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High Impact
While hulking men with rippling muscles bend frying pans, twist steel bars and shred telephone directories, young people receive Christ as Saviour.


Anticipation builds as Team Impact takes the stage. With music blasting from 20-foot speakers, huge bodybuilders flex their biceps and pecs as they prepare to astound the audience with demonstrations of unbelievable strength.

Siolo Tauaefa shreds a three-inch telephone directory.

For almost an hour, hulking men with rippling muscles twist steel bars into pretzels and shred three-inch telephone directories like confetti. They continue to shatter imposing structures of wood and ice, smash flaming cinderblocks into ashes, and explode hot water bottles with the ease of blowing up a small balloon.

Giggling girls grasp steel poles then shriek and scream as these modern day Goliaths lift them high above their heads.

With each feat, the crowd gasps in amazement. How could men acquire such Herculean power?

Unlike a World Wrestling Entertainment event, everything is real. No insults are tossed, nor are claims of superiority or self-importance made.

It's just another day at the office for Team Impact.

Members showcase their powerful bodies with confidence stemming from hours of hard work and dedication—and their faith in God.

Christians are wimps? Not these guys.

But such public exhibitions ultimately are not about the men or their feats of strength.

Young people especially respond to Team Impact's presentations.

After grabbing their attention, team members focus on the benefits of making wise choices, ignoring peer pressure, overcoming harmful addictions, and developing a personal relationship with God through His Son Jesus.

"We don't say anything different from police officers, or preachers, or teachers," explains former Mr. Teenage Arkansas bodybuilder Trey Talley. "We just have a little different package."

Formed in 2000, the 23-member ministry team travels throughout the world demonstrating not only their powerful physiques but also Jesus Christ's ability to transform lives for the better.

Working in teams of four, Team Impact visits over 1,000 schools and churches each year.

"God truly works in these assemblies," Neal says. "Life changing decisions are being made at this age, and we pray that we are a catalyst for them making the right choices."

Living the dream

Some people delight in killing other's dreams. But Team Impact member Jeff Neal never listened to the nay sayers because he trusted the One directing his life.

Jeff Neal

"I was a six-foot offensive guard coming out of high school," says the former Houston Oiler, who once held the NFL's strongest man title for bench pressing over 600 pounds. "Those aren't exactly in high demand. But I knew who was ultimately in charge, and I didn't let anyone else call the shots."

After graduating from Houston's South High School, Neal received a football scholarship to Howard Payne University, a small Baptist institution in Central Texas. Despite his 300-pound bulk tremendous strength, and four solid seasons with the Yellowjackets, professional scouts paid the offensive guard scant attention.

Friends encouraged Neal to seek other career outlets, but he refused to alter his goal. With no other options available, the Texan signed as a free agent with the Albany Firebirds of the Arena Football League. Following three years in New York, the NFL finally beckoned, and the offensive lineman proved all the pessimists wrong.

Neal's faith in Jesus Christ sustained him through the long and arduous road to professional football. Whenever he considered opting for the safe and secure route, God provide the strength to forge ahead.

"God placed the desire to play football in me even though men kept telling me I couldn't do it," says the power lifter, who played his final year of pro football for the CFL's Birmingham Barracudas. "I knew God knew better, and I never quit believing."

The strongman accepted Jesus as his Saviour and invited Him into his life at age 13. Though raised in a Christian home he realized sitting in a pew on Sunday provided nothing without God's saving grace.

"I found out going to church didn't make you a Christian," he reveals. "My best friend Roger shared with me, what it meant to have a personal relationship with the Lord. I knelt on my knees in my bedroom, and my life was changed."

As Neal's gridiron days wound down, he sought an alternative athletic outlet to share God's message of salvation. Team Impact and its programming directed toward teenagers provided the perfect opportunity.

Officials no longer flag the ex-offensive lineman for holding or jumping offside—the only time players in his position tend to get noticed. Now, the spotlight shines positively on the ex-lineman when he cracks bats, smashes concrete blocks, or lifts barbells.

But the bodybuilder quickly admits he performs those feats just to grab people's attention. "There's nothing sacred about breaking bricks or bending a steel bar," Neal admits. "The message that's sacred is that Jesus Christ is the only way to heaven."

Family witness

A divided household creates great friction. For Team Impact member Berry Handley, the tension between his parents created years of struggle. Classmates taunted him, and poor academic skills raised questions of self esteem.

Berry Handley

"I dealt with bullies in elementary school and was one of the worst readers in my class," the former Indiana University offensive tackle says. "Because of the turmoil in my home, I had a lot of problems."

Like many troubled youngsters, Handley could have become just another statistic—one more dropout, one more alcoholic, one more drug addict, one more felon, perhaps even one more suicide.

But the power lifter, who serves as a senior evangelist for the feats of strength ministry, discovered the ultimate solution.

Although Handley's father wanted no involvement with organized religion or the church, his mother possessed a deep devotion to Jesus Christ. She shared her faith with her son, and he entered into a personal relationship with Jesus Christ at an early age.

