There is perhaps no more polarizing name in sports than Tim Tebow. Saying those two words to the most ardent enthusiasts will likely garner extreme responses that range from adoration to disgust. And now that the iconic athlete has given up on his NFL dream to pursue a shot at playing Major League Baseball, both sides of the debate have fired up once again.
Yet Tebow never seems to be phased by all of the attention. He has never made public statements regarding his detractors and he somehow manages to deflect all of the praise. Most of that approach to life can be tied back to his upbringing as a missionary kid who was born in the Philippines and has made regular trips back to serve others.
In this CSJ conversation with managing editor Chad Bonham, Tebow talks about the importance of serving others and how his Christian faith is the foundation for all of his decisions:
Chad Bonham: What is your definition of “serving?”
Tim Tebow: It’s putting others’ needs in front of yourself and doing what you can to take care of other people before you focus on your own wants and needs. Taking several trips to the Philippines has been a positive experience for me. Meeting all of those different people who have nothing and are poor gave me an appreciation for what me and my family have. It provided me with the perspective of taking nothing for granted. It also allowed me to see the effect that I could have on those people. For some, the belief in Christ is all that they have and is much more important than money or material possessions.
Bonham: When did you first make the connection between serving and Biblical principles?
Tebow: From when I was very young, especially seeing how my parents have given of their time, life and money to serve others around them.
Bonham: What are some ways that you and your family have served others?
Tebow: Going to the Philippines with my dad and being at the orphanage and hanging out with the kids and thinking how could you get your whole life wrapped up in what’s going to happen on fourth down instead of thinking it is a blessing you have the athletic ability to go out there and play football. That takes a lot of pressure off. It lets you go out there and enjoy playing and have fun.
Bonham: For you personally, what are some of the biggest enemies of that mindset?
Tebow: If a person gets caught up with their own ambition instead of thinking about those people around him.
Bonham: How do you fight those enemies in order to maintain a life that is first and foremost about serving others?
Tebow: I like to think that I’ve been able to use many of the valuable lessons which my parents have taught me. I am fortunate to have family members, coaches and teammates around who can help me stay focused on the right things for me to be successful. For me, every day includes four things: God, family, academics and football, in that order, and that’s thanks to my family. Seeing how my parents have raised us and provided everything we can possibly need is a comforting feeling. I have been so blessed to have an amazing support group and knowing how passionate they are about God and their children have inspired me.
Bonham: Can you relate a story about how you were able to serve someone and how it impacted your life?
Tebow: Because of my faith, I receive a lot of requests to speak to different organizations. I like to do as many as I can. One summer when I was playing at Florida, I had the opportunity to speak at the state prison in Union County. I got to get up and preach. The people there don’t have a lot to look forward to or a positive outlook on things. I told them everyone looks at you like you are nothing and I told them that they are no different than I am except they made a bad choice and that doesn’t make them any worse of a person and God doesn’t love them any less. I let them know because of their actions there are consequences, but God wants them to go to heaven. There were people in there for all sorts of things like murder, homicide and drug lords. I saw these guys break down and cry. I gave them an invitation to accept Jesus Christ and change the way they were living. In the two prisons I spoke at, 195 guys came forward. I held their hands and prayed with them. The security guys told them they weren’t allowed to get close to me, but I wasn’t worried about it. I felt like I was doing what God wanted me to do so it was safe.
Bonham: How difficult is it to be a star athlete and still maintain an attitude of serving in a world where celebrities are usually being served?
Tebow: I actually think it’s a little easier because people often want to spend time with me. Sharing my time can put smiles on people’s faces and both my teammates and I become role models that everyone can look up to.”
Bonham: What is your message to young athletes who might struggle in this area of their life?
Tebow: The message I always try to get across in speaking to various groups is that I am no different than anyone else in the room, despite what people may think because I’m a professional athlete. It is important for each person to sit down and be honest about making priorities and being true to themselves.
Bonham: What are your long-term goals when it comes to how you want to be a servant to others as a football player and beyond?
Tebow: I always enjoy participating in missionary work where I can travel and see the world. My parents moved to the Philippines in 1985 when my dad started a being a missionary there. I was born there in 1987 and my family lived there until 1990. Through his ministry he’s got national evangelists who are over there and about 40-something of them who run medical clinics and churches over there. We also have an orphanage with 50 orphans. The Philippines are pretty special to me. It is a great experience. We go into medical clinics, hospitals, prisons, market places and schools. You preach and help out. We go to the orphanage and a lot of things like that. It’s a great experience. When you come back to the United States, you’re grateful for everything that God’s given you and you see how blessed you are.
Photos: Jeffrey Beall (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0) or GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html)], via Wikimedia Commons; Ed Clemente Photography – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=18158956