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A test of faith, and a rally to support

Above all else, Tony Dungy is a father with a very deep religious faith.

By SHERRI DAY
Published December 22, 2005


TAMPA - Above all things, Indianapolis Colts' coach Tony Dungy has always been known as a man of faith.

He is, religious leaders who know him said, a model husband, father and Christian.

Dungy's religious convictions undoubtedly will strengthen him as he tries to make sense of the death of his eldest son, James, ministers said.

"We serve a sovereign God, and the loss of a child is just hard to understand," said Brian McDougall, executive assistant to the pastor of Idlewild Baptist Church, where the Dungys worshipped while in Tampa. "In times like these, it's just a matter of continuing to put our hope and trust in our Lord Jesus because that's all that matters."

Dungy, 50, and his family joined Idlewild shortly after moving to Tampa in 1996. Two of the church's pastors offered comfort to the family Thursday, McDougall said.

Across the Tampa Bay area, community and faith-based organizations expressed sympathy for the Dungy family. To many people, the Dungys were more than the first family of Tampa Bay football. They were community activists who quietly supported numerous bay area causes.

When Dungy wasn't on the field, he lent his public speaking skills to causes such as Family First's All Pro Dad, a program that encourages men to be better husbands and fathers. He also frequently backed Boys & Girls clubs and the Rev. Abe Brown's Prison Crusade.

At Metropolitan Ministries, Dungy routinely dropped off food for homeless families and volunteered in the organization's holiday center. His wife, Lauren, served the hungry.

Ministries' president Morris Hintzman said perhaps the news of James' death was so shocking because of the couple's unblemished character.

"It just doesn't seem like something bad should happen," Hintzman said. "But bad things do happen to people. (Tony) would be the first to share the spirit that the rain does fall on the just and the unjust alike."

In Indianapolis, Dungy's church plans to hold a two-hour prayer vigil tonight. The Dungys joined the 1,200-member Northside New Era Baptist Church in the spring.

The Rev. Clarence C. Moore, the church's pastor, likens Dungy to a modern-day Job.

"I had already told the ministry here that God was going to raise Tony Dungy up for the world to see how one of his servants could handle success," he said. "But it looks like God has kind of turned the tables. Now the world is going to see how he is going to handle adversity."

While James' death has saddened bay area, the impact is also felt in Indianapolis, where the community has readily embraced the Dungys, the Rev. Moore said.

For now, family members must draw strength from their faith, ministers said.

"The thing that could be very tormenting if you didn't have faith is the unanswered questions," said the Rev. John F. Ramsey, Sr., Dungy's former Indianapolis pastor and family friend. But "sometimes life is not about "Can you survive with the answers,' but "Can you live with the questions.' Because there are certain things we won't know until we get to heaven."

Sherri Day can be reached at sday@sptimes.com or 813 226-3405.

[Last modified December 22, 2005, 21:50:05]


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