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The Point Man

The Buffalo Bills benefit from Fred Raines’ spiritual leadership.

Buffalo Bills
  • Author: By Rich Atkinson
  • Credits: Photographs by Tom Mills
  • Published: October 8, 2012
  • Ministry: Athletes in Action
  • Location: USA

Every Sunday morning, two hours before home games, Fred Raines walks down the tunnel at Ralph Wilson Stadium in Orchard Park, N.Y. At the security checkpoint, he is patted down and wanded like everyone else, then he continues past the authorized personnel sign and to the locker with his name on it.

He’s dressed in a white polo shirt emblazoned with a Buffalo Bills logo, khaki pants and name-brand athletic shoes. Fred’s “uniform” looks like one of the football coaches’, but his role with the Bills isn’t to help them with their football skills. He is helping the players and coaches with their spiritual needs.

“Mr. Fred has been a huge influence in my life and on my path to recommit myself to Christ,” says linebacker Andra (pronounced ahn-DRAY) Davis, who played in Buffalo last season and is beginning his 11th year in the National Football League.

From Our September/October Issue.

At 5-foot-10, Fred is built more for tennis. He played on the tennis team at Otterbein College (now University) near Columbus, Ohio. His inclination for sports paved his path to serving as the Bills’ chaplain for the last 28 years.

As the director of the Athletes in Action Pro Ministry in Buffalo, Fred helps introduce players and coaches to a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. AIA is a ministry of Cru, now the name of Campus Crusade for Christ in the U.S. AIA seeks to minister to athletes and through athletes in the States and around the world. Fred’s wife, Kathy, invites players’ wives or girlfriends to know Christ and grow in Him.

Fred and Kathy have experienced highs and lows with the Bills, including four Super Bowl appearances in a row, four Super Bowl losses and nine head coaches in almost three decades. Fred’s longevity in ministry is in stark contrast to the longevity of those he works with. There is a saying in football that the NFL stands for Not For Long. That is true for both the coaches and the players. Last season, for example, seven NFL head coaches were fired. As for the players, the average career lasts about three years.

Ministry takes time in this revolving door known as pro football. But consider the harvest field. These men can be role models for generations, and their influence often goes beyond the playing field.

Fred and Kathy spent their first 13 years with Cru working with high-school and college students. Then, Fred’s friend Tom Petersburg challenged him to serve with AIA. Players from two pro football teams had contacted AIA, looking for chaplains. The Bills had someone to lead chapel services, but they wanted someone to be more available to current and future players.

Fred agreed, and commuted from Normal, Ill., during that first year in Buffalo (a distance of about 640 miles) as he waited for his house to sell. Fred stayed with different players in their homes during that season.

Fred chats with Bills tight end Scott Chandler.

Bills head coach Chan Gailey believes in the importance of chaplains. “In a person’s life, you have physical, mental and spiritual realms that you deal with,” he says. “As a football team, we have strength and conditioning coaches for the physical part, we have positional coaches for the mental part, and we hope to provide a way for a guy to grow spiritually or have some sort of spiritual development if he would like.”

That’s where Fred comes in.

Before their weight room and film work every Monday morning, Fred meets with players on the “leadership team” in a cinderblock-walled room used for defensive-line team meetings. These players set the spiritual tone in the locker room.

They usually study something on leadership and ministry. “It’s about ‘How are we going to reach the guys around us? How are we impacting the community?’” says Fred.

Defensive end Chris Kelsay is one of the players in the group. “[Fred] is a large part of where I am today in terms of my faith,” he says. “My faith was not anything dramatic. It wasn’t a death in the family or getting in trouble with the law that transformed me or led me to the Lord. It was an ongoing process that the things I was trying to fill my life with were not filling that void.”

Fred and Kathy are there to help the players and their wives use the platform they have in the community and beyond. “When you get the men and women to stand up and talk about their faith and the difference Christ has made in their lives, it has such an impact,” says Fred.

One of the most important parts of Fred’s job is building relationships. “It is a challenging environment where they have to learn who you are and to trust you,” he says. “You really have to get to know the guys and get involved in their lives.”

This involvement has included performing marriage ceremonies for four players and their fiancées over the years. While Fred gets to know the players, Kathy has a Bible study with players’ wives and girlfriends. “I think it is a team thing with Kathy and me in reaching out to the families and their needs,” Fred says. “Once they begin to start their families, all of a sudden they begin to consider, What are my real values—the things I want to be the foundation of my life?”

Fred and his wife, Kathy, team up to work on a project.

Kathy helps players’ wives and girlfriends to grow in faith, including a Wednesday women’s group, where they discuss books like Nancy Leigh DeMoss’ Choosing Gratitude. About three-fourths of the time, the women facilitate the discussion time with Kathy’s guidance.

“Their time with us is short, and we want to equip them so that they will be ready to leave here,” says Kathy, “so that they will be able to grow in their faith and have a ministry on their own without us.”

On Thursday nights, the couples are together for a family Bible study.

Andra and his wife, Monique, often attended. He wants to be an example to younger players and help them become established in their faith. “Football is what we do, not who we are,” he says. “But if you get caught up in ‘This is who I am’ football—what are you going to look for to define who you are once football is gone, if you don’t have that solid foundation in your life?”

Andra and Monique were one of 15 couples that answered specific questions during the Q&A time at the Night Out With the Bills, a community outreach event planned and organized by Fred and the Thursday evening group. The event included players signing autographs and a gospel message.

“We are not just trying to build things into their lives while they play in the NFL for three to four years,” says Fred. “We really want to build some life principles and foundational things so that once they’re done with football, they will continue to teach and learn and do.”

“I wish we would have had something like the Monday leadership group my whole career,” says Andra.

Fred is available to everyone on the team and desires to see the players grow and have a positive influence in the locker room, on the playing field and upon the platform God has given them to point others to Jesus.

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