Hungry and humble
Today is ÒSelection SundayÓ as college basketball teams across the country learn if they will participate in this monthÕs NCAA tournaments. Among the teams hoping for a coveted No. 1 seed in the Division I menÕs tournament are the University of Illinois Fighting Illini. On December 6, Illinois became the No. 1-ranked team in the country. Helping lead the Illini is 6-6 senior forward Roger Powell Jr. from Joliet, Ill. Powell is being mentored by his pastor at his home church, Mount Zion Full Gospel Tabernacle. He would like to be involved in ministry himself when he completes his basketball career. He spoke recently about his life, faith and service to the Lord with Promotions Coordinator Ron Kopczick.
PE: Talk about your walk with the Lord.
POWELL: In the middle of my struggles I have felt God calling me to a closer relationship with Him. Once I committed to Him and became delighted in Him, God showed me my calling.
PE: Is that what led you to become involved in ministry at your church?
POWELL: This past summer I went through a process of further focusing on God, making sure I was hearing from Him. My pastor met with me. I taught Sunday School. When IÕve felt overwhelmed at school, God has used those times so I would stand still and listen to Him. IÕve heard His voice É not audibly, but through other people, the Word of God, and other preachers. I prayed and got in the Word more. A peace came over me greater than I ever had in my life.
I got to speak at my church about the fruit of the Spirit and how to be dead to sinful pleasures and desires. I focused on Romans 12:1,2 — to submit yourself as a living sacrifice unto God by not conforming to the ways of the world and by the transformation of your mind. When you do this, youÕll be able to test and prove GodÕs perfect will for your life.
That was my testimony. Until I became a living sacrifice, dead to sinful desires and alive to the fruit of the Spirit, I wasnÕt able to understand GodÕs calling. After I gave that message, there was a passion in my heart. I also found a new love for basketball. ItÕs such an opportunity to get the gospel out.
PE: How have your teammates and coaches reacted to your calling?
POWELL: They respect it, because they see how my life has changed. When your actions are in line with what you say, then people notice.
PE: How does your faith keep you steady even when your team is ranked No. 1?
POWELL: I believe God gave me these words: hungry, yet humble. ThatÕs the way I try to approach everything. I think our team does, too. You should approach everything with a hungry heart, a desire to compete, a desire to be victorious in everything — not just basketball, but in all of life. Then stay humble, knowing that your success is not your own doing but from God. That is the formula for success.
PE: What will it take for Illinois to win the national championship?
POWELL: Those two HÕs. Hungry to get better and compete, while staying humble. WeÕve just got to continue to play aggressively.
PE: Where do you think the Lord will lead you after this season?
POWELL: I think into the NBA. If He doesnÕt, then obviously He has a better plan for me. But if I go to the NBA, that will be a testimony in itself. IÕm not saying the odds are against me, but IÕm not a player everybody is putting on their All-America lists. IÕm not a key name in college basketball. But if God takes me to the NBA, IÕll be able to give Him the glory. I will know that itÕs not me. It will all be on Him. With the success our team is having, HeÕs starting to prove that.
Last summer I didnÕt know if God wanted to me to continue playing. I was at the hospital because my mom [Cherry] had surgery. A lady came to me and said, ÒYou donÕt know, but you changed my family. YouÕve really helped my life, my familyÕs life.Ó I thought she was just a super Illini fan. But she said, ÒMy son has started going to church and reading the Word. He started getting interested in God. He writes these Bible verses on his shoes like Philippians 4:13. He said he got it from you.Ó
Right there God was saying, ÒListen, you can minister. You can glorify God. But you can still play basketball and do even better.Ó I want to move out of the way and let God use me.
PE: What about the temptations you would face in the NBA?
POWELL: There will always be temptations. Life is a battle. But God has come into my life and taken things away. HeÕs changed my mind-set. I look at things differently now. I donÕt think it would be a problem. Whatever I do is going to help glorify God and build the Kingdom.
PE: How have your parents influenced your life?
POWELL: I thank God to be blessed with two parents who molded and taught me. They kept me in church and Sunday School. I was raised according to the Bible. My freshman year [at Illinois] I didnÕt play much. But my mom was always there to comfort and lift me up and tell me God had a plan. I thank her for that. God places people in our lives to help us. He placed my mom in my life to keep me straight and confident. My dad gave me oil to anoint my body when I first went to college.
PE: What can you offer a high school student wanting to become a college athlete?
POWELL: Stay humble and hungry and glorify God. Philippians 4:13 says you can do all things though Christ who strengthens you. Put God first and He will give you the desires of your heart. You have to find out what GodÕs will is, as God has instructed us to do. But whatever that is, He will give you what you need to accomplish it.
PE: What about players who want to go straight to the NBA from high school?
POWELL: ThereÕs a lot of money. ThatÕs hard to turn down for any kid. I like how [Orlando Magic 19-year-old rookie forward] Dwight Howard has stood up for his beliefs in the Lord. I think heÕs having success from that and is going to be fine. I canÕt say I wouldnÕt have done it if IÕd had the opportunity. College, though, has been great for me. IÕve not only matured on the court and in school, but IÕve matured spiritually. If someone has the opportunity [to go pro], I hope God is in their life.
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