Exercising Her Faith

by Sharyn Kopf

You don’t have to look hard to discover Cedarville University’s passion for helping students combine their vocation with ministry. Melissa (Turnick) Harris ’02 has done just that, fusing her career in athletic training with her desire to reach others for Christ.

It started when Melissa received a phone call from the pastor of recreation at Far Hills Community Church in Dayton, Ohio, while she was finishing up an internship after graduation. He was looking for someone to help with the church’s recreation ministry — mainly youth and adult sports leagues — so he decided to call recent Cedarville graduates with sports-related degrees. Eventually, he found Melissa.

“I had never heard of a pastor of recreation, but it sounded like a pretty cool job,” she said. “After a few interviews, I was offered an assistant position with the recreation ministry. To be honest, I still had no idea what I wanted to do with my life. This sounded like a neat experience, so I accepted. I didn’t know God would use the job to challenge me in my relationship with Him and give me a passion for the world of sports and fitness ministry.”

Four years later, that passion led her to Southeast Christian Church, a large assembly in Louisville, Kentucky, where she now serves as fitness manager. Her department is considered a “front door” ministry for the church, meaning they use sports and fitness as a way to connect people with each other and, ultimately, with Jesus Christ.

Melissa had barely figured out where the lockers were at her new job when her boss introduced her to an exciting opportunity; he asked her to lead a missions trip to Poland. Because the church has a strong partnership with a Polish ministry called “PROeM,” he wanted Melissa and her team to help with their fitness camp. Located in Warsaw, this nonprofit Christian mission combines biblical teaching with sports and recreation to promote fitness and spiritual growth.

PROeM runs almost every kind of camp imaginable, including art, music, basketball, and family camps. Since 2007, Melissa has led four teams to Poland to assist a fitness camp. Over the course of five days, they offer classes and workshops; provide fitness testing and special speakers; and take campers bike riding, rock climbing, and swimming. The activities give the team opportunities to invest in lives on a physical and spiritual level.

“I am blown away by the relationships that have been built in just three short years,” Melissa commented. “Some of the ladies have not missed a camp since it began. It is the only time they have an opportunity to be encouraged in their faith and be surrounded by other believers.”

Other campers may not be professing Christians yet still attend faithfully because they enjoy the camp atmosphere. Melissa sees this as a chance to share the Gospel, allowing God to work on their hearts. Excited by all He is doing there, she hopes to continue traveling to Poland with Southeast Christian Church and perhaps start a fitness camp in Sweden.

In October 2009, Melissa married Mike Harris, who shares her passion for fitness. Together they are starting a sports conditioning and training business, one they want to use to reach inner-city kids. Besides teaching valuable life lessons, the couple wants to give children hope for their future and, through involvement in a track club, open doors to college. “For now,” Melissa said, “this is all a dream ... but absolutely possible if we feel God calling us toward that path.”

Melissa and Mike enjoy staying active in their spare time, too. Besides camping, kayaking, and skiing, they love to participate in almost any sport, including flag football.

“I have been forced to step out of my comfort zone more in these past seven years than I ever expected,” Melissa concluded. “But I wouldn’t trade these years of ministry for anything. God is always faithful, and He tells us in 2 Corinthians that when we are weak, He is strong. I have rested on this verse many times!”

You can get in touch with Melissa by e-mailing MHarris@secc.org.