MBU athletic program pairs coaches with students for Christ-centered mentorship program

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Iris Dixon is a serious person.

MBU’s head women’s basketball coach served as a sergeant in the U.S. Army for eight years before deciding to pursue collegiate-level coaching.

These days, Dixon is focusing her seriousness on raising up women basketball players who not only excel on the court, but who are also growing in their walk with Christ.

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“I feel like it is rare for a coach at the college level to want to know your hopes and dreams, to know your struggles and to push you to grow spiritually,” said Haley Elders, a junior forward from Energy, Ill.  “Coach cares about my faith and pushes me to be better.”

Dixon’s investment in the lives of her basketball players illustrates an athletic program that is intentional about the spiritual cultivation of the more than 750 Spartan athletes who compete in MBU’s 26 varsity sports.

“Missouri Baptist University coaches take seriously the opportunity they have to profoundly influence a student athlete’s life,” said Dr. Thomas Smith, MBU director of athletics. “We have a great responsibility to help cultivate the whole person.”

Last year, Smith spearheaded an initiative to pair a coach from every MBU team with two to three student athletes for intensive Bible study and discipleship. The reason behind the program was simple: Smith wanted a way to deliberately engage student athletes in discipleship. Every MBU team has long volunteered through regular community service opportunities. That was good, but Smith saw an opportunity to play a role in the strengthening of student athletes’ faith.

Over the course of a year, coaches guide their students weekly through a program called Operation Timothy, a national mentorship program that uses the same one-on-one method Paul used to help disciple Timothy.

A year later, Operation Timothy has proven to be an impetus for real, serious discipleship for the MBU athletic program, said Smith.

“What we’ve seen are student athletes who are living out a college experience in a way that is meaningful and fulfilling,” Smith said. “The student-coach relationships are strong and have resulted in true discipleship.”

Elders and her teammate Hayley Parker of Leachville, Ark., are proof. The two basketball players are in their second year of Operation Timothy with Coach Dixon. The three meet weekly — whether that be at a coffee shop or just around a table in a lounge in the University’s Sports and Recreation Complex. They admitted that they haven’t gotten through as much of the text as they would have liked. But that’s not necessarily a bad thing. They have found that the topic at hand, many times, springboards into substantive conversation about life.

For Elders, the program has allowed her to see her coach, who she describes as a fairly private person, in a way that few get to experience.

“It is so cool to go through the Bible with your coach,” Elders said. “She shares stories about how her faith has been strengthened and tells us about areas of her life that are struggles. In many ways, I feel as if we’re growing spiritually together.”

Ultimately, Smith’s vision for Operation Timothy is that its impact will reach an increased number of MBU’s student athletes.

“Ultimately, what if student athletes who have gone through the program begin mentoring other student athletes?” Smith asked.

It’s something that is already playing out with the MBU women’s basketball team.

“My team is more than just girls who I play basketball with,” said Parker. “We are a group of girls growing spiritually. They are my best friends because we are on this journey together.”