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Football still opens doors for IMB missionary Alan Duncan
Monday, Sep 7, 2009
By Lonnie Wilkey

JEFFERSON CITY, Tenn. (BP)—It’s been nearly 30 years since Alan Duncan kicked his last field goal for the University of Tennessee.

Duncan was known for his prowess as a placekicker. He is tied for third in school history with the longest field goal of 55 yards and tied for first for most points by a placekicker in a single game with 17, which included five field goals, also a school record.

Not bad, however, for a missionary kid who never played football until college (unless you count two attempted kicks for Powell High School as a freshman on furlough with his parents in 1972) and now jokes that when he joined the team in 1976 he was the “13th string” placekicker.

After sitting out one season as a “redshirt year,” Duncan soon, however, kicked his way into the starting position which he held for three years and into the UT record books before graduating in 1980.

He was good enough to be drafted by the Philadelphia Eagles in the National Football League. He also had a tryout with the Denver Broncos, but never kicked in the NFL. He did, however, kick in the United States Football League, a spring professional league, for two seasons with the Memphis Showboats.

But while those years are filled with fond memories, football has never been “center stage” for the native Tennessean who grew up in Kenya where his parents served as Southern Baptist missionaries.

The “field goal” that matters most to Duncan now is the decision he made to follow God’s call in his life and become a Southern Baptist missionary with the International Mission Board.

Duncan and his wife, Andrea, along with their four children — Betsy Kay Barr, Beth-Ann, Chrissy and Curt — have served for 16 years in Port Elizabeth, South Africa. He is now in his second year of a three-year stateside assignment as connection strategist for the Sub-Sahara Africa Affinity Group.

Though he has been away from football for many years, it still opens doors for Duncan to witness and share his faith.

He acknowledges that his background has been “a great platform” for personal ministry as many longtime Volunteer fans remember his career and what he stood for as a player.

He laughs that former UT coach Johnny Majors used to call him his “preaching placekicker” as Duncan often spoke in churches while playing at UT.

Though busy as a missionary, he is still involved with the game whenever he can.

This summer, Duncan, who is living in Morristown, Tenn., has been working with Coach Ken Sparks and the Carson-Newman College football team.

In a sense, he has returned to his roots. Following his UT career, Duncan coached at Carson-Newman for two years in the fall while kicking for the Showboats in the spring before joining the staff of First Baptist Church, Cleveland, as minister of recreation and later the IMB.

During C-N’s summer practice Duncan has worked with the placekickers and also has led a spiritual emphasis with the football team each day that has seen 13 professions of faith by the players.

Sparks, one of the winningest coaches in college football and a member of Manley Baptist Church, Morristown, is a devout Christian who constantly lives out his faith before his players. He wanted Duncan to develop a series of devotionals based on the theme “Be Real” and to present principles that would help his team not only become better players, but better people.

“Coach Sparks always wants to know where his players are in their relationship to Christ,” Duncan said. “We are building on that through camp.”

Duncan has enjoyed both working with the placekickers and trying to help them improve their skills and the opportunity to be a positive witness for the Lord with the entire team.

“I consider it a part of my mission,” Duncan said.

The former UT star said he enjoyed his experiences, especially being on the field near the end of a game trying to help the team win.

But nothing he did in college or the professional level compares to the thrill of seeing people come to Christ,” Duncan stressed.

The missionary can “rattle off” names of people he has seen accept Christ and who are now making a difference for Him.

He cited Jothi Naidoo, a converted Hindu who cried because his brother was not a Christian. Jothi is now a pastor.

While he misses the people of South Africa, Duncan is excited about what he is doing in Tennessee and throughout the south while he is on stateside assignment.

When asked to explain what his title really means, Duncan tries to keep it as simple as possible. He considers himself an “advocate” for Sub-Saharan Africa and its people. “I represent people (missionaries) who serve in some of the toughest areas of Africa,” he said.

He noted that the unreached people groups of Africa are primarily unreached because they live in the toughest places to travel to, and survive in, once you arrive there.

“The missionaries who live in Sub-Saharan Africa are committed to taking the gospel to the ends of the earth — literally,” Duncan stressed

Duncan travels constantly speaking to church groups finding a “connection” to share about the work and needs that exist with the Sub-Saharan people group that he has ministered and witnessed to for 16 years.

Duncan also looks for churches who want to partner to pray for the African people groups and for those who are willing to send teams to the country to “connect” with a people group in an area where there may not be a missionary on site.

“We want to penetrate the entire continent of Africa with the gospel,” he stressed.

He also is on the lookout for people who may be interested in full-time missions service.

“I always challenge churches to realize who Southern Baptists are and who Southern Baptists send to the mission field — specifically those who are sitting in the pew” listening to his presentation.

Duncan loves Tennessee, not only because he was born in the state and played for UT, but because of the many quality relationships he has developed.

He noted numerous Tennessee missions teams have traveled to South Africa to serve with him and his wife while they were there. “God has been so gracious over the past eight years as we have focused on evangelizing students and sportsmen. Volunteer teams from Baptist friends from East Tennessee have helped us survey over 20,000 students and athletes, and over 15,000 have indicated first time commitments to Christ,” he said.

As he travels, speaking to church groups, Duncan noted it helps churches to “put a face” to missions as he shares his passion and love for the people of Africa.

Though he enjoys what he is doing while stateside, he fully intends on returning to South Africa. “I love being a missionary on the ground,” he affirmed.

But Duncan also noted that while his commitment is to return, he will remain stateside “if that is the Lord’s will.”

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