Assistant Managing Editor
EAST LONGMEADOW Bobby Bonner has no qualms about standing in front of a jam-packed room and saying, without hesitation, that in the peak of his professional baseball career with the Baltimore Orioles, he said sayonara, turned in his glove and headed to Zambia, Africa to devote his life to missionary work.
He tells this story with such conviction that considering him walking on any other path that doesn't lead him to a church in East longmeadow on a cold March night seems ludicrous.
Last month The Reminder reported on a group of teens working to raise funds to attend a missionary trip in Zambia. This trip, a part of International African Missions (IAM Ministries), founded by Bonner, has led him to East Longmeadow to participate in First Baptist Church's Missions Conference, March 7-11.
A good crowd has turned out to see the ex-baseball player. The pews are full and the attendance has spilled out into the entranceway where people sit and listen from folding chairs.
He commands everyone's attention. Not just by his enthusiastic tone of voice and funny narrative, but he moves across the front of the church making eye contact and using his hands in place of words it's captivating.
He talked about the time he was awakened in the middle of the night in Africa to talk to people about Jesus Christ. Bonner explained about villagers and their families who traveled 20 plus miles to hear about Jesus some wanting to be baptized before the sun had even risen. Water conditions were poor. Bonner said the nearest river was swarming with crocodiles and the only other option for water was a leech pit. They opt for the latter.
It's clear that he's excited to share what he's learned about God, even if it means traveling across the ocean to do it. So how did he get here?
A shortstop, Bonner was drafted in the third round in 1978. A year into professional baseball, he said he went to church with his wife Becky and realized he was a sinner. He said that was the day he asked Jesus Christ to come into his heart.
But, according to him, his teammates didn't seem too responsive to the change in him, and it wasn't long before he was called into the management office and told he was, "taking this Jesus thing too far."
At the end of the 1984 season, a free agent and receiving offers from four major league clubs, Bonner walked away from the sport. In 1988, he and Becky took their four daughters to Zambia and have been missionaries ever since.
They have helped start over 200 churches in six African countries. They have also worked to create orphanages, clinics and Bonner said they are hoping to start a hospital.
He told The Reminder that he hopes First Baptist Church will "partner with us" in continuing missionary work. He encourages Christians to tell others about the love of Jesus.
He doesn't seem to mind talking about his old baseball career. In fact, any conversation that starts about it eventually leads to his current job of bringing people to God. By his knowing smile it's obvious that he's aware of this vehicle. Even before this reporter manages to slip away, his good-bye handshake turns into a warm pat and he's checking to see if Jesus is a personal friend of mine.