Mike Karnas was introduced to Jesus Christ at age 14 in perhaps an unusual setting for such an encounter — on a football field during the mid-1960s while attending a three-week summer camp in Virginia run by former NFL Pro Bowl wide receiver Sonny Randle.
“I had never heard about Jesus Christ until then,” said Karnas.
But it’s a relationship the now 60-year-old Brewer resident seeks to share with young football players from northeastern Maine each summer through a unique weeklong football camp at the River of Life Bible Camp along the Piscataquis River in Maxfield, eight miles north of Howland.
“We think young men really need to learn God’s word,” said Karnas. “A lot of young men want to play football and we believe Jesus Christ is the best possible model for young men and this is a great way to introduce them to him.”
The third-year Lion of Judah Football Camp, scheduled for Aug. 8-12, is open to youngsters ages 11-15, and combines the fundamentals of NFL Youth Football programs with teachings from the King James version of the Holy Bible.
Campers will be matched by age, speed, size, weight and playing ability, so campers going into sixth and seventh grades will match up against each other and campers going into eighth and ninth grades also will match up.
Campers will participate in triple practice sessions daily with full contact, with a scrimmage each night leading up to a full game on the final day of the week.
Enrollment is limited to 20 participants, and cost for the camp is $100 per player with all football equipment included.
“To my knowledge we’re the only camp in New England like this combining full-contact football and God’s word,” Karnas said. “There may be others but they’re not full contact.”
The idea of combining evangelization and American football is not new. Early youth
evangelists like New England native D.L. Moody saw coaching and evangelization as inseparable, believing a young man needed to develop in three areas — body, mind and spirit — to be of service to God, family and community. This idea was a mainstay in Christian education during the early YMCA movement.
At the Maxfield camp, players will receive instruction in football fundamentals and the
fundamentals of the Christian faith. There also will be time for swimming, basketball, volleyball and other camp games, as well as for movies, prayer and reading and understanding God’s word.
“Our first goal is for kids to learn God’s word,” said Karnas. “They learn about God by hearing about his word.
“Because football is such a strenuous game, it puts kids in a good frame of mind to learn lessons like this, especially when they have to sacrifice for the good of the team because one thing God teaches us is to be other-centered.”
The camp’s featured speaker and teacher is pastor and coach John Leber, an Aroostook County resident and a former U.S. Secret Service agent. Leber also played on the T.C. Williams High School team that helped break the color barrier in Virginia high school football during the late 1960s and early 1970s and was immortalized in the 2000 movie “Remember the Titans.”
The week at the River of Life Bible Camp is donated to the Lion of Judah Football Camp by Brad Walker, director of the Child Evangelism Fellowship of Maine, in partnership with the River of Life Bible Camp.
For more information or to register for the Lion of Judah Football Camp call Karnas at 570-1208. All registrations must be received no later than Aug. 4. Scholarships are available.