Super Bowl, Mardi Gras & Gospel converge

NEW ORLEANS (BP) -- Many have dubbed it "Super Gras," the rare convergence of the Super Bowl and Mardi Gras in New Orleans, a $700 million influx encompassing well over a million tourists. The city has spent the last three years getting ready.

Amid the revelry and planning are prime opportunities to model Christ at various game-related events across the city in the days leading up to Super Sunday.

Lagniappe Ministries, for example, will disperse helpers among the 8,000 Greater New Orleans Sports Foundation volunteers interacting with fans, workers and sports officials. Cherry and Ben Blackwell, who co-founded Lagniappe Ministries as an outreach to the sports and hospitality community and other groups, have been North American Mission Board Mission Service Corps missionaries for more than 10 years.

Volunteers "can't give out tracts or anything like that. That's taboo as far as the NFL is concerned," Cherry Blackwell said. "But relationship witnessing is the way to do it.

"The main thing is for people to see Christ in our everyday lives. Most of our ministry part of this is among volunteers more than anything else this time," Blackwell said. "Because we're working through the sports foundation and we're working through the NFL and the host committee, we're dealing with a lot of volunteers who are not Christian, so a lot of our ministry is to them directly."

The Super Bowl and its related events have great potential to grow Lagniappe's circle of influence, putting them in touch with new people, businesses and sports industry groups.

"It opens the doors for future ministries with so many people because we network with so many different groups of people and organizations," Blackwell said.

Blackwell has encouraged volunteers to pray at every opportunity, prayerwalking while going to and from their cars in the central business district. And she has encouraged the elderly and homebound, referred to as "rope holders," to pray at home during all events.

Blackwell is in the Super Dome daily as the full-time director of business development for the New Orleans VooDoo Arena Football team, a position she has held since May 2012.

"I walk through the Super Dome every day and ... I'm praying as I'm walking … first of all for safety, for those who are there who don't know Christ, for the door to open for somebody to share with them," she said. "The rope holders are groups of people ... our senior citizens who are homebound. They can't get out and actually volunteer, but they're supporting us by praying."

Lagniappe will provide hospitality volunteers at the Louis Armstrong New Orleans International Airport, the Ernest N. Morial Convention Center and on game day at the Super Dome.

"Volunteers will offer a welcome smile and a helping hand whenever and wherever needed," Blackwell said. "You're standing at the airport with three or four other people, and you're going to have down times" that allow for communication and relationship building.

"We just plant the seed. God promises He'll take care of the rest," said Blackwell, who has already shared the Gospel with several individuals during the pre-game Super Bowl events. "Very seldom have I had the opportunity to actually win somebody to Christ during an event or on the street, but a lot of times it's come later because of relationships or discipleship."

For the past two weeks, Blackwell's days have typically run from 4 a.m.–11 p.m., and she anticipates even longer days this weekend.

"The only way I'm handling it is that God's doing it," she said. "When this and Mardi Gras [the first parade was Jan. 19] are over, then I'll have to take a few crash days and just completely regroup and start all over."

Lagniappe Ministries has seen much fruit from prayers and labor, Ben Blackwell said.

"There are a lot of stories that show how God is working through this ministry. One of my favorites happened in 2006 when the AFL [Arena Football League] chose to bring the Arena Bowl Game to New Orleans following Hurricane Katrina," he said. "We got a phone call and the voice on the other end said they were looking for volunteers. And they had been told by someone at the NFL that if these people are still there after the storm they are the ones you want to call.

"They had been told we could be trusted and were good people. That meant a lot to us," he said. "God used that vote of confidence to open many doors and we believe to eventually open the door for Cherry's current job as director of business development for the New Orleans VooDoo."

With the Arena League team, Blackwell is paid to conduct ministry she previously conducted as a volunteer.

"I'm blessed because one of our owners is a believer," she said. "He knew what we did ministry-wise already before he hired me. And he knew that that was going to continue. ... They know that's what my life is about; that's what we do."


Diana Chandler is Baptist Press's staff writer. Get Baptist Press headlines and breaking news on Twitter (@BaptistPress), Facebook (Facebook.com/BaptistPress ) and in your email ( baptistpress.com/SubscribeBP.asp).