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There are three important goals Saturday:
1) Break the chains!
2) Lead the charge!
3) Take the hill!
Are we talking about the annual Red-White Nebraska Spring Football Game here?
Well, yes and no.
Nebraska’s 18-year assistant football coach and the Huskers’ leading returning rusher – Ron Brown and Roy Helu Jr. – are both involved in those three action-oriented phrases.
So, too, are Stan Parker, a Husker football captain in 1986, and Tom Osborne, Nebraska’s Hall of Fame coach and athletic director.
What brings those four together on a day when approximately 80,000 Big Red fans will gather inside Memorial Stadium to see if Quentin Castille can break the chains, Zac Lee can lead the charge and Ndamukong Suh can take the hill?
Time will tell, but don’t bet against such inspired leaders taking on a mighty big challenge of their own. Yes, Brown, Helu, Osborne, Parker and other believers from across the state are coming together Saturday for one primary reason – to help 4,200 Nebraskans understand why freedom is the key for them to become better men.
And when they become better men, they can light the fire and pass the torch to others. The ultimate goal for Brown and Parker, co-founders and co-directors of Mission Nebraska, is to give 1.7 million Nebraskans an authentic opportunity to hear and experience the gospel.
Brown: Men Are Nebraska’s Most Powerful Force
“We want to unleash the most powerful force in our state, in this generation and the next . . . the men of Nebraska,” Brown said. “We’re calling the event ‘Freedom: The Conquest ‘09’, and the whole idea is based on a biblical message to live a free life. To live a free life, men must take a stand and never let anyone put a harness of slavery on us again.”
While his focus will be on his players and on the field during the game, Brown also has a heavy emotional investment in the grass roots effort that influenced so many fathers and sons to buy tickets to an all-day Freedom event at Lincoln’s Pershing Auditorium.
The timing is not coincidental. In a savvy move for a football rabid state, a ticket to a day of inspired worship also includes a ticket to the Spring Game. All 4,200 will meet at 8:30 a.m. at Pershing. At 11:45 a.m., they will take a Freedom Walk together from Pershing to Memorial Stadium, where they will sit together in black Conquest T-shirts to signify the group’s unity.
The shirts also symbolize the conquest – an act to conquer by force and overcome all opposition – physical or moral – to achieve the victory of freedom. After the game, participants will return to Pershing for more worship and messages from Brown, Parker, Osborne and Helu, who says he’s eager to have an important game day activity since a hamstring injury has forced him to the sidelines in the Red-White game.
According to Parker, the day is designed to “tear down what’s wrong and build up what’s right” and, in the process, impact the culture of an entire state. The Katinas, perhaps the most popular musical group at national Fellowship of Christian Athlete functions, will keep the tone upbeat.
“Ron and I have a vision to help every believing Nebraska man understand and embrace the reality of his power in this state,” Parker said. “We want to help men get out of the bondage that disables them – to break the chains of greed or apathy, to lead the charge against an unbalanced life and to link arms, so we can take the hill together and help ensure the future of the families in our state.”
Osborne: Fathers and Sons Together Important
Osborne sees that vision as a cause worthy of support. “Ron and Stan have traveled all over the state and have visited a lot of small towns,” Nebraska’s athletic director pointed out. “They inspire people and help them understand the principles of faith. Their event on Saturday will bring fathers and sons together, and I see that as a very positive experience.”
These are trying times for dysfunctional families as well, and Osborne sees the same need for purpose and unity. “With 39 percent of children being born out of wedlock in this country, leaders like Ron and Stan are stepping up to tackle the challenge,” Osborne said. “I don’t know everything about Mission Nebraska, but I like what it stands for and the things they’re doing.”
Spending countless hours coaching football, Brown still manages to host the Fellowship of Christian Athletes’ national weekly radio program called “Sharing the Victory” and is a regular columnist for FCA’s national magazine.
In addition, through Mission Nebraska, Brown hosts a weekly statewide cable TV show called “Truth Vision” and has authored several books on Christian character and growth.
Mission Nebraska stewards five Christian radio stations and has booster broadcasts on 14 translators. “We try to connect with other faith-based ministries to support important causes, whether it’s a pregnancy center in Lincoln or a homeless shelter in Hastings,” Parker said.
Make no mistake. Coaching football is important to Brown. “But I’m more concerned about the eternal life of the 1.7 million people who live in our state,” he said. “The main reason I came back into coaching was to remind people of who Christ is. I want to help people know how they can come to Christ and help them understand the unity of God’s message.”
Bliss: Brown’s Words Influenced His Decision
Mike Bliss is on board with Brown, Parker and their entire team. Bliss, in fact, has led the grassroots effort to encourage local churches and smaller men’s groups throughout the state to buy tickets to Saturday’s event.
A Chicago native, Bliss met his Nebraska native wife in California, and they moved to Nebraska to raise a family. “I’m one of those transplanted Nebraskans who has the same loyalty as a native Nebraskan,” Bliss said.
That loyalty became very personal 13 years ago when Bliss heard Brown speak at Brook Berringer’s funeral, which was broadcast statewide on radio. He remembers Brown saying that if Brook could come back down from heaven to console the people he left behind from his tragic plane crash, he wouldn’t do it because heaven is the most incredible place imaginable and the ultimate reward for believers.
“When I heard that, I just pulled the car to the side of the road, and that was it – I accepted Christ,” Bliss said.
There was only one problem. “Even though I became a Christian, I sat on the sidelines for almost 12 years with my faith,” Bliss said. “I wasn’t doing anything with it. I wasn’t helping anybody. I wasn’t getting into the game, so when Ron got back into coaching, I wrote him and tried to tell him what kind of effect he had on my life and how I would like him to speak to our men’s group in Bennington.”
Three months later, Brown showed up at the Big Red “Sportsbarn” that Bliss had remodeled next to his house. “We had 170 people from all walks of life hear Coach Brown’s message, and what he started here a little more than a year ago has just skyrocketed,” Bliss said.
From the Sidelines to the Emcee’s Role
Brown may have influenced the most lives, but he knows a catalyst when he sees one, so he asked Bliss to emcee Saturday’s event. Deeply humbled, the man who sat so long on the sidelines of his faith accepted one of the biggest challenges of his life.
Meanwhile, the Sportsbarn is packed almost every Friday morning. Even Jake, Mike’s 14-year-old son, hosts weekly Bible studies in the barn for junior high kids.
“I’m telling you, lives are being transformed here every week,” Bliss said. “Young and old alike are getting the training to understand the freedom that’s there for all of us – the freedom to break the chains, lead the charge and take the hill.”
Yes, all three expressions are action-oriented terms that remind you of football, but they’re also “what ‘Freedom The Conquest’ is all about,” Bliss said.