You dont have to be down and out and in the gutter to turn to
God. You can be up and out and still be in the gutter. Mike Jackson
by Terri Nighswonger
Cleveland Indians relief pitcher Mike Jackson seemingly had everything
going for him a new wife, a great career in the Major Leagues yet there was
an emptiness that no amount of fame or fortune, or the things that fame and fortune can
buy, could fill.
Jackson, 34, was born and raised in a Christian home. His mother was
faithful to take her children to church every Sunday. She also was faithful to pray for
her prodigal son the last person in the family to make a commitment to Christ.
"I didnt really understand what it was all about back
then," Jackson said. "I just went to church because my mom wanted me to. I knew
who the Lord was, but Id never received Him. Id never accepted everything that
he had to offer."
Even when Jackson met Jesse Barfield, then a member of the Toronto Blue
Jays, he didnt want anything to do with Barfields Jesus. Still, he saw
something different in the man that eventually would lead him to Christ and become his big
brother in the Lord.
A friend introduced Jackson to Barfield, and the two became friends. Both
are from Houston and, in the off-season, exchanged phone numbers and planned to get
together to work out.
"By that time, I was nowhere near thinking about being a Christian or
anything of that nature. I kind of lost his number," Jackson said. "I knew his
background and was pretty sure he knew mine. I didnt want to be involved. I was
basically running from the Lord."
The following winter, Jackson and his new bride decided to visit their
"Come to find out, that was one of his (Jesses) favorite
restaurants, too. We met him and his wife. I was kind of trying to avoid him, but I
couldnt. They were sitting right in the middle of the restaurant, so I had to go his
way," he said.
As much as Jackson tried to avoid Barfield, God had a future divine
appointment planned. The couples had lunch together, and Barfields wife, Marla, and
Jacksons wife, Tammy, exchanged phone numbers. When that happened, Jackson said, he
knew he was going to be hearing from the Barfields.
"We ended up going on vacation the next off-season to Acapulco,
Mexico. We had a great time. Ill never forget it. The last night that we were there,
thats when they shared the Gospel," Jackson said. "They asked if we knew
Jesus Christ and (asked) had we accepted Him into our lives? My wife also grew up with a
Christian background. Her grandfather was a preacher. She had already accepted the Lord,
but I didnt. I was the last one in my family. That was one of my mothers
prayers, that we would all come to the kingdom of God and be saved."
That last night, sitting at the table, Barfield asked Jackson if he knew
"I said I know of the Lord, but I didnt know him personally,
and I never accepted Him," Jackson said. "That night, I started weeping at the
table, and I felt the presence of the Lord come upon me, and I knew that I was forgiven
for my sins. We went back to the hotel, and we prayed the sinners prayer, and I
asked the Lord Jesus to be Lord and Savior of my life. I came back home, went to church,
got baptized in water and the Holy Spirit, and my life has been changed from that point
Today, God continues to work in Jacksons life.
"Jesus saved me from destruction. Jesus gives me the strength daily
to resist alcohol, drugs and pornography. If he can change my life, he can change
anybody," he said.
Walking the walk
Living out his faith in the public eye is not always an easy task. Jackson
and fellow teammate Travis Fryman work together to keep each other accountable and on the
straight and narrow.
"Travis is one of the most mature brothers in the Lord on this
team," Jackson said. "We try to keep each other accountable, plus my best friend
Jesse Barfield, (whos) my big brother in the Lord, and my pastor at Glorious Way
Church in Houston."
Jacksons family spends their summers in Cleveland and then head back
to Houston in the fall when school starts for their daughter, Lindsay, 6, and son, Ryan,
"I dont believe its any more difficult to live the
Christian lifestyle in this profession than it is in any profession," said Fryman,
the Indians 30-year-old third baseman who is injured and wont play again until
the end of the season. "The scripture tells us we are all tempted by the same thing
and we share the same struggles."
Like Jackson, Fryman grew up in a Christian home and invited Christ into
his life in a backyard Bible study when he was 7 years old.
"Like a lot of young people, the only understanding I had at that
time was I wanted to go to heaven. I didnt want to go to hell," he said.
"In 1994 (during the players strike), I got to the point where I realized I
needed more in my life than just having a good time. I rededicated my life to Christ. Most
of my growth as a believer has taken place since 1994."
