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Day of Champions builds muscle as well as faith

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"Jesus Christ is the Lord of my life and my Savior," Heidi Strickland, 14, observed matter-of-factly. "I live for him. I don't know what I'd do without him."

Strickland, from West Valley City, was one of hundreds of young people taking part Saturday in the "Day of Champions" athletic clinics and activities at Brighton High School. The event is part of the Southern Baptist Convention's "Crossover" activities that continue this week. It was sponsored by Southeast Baptist Church and the Fellowship of Christian Athletes.The afternoon featured sports clinics for basketball, baseball, soccer, football and in-line skating. It was capped off by a rally with an inspirational speaker and a pizza dinner.

Meanwhile, several adult Southern Baptist leaders gathered earlier in the day at the Olympus Hotel to learn more about The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints at a seminar titled "Understanding and Evangelizing Latter-day Saints." Part of the discussion focused on a percieved need for the LDS Church to make substantive doctrinal changes if it wants to succeed in being recognized as a "mainstream Christian religion."

Strickland, who said she isn't very athletic but intended to try some baseball on Saturday, was "born again" at age 7. She said she didn't see any real change in her life at first because she was so young. "But now I see other teens my age and they have nothing to live for."

Now Strickland said she clearly sees the difference between the "narrow way" of following Christ, which leads to eternal life, and the "broad way" of the world. Following the narrow way is hard, she admits, because of peer pressure. But Strickland, who wants to be a missionary as well as a wife and mother, said she knows which is the better choice.

Jonathan Hickerson, 16, of Sandy, also was "born again" nearly three years ago. His family attended church and, for a time, he thought that was enough. "I started going along with, `I'm a Christian, I'm good.' Then it kind of hit me that I wasn't and I needed to turn my life over to Jesus."

The decision has made all the difference in his life. "I started participating more in (church) youth functions and getting serious about Jesus Christ and letting him shine through me," Hickerson said. "Jesus Christ is pretty much the center of everything I do."

Asked if he expected that others would be "born again" during the Southern Baptist Convention in Salt Lake City, Hickerson didn't hesitate.

"Yes," he said. "I expect God to do great things."

John Sutherland, head coach of women's basketball at New Mexico State University, was one of the coaches at the sports clinics. He said the clinics were intended not only to help young people hone their skills in sports and get a chance to excel, but also to make friends and share the gospel.

That sentiment was echoed by Michael Gray, youth intern with Southeast Baptist Church. "Sports is a good way of reaching kids," he said. Not only does it provide wholesome activities to keep them out of trouble, but also offers opportunities to teach them about God.

Earlier Saturday, the directors of missions for the Southern Baptist Convention met with R. Philip Roberts, director of Interfaith Witness Division for the Convention's North American Mission Board.

"We're teaching the basics of Mormon history, thought and theology and what makes Mormonism distinct from general Christianity. We're also offering help with how to share the Christian message with Mormon people."

He said he hoped seminar participants gained knowledge, insight and compassion for Latter-day Saints.

Directors of missions in the Southern Baptist Convention serve in a sort of middle management role as resource personnel to many Southern Baptist congregations in a particular area.

The need to understand Latter-day Saints is prompted, among other things, by the fact that many Southern Baptists call their leaders with questions about LDS missionaries who knock on their doors.

Roberts also said he believes the LDS Church is attempting to become a mainstream religion. "Our problem is that if you're going to go mainstream, you need substantive doctrinal changes," he said.

Specifically, the LDS Church needs to drop its claim to be the one true church, he said. "We realize that will never happen," Roberts said.

Southern Baptists believe individuals are saved through the grace of Jesus Christ alone, regardless of church affiliation or one's own good works.

The LDS Church does many things well, including running its own welfare program, offering substantial fellowship and support to its members and taking stands the Southern Baptists agree on regarding such social issues as abortion and pornography.

"We applaud their moral emphasis but decry their legalisms. We decry the fact that the Mormon Church casts itself as the broker of God's salvation in the fullest sense," Roberts said.

John Brackin, director of missions in Tucson, Ariz., agreed.

Brackin said he didn't have any major problems with Latter-day Saints as far as their moral teachings, but the bottom line for Christians is that salvation is a gift from God. "We can never, ever work our way into heaven," Brackin said.

As a result of the seminar, "I'll be better informed and able to give better counsel to members in our churches," said Nodell Dennis during a brief seminar break. He is executive director of the Blue River Kansas City Baptist Assembly.