculum to the community’s needs.

“We emphasize Jesus as fully God and that he died for our sins and paid the whole price on the cross,” Christine says. “We usually do the story of the cross and we always show how powerful the trinity is. We don’t try to convert anybody, but just share the truth.”

The upbeat, fun nature of the summer Bible adventure drew in kids from the community.

“They see something different—the excitement, the joy,” Christine says. “Our worship time is loud and fun, and we have a good time praising Jesus.”

Greenhouse, with support from teams from the Midwest, has continued to host the summer Bible adventure each summer and has seen more and more kids participate each year.

Changing the game

Greenhouse’s vision for ministry continued to grow, and in 2017 four Tabor College students spent the month of January in Utah dreaming with Jason and Nicole about building a partnership between Greenhouse and USMB churches in the Midwest. As the vision team helped Greenhouse assess the needs of the community and the opportunities in front of them, it became clear that sports is an effective avenue for ministry in the community.

Soccer athletes receive instruction from coaches during a session of Game Changer sports camp. Photo: Bailey Kaufman

“Thousands and thousands of kids are involved with youth sports here,” Quiring says. “It’s insane. I was already coaching football and basketball and making great connections through that, so it seemed like a natural step.”

Sports camps hosted by the city often are put on by volunteer coaches, and specialized sports camps are too expensive for many families in the area.

“Our vision became to provide a really quality sports training for a really affordable price,” Quiring says.

However, Greenhouse wanted to make sure it’s camp stood out by teaching more than just the skills of the sport.

“We decided to make it a character-based camp,” Quiring says. “By going character-based, we were able to incorporate our faith and biblical truths without crossing lines.”

The character traits highlighted in 2019 were hungry (to have passion and vision), humble (authenticity and meekness) and hustle (sticking with things and teamwork). A verse of Scripture was presented with each trait and leaders performed skits and shared personal stories of how the day’s trait was a “game changer” for them.

The character aspect of the camp has helped reignite a passion for sports in many campers, says Pankratz, GCC’s youth pastor. “The politics that comes with youth sports out here can get nasty, and there’s a lot of pressure put on kids to perform. Our heart behind the camp is to give kids freedom in their sport to just come, have a blast, learn important skills and get better.”

Recruiting a team

When the vision team came back to Tabor’s campus and shared about their experience, one student was particularly struck. Tena Loewen, a volleyball and basketball athlete from Hillsboro, Kansas, remembers listening to the vision team share and knowing that God was providing her with an opportunity to combine her love for sports with her love for ministry.

“Seeing how God collided the Greenhouse team’s dream with “some of the dreams he had placed on my heart was really special,” Loewen says.

In the summer of 2018, GCC launched its first Game Changers Sports Camp with the help of a team of athletes and coaches from the Midwest organized by Loewen. The camp, held in conjunction with Summer Bible Adventure, was received positively in the community, and Jason says the Saratoga Springs recreation director even reached out to Greenhouse about plans for the next summer.

The crew that led the 2019 Summer Bible Adventure and Game Changers camp hosted by Greenhouse Community Church. Photo: Bailey Kaufman

“I’ve had so much positive feedback,” Quiring says. “People say they can’t believe the quality of coaching their kids are getting and their kids are coming home saying that camp was the most fun they’ve ever had playing sports.”

Loewen and the Midwest team deserve the credit for this positive feedback, Pankratz says. Over the past two summers, the coaching team has included high school coaches from Hillsboro High School in addition to Tabor College coaches and current and former athletes.

In 2019, 60 people, including children, were part of the Midwest team, and 90 children attended the camp. Team members came from Kansas, Colorado, Oklahoma and Nebraska and represented the three Hillsboro MB churches—Hillsboro MB, Parkview and Ebenfeld—as well as Cross Timbers Church, Edmond, Oklahoma, and Henderson’s Living Hope. In addition to the sports camp, the Midwest team provided the personnel for the VBS, which was coordinated by Christine Quiring.

A family affair

While Summer Bible Adventure and Game Changers have been a blessing and outreach to the Saratoga Springs community, it has also mobilized families in the Midwest for missions.

“It’s been really neat to see the multigenerational and the family discipleship that has come from this being a very reasonable trip for a lot of families,” Loewen says.

Nathan Hiebert, the Hillsboro High head girls’ basketball coach who attends Parkview MB Church, as does Loewen, has brought his family of seven on the trip each year, and despite needing to rent a larger van for the drive to Utah, the trip has been a perfect fit for his family.

“This trip seemed like a great match of our passions and skill sets,” he says. “Greenhouse was optimistic about us bringing our family, and God has allowed us to use our time and our giftings well through this trip.”

Phil and Melanie Thiessen are close friends of the Hieberts and decided to take part in the 2019 camp after hearing about the Hiebert family’s experience in Utah the first year.

“When you’re there with a family, you have to balance being present and missional with understanding that it’s okay to tend to your kids,” Melanie said. “Being a mom and being present with my kids was missional, and God even used it to minister to other families in the community.”

Robert Rempel, left, offers some pointers to young football players. Rempel enjoys serving with his wife and their children. Photo: Bailey Kaufman

Robert Rempel, Hillsboro High’s athletic director who attends Hillsboro MB Church, has also brought his clan of seven on the trip each year.

“I really enjoy watching our own family serve,” he says. “Some of the older kids actually got to be a part of running the camp sessions and it’s really special to watch them lead.”

Dreaming forward 

Currently, the COVID-19 outbreak has put plans for the 2020 VBS and sports camp, planned for July 21-24, on pause.

“Our game plan right now is to pray,” Loewen says. “I’ve been reminded that the Lord works and speaks however he wants to. If he wants this to happen this summer, then it will happen this summer.”

Despite this, the Greenhouse team has dreams for Game Changers beyond the one summer camp.

“Our dream is to build a facility where we could run programs throughout the year and possibly expand into some sort of sports ministry that has more permanent footprints here,” Quiring says.

Right now Greenhouse does not have staff to tackle this long-term goal, but hopes to partner remotely with those who could provide leadership in purchasing ground, architecture and finances. Quiring and Pankratz encourage anyone interested in supporting sports ministry in Saratoga Springs to contact them and to possibly participate in a vision trip.

“If a picture is worth a thousand words, then an experience is worth a million,” Quiring says.

Bailey Kaufman
Bailey Kaufman is a freelance writer living in Hillsboro, Kansas. She is a 2018 graduate of Tabor College and worked as a high school English teacher. Kaufman is currently director of communication at Hillsboro MB Church.

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