Steve Susdorf’s True Mission Accomplished

Photo courtesy

The Susdorfs at a Haitian orphanage (Photo courtesy

“Then I heard the voice of the Lord saying, “Whom shall I send? And who will go for us?” And I said, “Here am I. Send me!” — Isaiah 6:8, NIV

Steve Susdorf did what many pro baseball players do in the winter. He flew to a Caribbean island to work on his swing.

Only, the former Fresno State outfielder wasn’t swinging a bat to get ready for spring training with the Philadelphia Phillies. He was swinging a hammer, getting a devastated church in Haiti back on its feet to reach a earthquake-ravaged city for Christ.

“My wife (Kelsey) and I had been praying about it, and just felt called to go there and help,” Susdorf said. “We had felt God pulling our hearts to go to Haiti and to see it for ourselves.

Susdorf went there hoping to make others’ lives better. In the end, he was the one with what he called a “life-changing experience.”

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Kitna and the power of giving

“So let each one give as he purposes in his heart, not grudgingly or of necessity; for God loves a cheerful giver.” — 2 Corinthians 9:7 (NKJV)

New Cowboys backup quarterback Jon Kitna is working for free this week.

The 41-year-old almost-retiree already forfeits his salary as a high school teacher and coach in Tacoma. And now, he’s taking the $53,000 the Cowboys are paying him this week and giving it to the high school he already won’t let pay him. This, after giving away 20% of what he’s always made away in the NFL to church and charity.

“I just have always been taught that your money is not your own,” Kitna told my former colleague Gwen Knapp last week in a powerful Sports on Earth piece. “Our resources don’t come from ourselves. They’re given to us by God, and we need to have an open hand and let him do with it as he wishes.”

Kitna gives to organizations he believes in, places that are doing things that matter most to him. What will you give to?

Long ago, soon-to-be king David cried out, “Is there not a cause?” and there are many. Some churches ask you to invest in their cause for Christ. Some ask you for money just ’cause they can.

We have a cause at the Porterville Church of God. We want to empty hell and fill heaven by sharing the love and message of the Savior Jesus Christ to everyone within the reach of our influence and voice. We want to live with passion for God, and compassion for people. I believe in this cause so much, I left my job as an NFL writer at the San Francisco Chronicle to pastor to invest everything I’ve got into this cause.

My question to you is, do you think this cause is worth investing in, too?

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Derek Carr: Praising God, no matter the score

Fresno State quarterback Derek Carr leads his team in prayer -- no matter the score.

Fresno State quarterback Derek Carr leads his team in postgame prayer — always with thanksgiving, no matter the final score.

“The Lord gave, and the Lord has taken away; Blessed be the name of the Lord.” — Job 1:21b (NKJV)

Everything seemingly was gone.

The perfect season. The top-15 national ranking. The darkhorse Heisman hype. A looming bid to the Fiesta Bowl.

Everything Derek Carr had ever dreamed for as a football player, all the things he trained so relentlessly for ever since he was an 8-year-old watching his big brother David’s BCS dreams get dashed by Boise State in 2001 — it all came unraveled last Friday in a 62-52 loss at San Jose State, in the regular season finale, no less.

And what did Derek Carr say in the parking lot, just 30 minutes after the end of the BCS dream as he knew it?

“God is still so good,” Carr told me with a smile.

Anyone can thank God when things go well. It’s how we respond when things go wrong that tells the true depth of our love for Christ.

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Bears QB keeps faith in the gaps


“But without faith it is impossible to please God …” — Hebrews 11:6 NIV

Josh McCown sat by a telephone that just wasn’t ringing. He was unemployed and out of football for the first time since childhood. He volunteered to coach at a local high school, just to stay busy, all the while wishing he was still playing somewhere, anywhere.

After all, McCown had already played just about everywhere. Jacksonville High as a prep senior, Southern Methodist and Sam Houston State in college, Arizona, Detroit, Oakland, Miami, Carolina and San Francisco in the NFL, Hartford in the United Football League.

“When all this is happening, there’s a piece of me wondering, ‘Man, what’s going on?’” McCown said in a phone interview this week. “Looking at my career, I’ve never known what was coming. It was me finally getting to the point where I felt like God was saying, ‘Josh, you’re not supposed to know what’s coming. If you know, it’s not faith.’”

The phone was still on involuntary silent mode. McCown was about to learn how to walk by faith when his life was stuck in the gaps.

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Derek Carr’s faith for a child

“For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” — Jeremiah 29:11 (NIV)

Derek Carr took his golden right hand, big enough to grip a football and spiral it across the field, yet small enough to rub the fuzz on his baby’s pinkish forehead.

He lowered his deep voice, which is gruff enough to call out an audible over the roars of a sellout crowd, yet shushed enough to keep saying, “Daddy loves you, you’re doing great,” without waking up the sleeping baby in his arms.

Baby Dallas just gave a glassy blue-eyed stare across the sterile hospital room, sucking away at an orange binkie. This newborn son had no idea how his two emergency surgeries and 23 days lived in the neonatal intensive care unit at Children’s Hospital would make football mean nothing to a college quarterback about to start his senior-year chase after a Heisman Trophy, a BCS bowl game and the Fresno State passing record book.

