By Joel Kilpatrick
On Sunday afternoons they pound the turf before thousands of fans
in football stadiums and on television. But on Wednesday evenings,
members of the Baltimore Ravens football team are at Word of Life
Assembly of God, raising their hands, praising God and giving glory
where it belongs.
"We have a lot of believers on the team," says linebacker
Peter Boulware, who came to the team three years ago from Florida
State. "Thats one of the special things about the Ravens.
These guys are not willing to waver on their faith, and that makes
us closer as a team. Its easier to walk out your Christian
faith with guys who will come into the locker room and say, Hows
your spiritual walk? "
Boulware was raised in a Christian home. At FSU he compiled an
impressive array of awards and team records. He led the nation with
19 quarterback sacks, was a consensus first-team All-America selection
and was named National Defensive Player of the Year by a sports
magazine. He was the Ravens first-round draft pick in 1997
and was named the NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year.
But for Boulware, having a real relationship with God is first
"Once you say you love the Lord, people are always looking
at you," he says. "Thats the true test. You can
say all you want, but what speaks is how you live, how you carry
yourself in the locker room or on the field. When a player or coach
says something to you, do you react like the world reacts? Or do
you set an example the way Christ would act? My biggest thing is
people seeing Christ in me."
That includes what happens during the game.
"The game is like life," Boulware says. "Hardships,
injuries. Its all a process. The Lord gives me success on
the field for a reason not just to make me happy, but so
Ill learn something. If I get an injury or fail somehow, the
Lord may want me to press into Him during the adversity. God is
constantly teaching me through the things I do on the field."
Wide receiver Qadry Ismail came to the Ravens after four years
with the Minnesota Vikings and brief stints with the Miami Dolphins
and New Orleans Saints. Ismail (and brother Raghib, who plays for
the Dallas Cowboys) grew up in an orthodox Muslim household in Newark,
N.J., until their father passed away when Qadry was 9. The children
went to Pennsylvania to live with their grandmother, a devout Christian.
Qadry gave his heart to Christ after noticing that when he prayed,
nothing happened; but when his grandmother prayed, things happened.
But it took a crisis in his marriage to transform Ismail into a
"Ive been walking with the Lord, both feet in the Kingdom,
for four or five years," he says. "Ive given it
all to Him. Its one thing to be saved, and another to get
weaned off the milk and start having spiritual meat and potatoes.
Getting married was the significant experience for me. I wanted
to be a man of God. I couldnt be a half-hearted husband. I
This season, Ismails effort in a game against the Pittsburgh
Steelers earned him a place in the record books. He caught six passes
for 258 yards and three third-quarter touchdowns. The 258 yards
ranks as the 11th-best by a receiver in a single game in NFL history.
Though success is sweet, Ismail says the temptations of money,
sex and fame are magnified in the world of professional sports.
"There is the lure of keeping up with the Joneses," he
says. "Everyone is making a good deal of money, and its
easy to get caught up in that lifestyle. People need to know that
Christian players struggle like anyone else, and its purely
by Gods grace that weve been given this position. To
put men on a pedestal is foolishness."
Boulware and Ismail say more players are seeing the emptiness of
godless fame and fortune and turning to God for real answers.
"There seems to be a big move of the Lord in the NFL like
Ive never seen before," says Boulware. "God is doing
a work. Its an exciting time to be a Christian. A lot of guys
are getting saved. There are a lot more outspoken believers now.
Before, players would say, Im the only believer so Im
not going to say it out loud. Now they say, Im
not the only one in this thing. I love the Lord, and I can stand
with my teammates. "
"There has been a renewal in the NFL," he says. "A
lot of guys are realizing that the things they had in the past arent
giving them that peace. There is a peace that transcends all understanding.
Its for real; and if you can understand that God created you
for a purpose, you can praise Him whether youre going through
a joyous time or a trial."
Both men are pleased to have found a church in Owings Mills, near
Baltimore, where they can grow in Christ.
"Its important to be connected to a local church,"
says Boulware. "You cant be a Christian floating by yourself.
You have to be connected to a local body where you can praise and
worship and talk to people about problems. Our team trainer told
me about the church. I went and it was really down to earth. The
Word is really preached. What attracted me was that these guys are
serious about the Word. Theyre not going to water it down.
At the same time, the congregation treats you like one of their
"One of the biggest things my wife and I look for is people
who treat us not like players or celebrities but as fellow men and
women of God, where iron sharpens iron," says Ismail. "For
me its about being real about my struggles. If youre
there to please everybody else, youve missed the picture.
Im there to worship God. I cant afford to be outside
the will of the Lord. Thats why I cant go to any old
church. Am I being fed? Are the people answering Gods Word?
Ive found a place that has real relationship with the Lord."
When the team is on the road, players hold Bible studies and attend
"When youre on the road with believers, you can hang
together," says Boulware. "You dont have to go to
a club, and you dont have to be isolated."
Back home, Boulware hosts a Thursday night Bible study at his home.
And hes "always" on the phone with his mother and
"When I get down, I pick up the phone and call Mom for encouragement,"
he says. "She says, Pete, the Lords teaching you
this or that. Thats what keeps believers strong: the
realization that you cant do it without a spiritual family."
Ismail, who has two children and one on the way, spends as much
time as he can with his family and is excited about how God will
continue to use him and others to influence the NFL for Christ.
"God is going to call professional athletes to spread His
Word," he says. "People are going to hear and respond."
Joel Kilpatrick is an associate editor of the Pentecostal Evangel.