Loving Your (Urban) Neighbor

  What's the recipe for a prize-winning, faith-based program? Take one ex-con. Add a neighborhood filled with gangs and gunfire. Throw in one conversion to Christ. Stir in nine hundred fatherless kids. Fold in dozens of baseballs. And bake in the sun for sixteen weeks. Yield: One hundred Little League teams, filled with kids learning self-respect and community values. It's a terrific recipe -- one cooked up by Chicago insurance broker Bob Muzikowski. But Hollywood managed to ruin it, proving once again they'd rather feed us cultural junk food than the truth. Paramount turned the story of Muzikowski's life into a popular film called Hardball. Keanu Reeves plays Muzikowski as a foul-mouthed gambler who reluctantly agrees to coach an inner-city baseball team to pay off gambling debts. The film has a good, moral message. But ironically, Muzikowski's true-life story is far better. As a child, Muzikowski played baseball in city leagues. At Columbia University, he began experimenting with drugs and abusing alcohol -- habits that would worsen following graduation. In 1983, a Christian friend named B. J. Weber invited Muzikowski to attend the National Prayer Breakfast in Washington. "Sure, why not?" he responded. Driving to Washington, Muzikowski stopped at a bar for a few drinks. A fight erupted; Muzikowski jumped in and at one point attempted to swing from a chandelier. Police charged him with assault and destruction of property -- for yanking down the chandelier. He never made it to the Prayer Breakfast. Muzikowski's friend B. J. Weber bailed him out of jail -- and then led him into a new life in Christ. He began attending AA meetings, got married, and moved to Chicago. It was on his way to work one day that Muzikowski first saw a derelict ball field, full of trash. "The kids in this neighborhood could use a real Little League to play in," he thought. Muzikowski teamed up with a friend to create the Near North Little League. Initial practice sessions "were pretty wild," as coaches dealt with 250 boys long on enthusiasm, short on fundamentals. Each game began with a prayer. Cursing was strictly forbidden. "While I had no illusions that I would change the world, I had no doubt that God wanted me to play baseball with [these] kids," Muzikowski says. "My faith had taught me that being a Christian means truly believing what Jesus said about loving my neighbor." The next year, four hundred kids joined the League. Everything was going well until the gang showed up -- the one from Hollywood, that is. Their script completely omitted Muzikowski's Christian faith; the bar-brawling coach is saved, not through Jesus, but a handful of cute kids. Muzikowski is suing Paramount for defamation of character. Meanwhile, Hardball has brought reporters to the edge of the real-life ball field, wondering why a wealthy white businessman lives among the poor, coaching other people's kids. Muzikowski's answer: "Jesus didn't say, 'When you've paid someone to do it unto the least of these.' What He said was, 'When you have done it unto the least of these, you have done it unto Me.'" You may have seen the film Hardball. Now you can read the whole true story in this month's BreakPoint WorldView magazine. You'll learn the recipe for a terrific faith-based ministry -- and how you can get in the game of loving your urban neighbor yourself. For further reading and information: The July/August issue of the NEW BreakPoint WorldView magazine includes a cover story on the life of Robert Muzikowski by BreakPoint Senior Writer Anne Morse. Order yours today! Gregg Lewis and Robert Muzikowski, Safe at Home: The True and Inspiring Story of Chicago's Field of Dreams (Zonderkidz, 2001). In Safe at Home 2, major league baseball players share their hopes, dreams-and faith. "A Light in the Neighborhood," Round the Table, Million Dollar Round Table (of which Muzikowski is a member). BreakPoint commentary no. 011024, "Playing Hardball with Sin: Celluloid Worldview Lessons." Learn more about Muzikowski's latest endeavor, the Chicago Hope Academy -- should he win his suit against Paramount, the money will go toward this incredible initiative. To contribute to the Near West Little League (Muzikowski's team today) or Chicago Hope Academy, send checks to: 601 South LaSalle Street, 2nd Floor, Chicago, IL 60605. Robert K. Johnston, Reel Spirituality: Theology and Film in Dialogue (Baker Book House, 2000).  


Chuck Colson


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