Certain aspects of the life of a professional baseball player can make it
more difficult not to yield to temptations. Travel on the road, time away from the family
and time alone in a hotel room can make it more difficult, Fryman said. His wife Kathleen
and sons, Mason, 3, and Brandon, 1, make their home in Pensacola, Fla., in the off-season.
"You are susceptible to temptation in those areas, as well as the
all-male environment with every type of background and nationality and different
personalities," he said. "You are in an environment that has things that a
believer doesnt need to see, and you hear things that a believer doesnt need
to be around. You dont have a choice. Youre constantly subjected to those
things, so I think quiet time, Bible study and prayer are important. These are extremely
important in the life of every believer, but particularly important in our workplace to
avoid some of those temptations."
The Bible says in 2 Corinthians 5:13: "If anyone is in Christ, he is
a new creation; old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new."
Jackson and Fryman know they are new creations in Christ and that God is
continually transforming them into the person that He wants them to be.
"It can be hard, but the Bible says in Philippians 4:13 that I
can do all things through Christ Jesus that strengthens me. He gives me strength
every day to go through whatever obstacles may come about in my life," Jackson said.
On being a witness
"The greatest experience that a Christian can have is leading someone
to Christ," Fryman said. "Many times you sow seeds and you dont always get
to be around when someone actually comes to Christ. Within the last three years at each of
the last three spring trainings, Ive had an opportunity to lead someone to Christ
teammates, as well as a friend and thats been very exciting. Im
not looking for the streak to continue, but three springs in a row, Ive had that
experience, and I think its something very special."
Fryman and Jackson take time to be involved in a Sunday chapel service
when the team is at home. About half of the teams 25-man roster regularly attends,
Fryman said. Bible studies on the road also keep the players in the Word and provide
opportunities to share the Gospel.
"You look at these guys, and the world thinks that these are the guys
who have what they want, and the truth is, most of these guys are in great need,"
Fryman said. "Once you achieve a certain amount of wealth or fame or notoriety or
whatever it is, they are still hollow. Most of these guys are still searching or looking
for something. Unfortunately, they are filling it up with things they dont need to
fill it up with."
Letting their light shine and walking a consistent Christian walk helps
other guys on the team to know where these Christian ballplayers stand.
"Most guys are pretty open and receptive. Some guys want to talk, and
they will come to you and ask questions. I pray for opportunity when I pray. I may pray
specifically for needs in those guys lives as I get to know them, but the main thing
I pray for is an opportunity to share with them. Its uncanny the opportunities that
God will provide," Fryman said.
Just as Barfield witnessed to him, Jackson is more than happy to share the
Gospel when the opportunity arises, but he takes a more laid-back approach.
"I learned that you cant force the Lord on anybody. The Bible
says, He stands at the door of every mans heart and knocks, and only that
person can open it. The handle is on the inside. God is on the outside. Only we can
open that door of our heart and let him come in," he said. "I think if I go out
and live my life like God said, Let our light shine before men, they will see
the difference in my life. Thats how I came to the Lord. I saw something different
in Jessie Barfield and his wife.
"There are other guys on the team who are seeking the Lord. We get
together and try to encourage one another and strengthen one another in the Lord. I think
thats all part of being a Christian. We try to give the newer guys in the Lord
encouragement to continue to study and meditate on Gods Word everyday. It encourages
me to know that other guys are walking and trying to live their life according to the Word
Jackson, who made 694 pitching appearances in his first 12 seasons, relies
on God to give him poise when hes pitching. In 1998, his first season as the
full-time closer for the Indians, Jackson had 40 saves, the third highest single-season
total in the history of the ball club, and set a career high.
"To me, pressure is what you put on yourself," he said. "I
dont put any added pressure than whats in front of me. A lot of people say,
Well, hes coming in when the games on the line. I think the fans get
more excited than I do. If God knew I couldnt handle that situation or role, he
would never put me out there. The Bible says, He will never give you more than you
can handle. "
Being in a role where hes under pressure helps him in his spiritual
walk, Jackson said. When the pressures of the world arrive, he casts all his cares upon
"No matter what I do out there, if its good or bad, Gods
going to receive the glory," he said. "Theres a lesson to be learned every
time we go through a trial or a tribulation or a storm, and theres a blessing that
we can get out of it. Thats the way I look at it. Being out there on the mound with
the game on the line, I think, is a blessing. God put me in that position, and the Indians
put me in that position. They have that much confidence and faith in me that they give me
the ball with the game is on the line."