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Ringing Up the K’s for Speed the Light

Sierra Yates used her skills as a high school softball player this past spring season to raise thousands of dollars for Speed the Light.
What does high school softball in Vermont have to do with missions? Normally, not much. But when Marty Fredrick, youth pastor for Church of the Rock in St. Albans, and Travis Nichelson, the district youth director for Northern England, got together they came up with a plan to pair the two together to not only help missionaries, but generate excitement and hopefully raise thousands of dollars for Speed the Light through the youth in the district.

Now, if only Sierra Yates would agree to their plan.

Sierra, a junior this past school year, has been attending Church of the Rock since she was a toddler. She’s also been playing softball since she was 5 years old and is currently a righthanded pitcher for the BFA St. Albans High School Comets.

As a sophomore, Sierra didn’t see much time on the varsity pitching rotation, being behind two senior pitchers. But this year, it looked good for her to get some quality time in the pitching circle for her team.

Fredrick and Nichelson’s idea? For every strike out Sierra records, have people pledge money to Speed the Light, the AG youth missions program that provides transportation and communication equipment for missionaries.

“We wanted to show kids that they can use their talents, whatever they may be, for God,” Fredrick says. “We decided that using an athlete would be a good place to start and Sierra was a perfect fit. The goal was for Sierra to get her pledges to $100 per strike out.”

When they presented the idea to Sierra, she was game.

“It was timed perfectly for me,” she says. “I really didn’t have to change my lifestyle, I just had to keep focusing on my softball to honor this connection between me and God.”

The “connection” Sierra was referring to links back to the winter retreat she attended with the youth group earlier this year. It was there that she realized her passion for softball had pushed God to second place in her life. She committed to changing that.

Fredrick says he’s seen the change.

“Originally what I saw was Sierra came to church because she was supposed to and attended youth group more to socialize,” Fredrick says, “but after the retreat, she just grew — her social media presence focused on who Jesus is and why He’s important, she contacted me about setting up a student leadership team that would meet regularly, she became a leader in our Sunday night youth group, and I see her every week now, sitting on the front row at church taking notes — really paying attention to her faith.”

Although everyone was onboard with the strike out idea, there remained one question: As an untested varsity pitcher, could Sierra ring up enough Ks (strike outs) and raise enough money to catch the attention of and inspire other students?

In reality, it was no easy task. St. Albans only has a 16-game regular season. Even if they added the post season and went all the way to the championship game, it was just 19 games, and Sierra wouldn’t pitch every game — and high school games are only seven innings.

“Initially my goal was to just strike out as many people as I could,” Sierra says with a laugh.

Doing the math, if Sierra was able to pitch at least nine games, went all seven innings when she started, avoided injury, struck out at least one batter per inning, made it to the state championship, and raised $100 per strike out, she was looking at around $6,300 for Speed the Light — not bad, but so many things had to go just right.

Fredrick and Nichelson created a video featuring Sierra, letting other students and youth groups know what she was doing for Speed the Light in hopes that it would encourage other students or youth groups to either do something themselves or support Sierra’s effort.

“It was really honoring to think she would put herself out there like that,” says Anna, Sierra’s mother. “Being in the spotlight, there is pressure, but I think it made her more focused and more driven as a student-athlete.”

If “more driven” could be an understatement, Sierra personified that and then some. She had what could only be described as an amazing “break out” year. She pitched 83 innings (recording a record of 12-1), had an ERA (earned run average) of .084, faced 297 batters and gave up only 21 walks, while striking out 158! She also led her to team to the state championship game, had a batting average of .438, and was later named to the all-metro (all-state) team in Class 1 — the top class in the state.

“Sierra was able to get her pledges to $81.75 per strike out for the regular season, with several people/churches choosing to also support her through the post-season as well,” Fredrick says. “When we added it all together, along with some one-time pledges, Sierra had raised more than $12,000 for Speed the Light!”

Fredrick says the Sierra’s effort succeeded in launching their youth group’s “dream big” goal of raising $50,000 for STL this year and in inspiring other students to actively pursue raising funds for STL using their gifts.

“She’s very humble about her accomplishments,” Anna says. “I just encourage her to be thankful for the gifts she has been given and to continue to utilize them for serving God.”

Fredrick believes this is an experience Sierra will remember for the rest of her life.

“I think we were all excited to see the numbers on the spreadsheet,” he says. “But more than anything, this is a spiritual history lesson that can impact her faith in God and trust in what God can do. I believe God will help her remember how when she covenanted with Him to support missions and reach other people, He was there for her. In the future, whenever she’s facing a challenge, God will help her remember this time to confirm that He is with her and He keeps His covenants (promises).”

Dan Van Veen

Dan Van Veen is news editor of AG News. Prior to transitioning to AG News in 2001, Van Veen served as managing editor of AG U.S. Missions American Horizon magazine for five years. He attends Central Assembly of God in Springfield, Missouri, where he and his wife, Lori, teach preschool Sunday School and 4- and 5-year-old Rainbows boys and girls on Wednesdays.