- Associated Press - Monday, July 20, 2015

BISMARCK, N.D. (AP) - With beads of sweat clinging to their skin, several dozen kids bowed their heads in prayer this week while a soundtrack of footsteps, dribbling balls and Christian rock music played in the background.

The other basketball campers continued shooting practice while this group listened to coach Tanner Purintun read the “Parable of the Bags of Gold” from Matthew.

“I feel like on that day, we are face to face with him,” Purintun said of his own mortality. “I want him to say, ‘Well done, faithful servant.’”

That’s how the master in the parable praised his servants who put the money bestowed upon them to good use.

As Purintun explained to the kids, the message translates to the court. God gave him talent in basketball, and it’s up to him to use those skills for himself or for God’s glory, he said.

He knows God will reward him for the latter, he said.

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Lessons such as the one Purintun shared take place at all Cross Training summer camps, the Bismarck Tribune (https://bit.ly/1e0D12o ) reported. Though not new to Bismarck, the basketball and volleyball ministry program has grown significantly in numbers and reach.

Earlier this month, 95 kids filled Shiloh Christian School’s gym for basketball shooting camp. Last week, 275 attended the Overnight Extreme camp, where they met NBA rookie of the year Michael Carter-Williams of the Milwaukee Bucks.

In total, more than 1,000 kids will participate in a Cross Training camp this summer. It’s grown from only 74 who signed up for the first camp in 1994.

Despite its popularity, the organization has struggled to stay afloat in recent years.

“Our camp program isn’t a profitable venture,” co-founder and executive director Bob Upgren said. “We need additional resources to do it.”

Cross Training relied on corporate sponsors and Upgren’s speaking engagements for more revenue, but that model couldn’t keep up with the growth of the ministry.

“I had to literally fly everywhere to fund it,” said Upgren, adding that it didn’t make sense for such a large ministry to depend so heavily on one person financially.

He and his wife prayed and talked about what to do, settling on turning Cross Training into a nonprofit. As a 501c(3) organization, it now relies on donors who make tax-deductible donations.

He remembers the banquet held two years ago as the business changed to a nonprofit. Cross Training needed to raise a certain amount of money to keep operating, and its followers delivered.

Upgred sat humbled and emotional, realizing the organization he started 20 years earlier wouldn’t die.

“It was the best decision we could ever have made,” he said.

Cross Training employees are aiming build their own facility, which will mean they no longer have to compete for limited space at local sports venues.

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The ministry now extends beyond the “devotions” or Bible study sessions such as the one Purintun led this week.

This fall, a new website centered around the mantra “I play for Him” will allow athletes to stay connected to the spiritual lessons taught at camp long after they walk off the court.

Another site, www.bagswithoutborders.org, coordinates donations for mission trips to Latin America.

In August, dozens of kids and coaches will fly to the Dominican Republic with 42 suitcases stuffed full of bags with hygiene products, clothes and sports gear.

The kids will deliver them to locals living in a village where a sugar cane factory shut down, leaving many without a job or activities. They also will compete in basketball and volleyball, as well as hold clinics for kids at orphanages.

“We are using that as a platform to share the love of the Gospel,” said Jodi Burrer, a Cross Training coach who has attended all four missions to the Dominican Republic.

Michelle Risan, a recent graduate of Parshall High School, went on the mission last year. She spoke to the kids about how God changed her life for the better.

“Some of them probably think our lives are different than they are,” she said. “But through God, we are united.”

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Information from: Bismarck Tribune, https://www.bismarcktribune.com

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