This is supposed to be Carr’s dream season, a retelling of his brother David Carr’s 2001 fairytale story of Sports Illustrated covers, top-10 rankings and millions banked as the top draft pick in the NFL. All Derek Carr wanted at this point was to take his boy home and show him the words of Jeremiah 29:11 written on his boy-blue bedroom wall, and tell him there’s not an intestinal knot that is tight enough to keep him from God’s plans.

“These three weeks, I keep telling my son he has made me so much tougher through this and he doesn’t have a clue what I’m saying, but I tell him anyway,” Carr said Monday. “I’ve had to live off my faith this whole time or I don’t know how I’d get through it. This is the hardest thing I’ve ever gone through in my life, no doubt.”

David and Heather Carr shared their previously untold story with me this week for a college football profile that ran in today’s New York Times.  The newspaper story allowed only so much space. This is the rest of his story, with an emphasis on his Christian perspective.

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Selah’s Amy Perry finding her own voice

Amy Perry with Selah's Todd Smith and Allan Hall

Selah’s Amy Perry, a Church of God worship leader in NorCal, with Todd Smith and Allan Hall

“My voice You shall hear in the morning, O Lord; In the morning I will direct it to You, And I will look up.” — Psalm 5:3, NKJV

It’s always been easy to pick up the sound of Amy Perry’s voice when she sings with Selah. After all, she’s the one woman’s voice in the otherwise male Christian singing group.

Soon, Selah fans can better hear the soulful heart behind Perry’s voice when her debut solo project is released in 2014. Think the traditional sounds of Selah — harmonies, modernized hymnals — seasoned with some rhythm and blues, Sunday morning worship-style.

“You’re going to feel a little bit of Selah in there because that’s who I am,” said Perry, who will minister Sunday at the Porterville Church of God during a free worship service at 10:30 a.m.

“I sound the same, but it’s definitely a little bit more contemporary, some R&B flavor, a little bit of soul.”

A little bit more Perry, which makes for a unique take after blending her voice into Selah’s proven mold the past eight years.

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Saving Temperance: Not your Granddad’s worship band

PTR200“One generation shall praise Your works to another, and shall declare Your mighty acts.” — Psalms 145:4

Brittany Wainwright won’t thump a King James Bible on the pulpit when she steps up to the microphone this weekend. Her brother Chris won’t sport a three-piece suit when he kicks off the worship set.

Still, the Wainwrights will be carrying on the family tradition just the same when their Christian alt-rock band Saving Temperance gets a turn at Spirit West Coast on Saturday.

Sure, their style is radically different, but these preacher’s grandkids rock the same message as their grandfather John Wainwright Sr. did for decades as a Church of God pastor in the central San Joaquin Valley.

“Same message, different pulpit,” said Chris Wainwright, 22, the lead guitar player who never met a flannel worth ironing or tucking in.

“Extremely different.”

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For David Carr, NFL life never gets old

“For by me your days will be multiplied, And years of life will be added to you.” — Proverbs 9:11 (NKJV)

Giants quarterback David Carr was never supposed to last this long, the NFL analysts say. He was blind sided too many times as a rookie, played on too many losing teams in Houston, and was dismissed too many times by the Panthers and 49ers.

And yet, here the former Fresno State standout stands, reporting for his 12th NFL training camp this weekend. Carr is the longest-tenured No. 1 overall draft pick this side of Peyton Manning, and one of just seven first-round picks still standing from the Class of 2002.

“Every time I look back, how many guys who had just as much talent than me, if not more, who aren’t around anymore … guys I played in college with who’d give anything to play one more time,” says Carr, a faith-sharing Christian long before Tebowing went viral. “I am extremely blessed to be in the position I’m in.

“I feel like God has kept me around for a reason.”

That reason may have nothing to do with playing time, or even Super Bowl rings, for that matter.

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Choosing life on death’s bridge


“Now choose life, so that you and your children may live.” — Deut. 30:19 (NIV)

I remember it being colder and foggier, and certainly much darker. The wind was furious as ever, though, and the sheer drop to the Pacific Ocean looked just as terrifying.

My mind was so overcome by the remembering in a recent visit to the Golden Gate Bridge, where new life began on the day I chose not to let life end.

This is where I drove to in June 1994, a broken 21-year-old college kid desperate to end my miserable life.

I went to plunge into a watery grave. I wound up crumbling into the arms of a loving God.

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Let bygones be long gones

“He shall not return by way of the gate through which he came, but shall go out through the opposite gate.” — Ezekiel 46:9, NKJV

There’s this framed map hanging in my church office, with thousands of Nowhere, USA listings on its old-world brown skin.

Its laminate surface is stabbed all over the place by these neatly colored pins, marking the ‘X’ on every spot I’ve traveled in 40 years of family vacationing and 17 years of sportswriting.

To me, it nutshells the circuitous route God used to bring me to where I am today. And, it reminds me there is no point in going back because, well, I’ve already been there (and that means you, Moscow, Ida.).

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