Vapor — which uses the universal language of sports to minister to third-world communities, building self-sustaining centers for humanitarian aid and sharing the word of God — began with a missionary visit, a laptop and a car.
Of course, the missionary visit came first.
“It started when a kid who just graduated college went to do missionary work in Kenya,” said Janella Griggs, manager of communications at Vapor Sports Ministries. That kid was Vapor president and founder Micah McElveen.
McElveen returned home from Kenya in 2004 with “a vision for what God needed him to do,” Griggs said. He began the organization that would become Vapor Sports Ministries and, in the months that followed, lived out of his car while he drove from church to church, looking for sponsors.
After his organization was granted nonprofit status, Micah traveled back to Kenya to begin work on the first Vapor center. In 2006, Micah was on the road again seeking sponsorship and living out of his car — now joined by his new wife, Audrey.
In 2007, with nothing but the car and a laptop, the couple met David Pursell, owner of Pursell Farms in Sylacauga, who gave them a chance.
“He offered Micah and his wife a small office at the farm,” Griggs said.
Since its founding in 2005, the organization has opened five Vapor centers in some of the world’s most impoverished areas — the cities of Kawangware and Gichagi in Kenya, Togoville in Ghana, and Diliare and, most recently, Ouanaminthe, both in Haiti. The centers are run by local citizens and, once established, are paired with local faith groups to work on projects that will help the centers become financially stable and self sustaining.
The centers, Griggs said, are only one of the ways Vapor serves these communities. Local residents receive humanitarian aid, including food stipends and education on nutrition and health, and spiritual leadership and encouragement through disciple-making — which has been the heart of the mission since the beginning, according to Griggs.
While Micah was in Kenya, he noticed the children making soccer balls out of trash and string. Soccer “seemed to be the universal language people were accustomed to to connect them with the true passion of Christ,” Griggs explained.
All five Vapor centers feature their own self-contained sports leagues where participants study the Bible at all practices and games and “just live life together,” she said.
Not a typical ministry, Vapor works to raise awareness of the needs of the less fortunate, but doesn’t rely on traditional fundraising, she said. A lot of Vapor’s support comes from its thrift stores in Alabama, Georgia and California, and by word of mouth.
“The Lord has been so grateful to find people that are into the cause. Lots of churches give their offerings to us,” she said.
Even organizations like the Huntsville Inner City Learning Center, which is known for helping those less fortunate, donated all the earnings they made from hosting a 5K in August to Vapor.
“Actual needy kids giving things to other needy kids in Africa — It is really cool and so precious,” said Griggs.
Church groups, staff members and outside volunteers make several trips a year to the centers to encourage indigenous spiritual leadership and keep the focus on disciple-making. Griggs said volunteers receive nothing but warm welcomes, happiness and excitement upon arrival.
“They were in Haiti a couple of weeks ago and (once the center was built) people in the community were like, ‘This is for us? We can play here?’” she said.
The future of each center ultimately lies in the hands of the people for whom it was built, but regardless, the people of Vapor Sports Ministries have faith that God is behind them.
“We’ve seen confirmation in the Lord that we’re in the right place and he’s been faithful to us,” Griggs said. “We just want to make our lives count. That’s what we’re all about.”
Staff Writer Madasyn Czebiniak: 256-235-2553. On Twitter: @Mczebiniak_star