Former NFL stars Ray Lewis and Michael Irvin are scheduled to speak at the Mighty Men of Valor National Conference next week, and a conference organizer says they will not only share their successes but will also help men by sharing their struggles and "battle scars."
The theme of this year's event, "Battle Tested," is geared toward encouraging and equipping men to fight for their faith, their families and their communities. Lewis, who helped the Baltimore Ravens win Super Bowl XLVII, and Irvin, an NFL Hall of Famer, will be featured as keynote speakers along with NBA analyst Chris Broussard and conference founder Clifford Ashe III.
"Over the years I've found that...most men would rather run and hide than stand and fight," Ashe, who is also the senior pastor of Dayspring Ministries in Middletown, Pa., told The Christian Post. He later stated, "I think a man cannot be helped until he comes out of hiding."
Ashe has faced his own share of battles throughout his life. When he was young he became the first black member of an all-white YMCA in Youngstown, Ohio, he said. He later became a star athlete, earning himself a state championship in swimming as well as an athletic scholarship to Michigan State University.
He also battled his way through the corporate world before leaving it behind to prepare for ministry, not realizing that the battles he faced along the way would sometimes leave him with "scars" that he tried to hide behind his success.
"And then I realized that I stopped talking about the scars, because the world does not reward you for the battles you're in and the blows that you take," he said. "But then, as a Christian, I realized that those things became my badges of honor, and...when I let my scars speak, people got helped and healed and they began to be able to understand that their failures were really the back door to success."
In addition to the keynote addresses, the conference will also allow attendees to participate in workshops that address specific types of battles men sometimes face. There are workshops on spiritual warfare, fatherhood, worship, conducting ministry on the job and a variety of other topics.
The event, which is in its 15th year, was first held in Harrisburg, Pa., and was attended by 300 men, says Ashe. This year the event will take place Nov. 8-9 at First Baptist Church of Glenarden in Upper Marlboro, Md., where 4,000 people are expected to attend.
When attendees walk into the large reception area of the church, Ashe says, they will see that part of the room has been converted into a boxing gym – ring and all – where actual fighters will be sparring with one another and hitting punching bags.
Speakers will also address the crowd from a boxing ring stage that has one side open facing the audience. Ashe describes this year's speakers as "cornermen," because like a cornerman in boxing who sees things that his fighter can't see, they can help men understand things about themselves they never realized before.
Ashe says he hopes the conference will help men realize that they need to "answer the bell" and keep fighting despite any setbacks in life.
"It's round by round," said Ashe. "Don't think you've lost a fight when you lost a round."