From that point forward, gradual changes occurred, and Handley developed into one of the top high school football players and wrestlers in Indiana.

"I still got beat up by bullies and was still the worst reader, but I now had the answer," he says. "Because of my relationship with the Lord, I started making the right choices, and things started to change. Like so many kids, I didn't go the wrong way and began to excel in academics and athletics."

Handley's athletic prowess won him a football scholarship at Indiana University and with his 6'7" height and 300-pound frame, he exhibited great potential for the NFL.

Unfortunately a severe neck injury following his sophomore season ended Handley's gridiron dreams.

Rather than cursing his ill fortune, the former offensive tackle turned to power lifting and joined the Power Team ministry in 1987.

"For a lot of people that would be a major blow to their life," says the strongman who can bend a steel bar or break a baseball bat.

"But the most important part of my life wasn't football—it was my relationship with the Lord. That's what helped me get through all that."

In 2000, Handley and several other members of the group left the Power Team and reorganized as Team Impact.

Despite his achievements and fulfillment from ministry work, his father's disinterest in God burned in Handley's heart. More than anything, the young man wanted him to experience the same transformation that only accepting Christ as personal Saviour can provide.

At a Power Team performance in Chicago, Handley's long-time dream turned into reality. His 57-year-old father surrendered his life to Jesus, and the family united in Christian faith.

"His life was changed, and mom's life was changed," the powerful athlete comments. "From that point on, it made me want to continue with this ministry."

Since that time, the strongman evangelist has seen countless teens turn their live around. Hundreds of letters and conversations express that Team Impact's message of hope found in Jesus Christ has averted painful addictions, destructive behaviour, and even death.

"It's amazing how far you can go in your dreams," he says. "If you follow the crowd, they will steal your dreams. I held on to my dreams, and I credit everything I did to the Lord."

Powerful transformation

Honolulu's mean streets bred gang violence and crime. From his youth, Siolo Tauaefa trod this path of destruction and backed by his massive 280-pound frame, few dared to question his actions.

Siolo Tauaefa

"My brother was involved in gangs, and I followed his footsteps," the native of American Samoan says. "I was headed in the wrong direction, and several times I wound up in jail or in the hospital."

With youthful abandon, Tauaefa and his girlfriend Chloe wed as teenagers and moved in with her parents. But despite his married status, Siolo changed little. He continued to hang out with old friends and frequent old haunts, living on the edge of the law.

However, Chloe and her family had a different vision for his life. As devout Christians, they prayed every day Tauaefa would come to know Jesus Christ and experience His transforming power, enabling him to turn away from a life offering no future other than grief and heartache.

"I thought just changing environments would change my heart," says the bodybuilder, nicknamed the Big Samoan. "But I remained the same and kept going to the same places. I attended church just to please my wife and in-laws."

One evening, Tauaefa visited a local gym to play basketball while Chloe attended a Bible study. Amazingly, no one appeared on the court and Siolo left thinking he would return home.

Driving back, he stopped at an intersection and felt compelled to turn toward the church rather than home. Once inside, Siolo discovered a roomful of people praying for his personal salvation. Sensing God's power, Tauaefa accepted Jesus Christ as his personal Saviour on the spot and committed his life to following Him.

"The Lord Jesus Christ transformed my life forever when I was 23," the power lifter, who can bend an iron skillet in half, says. "I was on the road of addiction and destruction, and there are so many people on that road. I decided to go the way where God was tugging me."

Several years later, a power lifting ministry from the mainland visited Honolulu and spoke at Tauaefa's church. A team member handed the stocky, muscular young man a baseball bat to check its strength. Siolo snapped it in half like a matchstick, shocking everyone.

A few months later, the group asked the former high school football player to join their team. Relocating to Texas, Tauaefa trained in earnest and developed his physique to an unbelievable level.

Each year, thousands of teens and adults stare at the Samoan's massive shoulders, bulging biceps, and tremendous thighs. They gasp in amazement as he crushes blocks of ice into cubes, crumples soft drink cans into pellets, and ties steel rods into bows.

Following each performance, dozens flock to his side for autographs and the opportunity to bask in his towering presence.

But the larger-than-life Tauaefa recognizes these feats of strength and fan adoration don't measure a person's worth or importance. They serve simply as a means to attract people's attention, and God's transforming power reigns supreme.

"You have to choose in your life to do what's right or go along with the crowd," the strongman says.

"Sooner or later, you'll run into destruction unless you find the Lord Jesus Christ and accept Him into your heart."

John Hillman is a writer from Waco, Texas, who covers sports part-time for several publications including the Waco Tribune-Herald. He and his wife, Kathy, have authored three sports devotional books, Devotions from the World of Sports, Devotions from the World of Women's Sports, and Devos 4 Sports Fans. They are members of Columbus Avenue Baptist Church.

Originally published in Living Light News, May/June 2007.

 

 
 
 
 

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