From Books to Bats

What started as street evangelism and literature ministry has since led to a thriving sports program, including the largest baseball and softball club in Hungary, all because one man and his family were willing to go where the Lord called.

Terry Lingenhoel and his family moved to Hungary in 1991, shortly after the fall of communism. They didn’t come intending to start a sports ministry, though. Terry recalls, “At the beginning, we were actually doing a lot of proclamation evangelism in the streets and stuff. After some of the interest for the Gospel waned on the streets, we moved more into church planting and also mobilising Hungarians for mission.” 

Although the training and mobilisation ministries were going well, Terry was still looking for another door. “We were still looking for good ways to share the Gospel over a long period of time because Hungarians don’t make quick decisions, especially to follow Christ and so, I was retiring from field leadership and getting involved, or looking for the next type of ministry that I would like to do. I wanted something that would allow me to involve, or be in contact with, Hungarians for a longer period of time. And so, [in the past], I had tried some sports ministry and I had some experience with that and so in 2002, I decided to start a baseball ministry here.

And boy, was it a success. Terry shared that in order to advertise their first meeting, they printed an ad in the local newspaper. God showed up in only a way God can and 60 Hungarians arrived at that first meeting, eager to learn more about the new sport in town.

What’s even more exciting? The ministry didn’t stay in one town. Shortly after launching, Terry discovered the exciting world of baseball around Hungary. Terry shared, “…at the time I didn’t know there were other baseball clubs in Hungary, but next year I was able to find that there were other clubs and we were able to join leagues and start playing competitively.”

Since 2002, the club has grown immensely. At over 100 players ranging from 6 to 40, they make up 9 teams that play at a competitive level all over Hungary.  

Despite all the excitement of games and competition in the league, the true win is the ability to build natural, wholesome relationships with Hungarians. This mission has always been at the heart of Terry’s ministry. “We have just a nice opportunity for long term relationships. There’s still some people on our club that came the first day from when we advertised in our newspaper back in 2002 and they’re still playing for us,” Terry said. 

We’re seeing people 2 or 3 times a week with practices and games and traveling so most of our sharing happens in a friendship/relationship, when situations or questions come up,” he continued. “In the summer, we do camps and when we do camps we have what we call Character Development, which is a devotional opportunity to share the gospel with campers. And then in the off season we hold what we call Three Strikes Club, which stands for good food, good fun, and good news. And so, it’s kind of like a youth seekers club, which is optional, but a lot of the kids come and join in. Those are our main ways of sharing the Gospel and of course just our life and opportunity to serve them.” 

The club has been blessed to see many people come to know the Lord as a result of their ministry. Terry told one story in particular that stood out to him. “David started playing with us when he was 10 and he learned English through the baseball. Then he became one of our translators and was translating for a lot of our camps and one of the coaches from the US came (well, it was his third year coming). He was here and doing a camp and David was translating for him and decided to give his life to Christ there, at the camp!’

‘At that time, he was 14. And so, he’s now 17 and he’s really been growing in his faith. We’ve been discipling him and he’s gotten involved in campus ministry, Campus Crusade. And so yeah, he’s also coaching for us. He’s been coaching for us for about 3 years and he helps with our winter Three Strikes Clubs, so that’s a real blessing.

Life change. That’s truly what each and every ministry here in Hungary is about. The life change that comes from committing yourself, your skills, your talents, to Christ.

How can you be praying for the baseball ministry here in Hungary? 

  1. The main thing for us is continuing to get those opportunities to share the Gospel,” Terry shared. With over 100 players, there is a huge opportunity to not just connect with the players, but with their families. Terry talked about how they are encouraging families to get involved in helping and even leading various parts of the club. Eventually, the dream is to start a church full of the players and their families.
     
  2. Also, the baseball ministry is continuing the project of building an indoor training facility. “We’re in the process of finishing the project to build an indoor facility that will help us expand our ministry, especially in the winter. But then, we also hope to make a baseball academy using that facility,” shares Terry. Both prayers and finances would be a huge blessing as they take on finishing the facility project. 
     
  3. Finally, eventually, the dream is to see more and more of these same type of sport ministries pop-up all over Hungary. Currently, five other Christian baseball clubs exist, but there are still needs. “There’s a need, especially coaches that are able to come over for short and long term. We also have Baptist pastors waiting to start ministry, but they need someone to coach because they don’t know the sport at all, but they like the concept and they like the model that