The Mighty Men of Valor, a conference designed to draw more men into the service of Jesus Christ, drew thousands of men to First Baptist Church of Glenarden in Upper Marlboro November 8-9.

The theme for this year’s two-day conference was “Battle Tested.” Keynote speakers included sports commentators Michael Irvin, formerly of the Dallas Cowboys; Ray Lewis, a retired member of the Baltimore Ravens; and Chris Broussard, an analyst with ESPN.

Dr. Clifford Ashe, the founder of the organization, told the men at the opening day ceremony to be steadfast in their pursuit of Christ.

“Let the messages speak deep into your soul,” he said. “We were created as a fighter and should be committed to fight the good fight of faith.”

The first day’s session opened with FBCG Music Minister Stephen Hurd leading the men in a praise and worship service. Then, Lewis was introduced.

His was entitled “Necessary Endings.” He told the men that before and after each game, he would look up at the sky. People thought he was praying for a win before or thanking God for a victory after the clock ran out.

That wasn’t what he was saying to God, he said.

“I thanked him for 27 years of not getting paralyzed,” Lewis said to thunderous applause.

He talked about his years growing up, from his mother kicking him out of her house twice—when he was 9 and 11. The first time she told him she was financially unable to take care of him and his siblings and sent him to live with a relative. After she got back up on her feet and he returned, she put him out a second time because her boyfriend didn’t want him in the home, Lewis said.

He said he survived by surrounding himself with positive people and spending most of his time playing football, which he credited with keeping him out of trouble.

“Show me who your friends are and I’ll show you your future,” Lewis said. “Show me who you text everyday and I’ll show you where you’ll be in five years.”

Irvin was the main speaker on the second day. His message was “Put Up Your Dukes.”

Irvin said he was the 15th of 17 siblings raised by a single mother after his father left when he was a preschooler. He compared the size of his childhood home in Ft. Lauderdale to one of the small meeting rooms in the church. Despite their poverty, his mother raised the children to be confident in their abilities and hopeful for their futures, he said.

His mother told him she considered not keeping him when she learned she was pregnant. God told her, however, that this child would “get her out of the ghetto.”

Irvin said he started playing football in high school, then won a scholarship to the University of Miami before being drafted by the Cowboys.

Despite winning three Super Bowls in 10 years, he still felt empty and turned to drugs and women, even though he was married and had children.

“I was trying to feel this hole up with things, instead of God,” he said.

One day at a Bible study session with his teammates, Irvin said Bishop T.D. Jakes, a nationally known Dallas-based preacher and author, spoke to him.

Jakes told him, “You’re about to miss a big turn that God is trying to show you.”

Irvin said he left Bible study and drove to meet a woman at a hotel. After seeing her, he recalled Jakes’ message and decided to “focus more on God” after his NFL career was over.

During Irvin’s very next game against the Philadelphia Eagles, a few days later, he suffered a broken neck, ending his NFL career.

As he lay on the ground, unable to move, he feared that he would never be able to hold or play with his children again. He wasn’t thinking about football.

Irvin said he pledged that if God would heal him, he would change his life.

He told the crowd that he has been faithful ever since.

Courtney Jacobs

AFRO Staff Writer