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Raising a 'Racket' for Christ
A tragic accident left Doyle Harbaugh a paraplegic, but that hasn’t slowed down his ministry in Awana or his ping pong prowess.
At a ping pong tournament in Las Vegas in 2008, Doyle Harbaugh earned the No. 5 national ranking, fueling his hopes to qualify for the 2012 Olympics. In fact, he is now working with a coach who trained a Russian Olympic team.
What makes Doyle’s pursuit even more impressive is that he plays ping pong in a wheelchair.
A life-changing moment
In 1976, Doyle had just left a Wednesday night service at Camden Baptist Church in Wellington, Ohio, and was traveling home on his motorcycle. A tragic accident left him paralyzed from the waist down and his life altered dramatically.
Along with the challenges Doyle has experienced as a paraplegic, he also believes God has used it for good in his role as an Awana leader and now commander at Camden Baptist.
“Being in a wheelchair allows me to be at eye level with the kids,” said Doyle, who will continue to serve in Awana even if he competes in the 2012 U.S. Paralympics. “My wheelchair is an attraction to the kids and has helped me build relationships.”
The blessing of Awana
Awana has played an important part in Doyle’s life. He regularly attended Awana as a child and came to Christ at a young age. He grew up with Christian parents who brought Doyle to church each week.
“The verses I memorized in Awana have stuck with me,” Doyle said. “I remember what they all mean. My mom was an Awana leader. She actually signed my wife Tammy’s handbook when Tammy was a clubber.”
Tammy also grew up participating in Awana and was in club with Doyle. They were married in 1982.
Leading the way
Doyle’s work as commander the past four years has created numerous opportunities to reach kids in his community with the love of Christ. Nearly two-thirds of the children who attend Awana at his church are from unchurched homes. Many have come to know Christ through the ministry.
Every Wednesday, Doyle and his leadership team send two vans throughout the community to make sure that each child gets to club.
“We’re a country church,” Doyle explained. “Awana is a big outreach in our church and community. We pick up kids at mobile home parks and other locations and bring them to club.”
Recently, Doyle was grocery shopping when a young employee thanked Doyle for picking him up for Awana over the years.
“Sometimes you wonder if you’re making a difference,” Doyle said. “But it’s often the little things that make a difference in someone’s life.”
Even a wooden-car race can make an impact. A recent Awana Grand Prix event at the church provided an outreach opportunity. Four kids and one adult heard the gospel and trusted Christ.
Equipped to serve
Last summer, Doyle attended Commander College 101, a training event to inspire, equip and challenge commanders in their ministry roles.
“Commander College was a huge help to me,” Doyle said. “The training was excellent and reinforced some ministry basics, like the value of always preaching the Word. It was great to meet so many different people and share ideas. It was also a good time to connect with the missionaries.”
Not only do Commander College and other training events provide Doyle with assistance, but he also gets help from his assist dog, Jake, a Labrador retriever.
“I bring Jake to Awana, and I’ve actually used him to help me teach at Large Group Time,” Doyle said. “When I teach about obedience, I use Jake as a real example. The kids love it. He’s also an illustration when I teach about controlling our tongues because Jake has a special collar that goes over his mouth. Jake actually really likes going to church because they feed him well.”
A real winner
Ken Rohrer, a church care missionary for western Ohio, visited Doyle during Awana on a recent Wednesday night.
“It’s neat to see Doyle in action,” Ken said. “The kids love him and really respect him.”
Ken also likes to play ping pong and challenged Doyle to a game.
“I was a bit bummed that he beat me,” Ken said. “He’s really good.”
If Doyle makes the Olympics in ping pong, he'll see it as an open door to communicate his hope in Christ.
"I have played people from other countries and have realized the opportunities for sharing the gospel," he said. "I can give Chinese and Korean gospel literature to athletes visiting America. My wife and I would like to use these opportunities to share Jesus Christ with others."