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September 10, 2013

New Chaplain Joins Tech Team

By: Jimmy Robertson

Dave Gittings was tabbed as the Hokies’ team chaplain after Johnny Shelton left for a position with the Baltimore Ravens this summer

Dave Gittings came to Tech from Georgia, where he worked as a a multi-area director with the South Central Georgia
chapter of Fellowship of Christian Athletes.

The Virginia Tech football team lost 18 players to graduation. It lost a couple of players to suspensions, one player to a medical issue (Michael Cole), three players for this season with injuries (Ronny Vandyke, Tony Gregory and Ryan Malleck) and possibly another depending on how Antone Exum’s ACL responds in the coming weeks. The squad even saw team chaplain Johnny Shelton depart after he took a job as the chaplain for the Baltimore Ravens this summer.

Head coach Frank Beamer took care of replacing the players. A higher power took care of replacing Shelton.

Everyone involved in the process of hiring Dave Gittings felt that God had led to Gittings coming to Blacksburg, as Gittings took over Shelton’s previous role as the Hokies’ team chaplain. He arrived at Tech a week after August practices started and immediately started attending practices and meeting players.

“When you’re introduced as a chaplain, everyone knows why you’re there,” Gittings said. “They know that you bring the spiritual and moral perspective to the team. But how to get to the point where you can verbally communicate those things to the players and coaches takes some time.

“So my start here was just being around, being a friendly face that those guys could see and being able to communicate with them in ways that were just relational. Taking interest in them individually and learning their names is very important. That’s the start I encourage every chaplain to do. I’ve got to prove to them that I care about them, and once they know that, I think we’ll have some great fruit. God is doing some wonderful things right now.”

Gittings comes to Tech from St. Simon’s Island, Ga., where he worked as a multi-area director with the South Central Georgia chapter of Fellowship of Christian Athletes, an organization that challenges athletes and coaches at all levels to use athletics to impact the world for Jesus Christ. He developed a staff of 10 that oversaw a 30-county area in Southeastern Georgia, ministering to athletes at the local high schools and colleges in that area.

It was actually Shelton who convinced Gittings to pursue the position at Tech. The two have known each other since going through a “Leaders of Excellence in FCA” program as part of their training at Ashland Theological Seminary in Ohio several years ago. Shelton took football players Derrick Hopkins and T.J. Shaw to the College Athlete Conference in St. Simon’s Island, Ga., this past summer and planned to inform Gittings of the open Virginia Tech position and then convince him to take it. But after hearing Gittings passionately tell about all the great things that God was doing in that area and hearing him talk about his upcoming mission trips, Shelton decided not to bring up the Tech chaplain position, feeling that Gittings was perfectly happy ministering in South Georgia.

Shelton discussed the situation with the Virginia Tech FCA board and also with Jimmy Page, who serves as the vice president of field ministry in the mid-Atlantic region for FCA. They all felt God was leading them at least to present the opportunity to Gittings, so when Gittings returned from a mission trip to the Bahamas this summer, he received a call from Shelton telling him that Virginia Tech needed a chaplain and that they wanted him to consider the position.

“My wife, Kim, and I took some time to pray about it,” Gittings said. “I was coming off a hurtful situation that I had experienced. The Lord took me through a process with the chaplaincy to the Pittsburgh Steelers, which is my favorite team in the NFL. Long story short, I went through a great process with them and felt good about it. They ended up choosing another guy, a great guy. I was sure that was the call God had for my life. When that didn’t work out and this came about, I was a little nervous because it felt good.

“But I think God knew best. I probably would have ended up being more of a fan than a chaplain if I had ended up with the Steelers. I continued to pray about this position. My wife and I soon realized that God was opening this door for us, so we pursued going through the process. We came up on an initial visit and met a few of the coaches. We got a chance to go through the area. We felt a peace about being here. We prayed a little more and felt this was a great opportunity for our lives.”

A Pittsburgh native, Gittings never imagined getting involved in the ministry. He ran his own business, operating an automobile detailing salon company, and some of his customers were actually Steelers football players.

One of his first customers moved to Sea Island, Ga., and would fly Gittings down to take care of his cars. The two of them later merged businesses, and Gittings moved his family to St. Simon’s Island (adjacent to Sea Island) in May of 1996. He and his family started attending a small Baptist church there, and in October of 1996, he met Jesus.

“I fell in love with Jesus right away and began pursuing him with everything I had through the church there,” he said. “It was a small church there where I have to give credit to a pastor named Michael Atkinson, who was the pastor at that time. I began serving there and became a deacon there. Later on, I received the call to preach the gospel and became their pastor. I was really raised in that church. I became their senior pastor, but along the way, I knew God was doing more with me.”

In 2002, an FCA board member named Nick Doster asked Gittings to consider a possible career move to the FCA. Gittings told him that he already had a job, and Doster came up with a classic reply.

He said, ‘I didn’t ask if you had a job. I asked you to pray about a ministerial opportunity,’” Gittings said. “That set in motion a whole new course for my life.”

Gittings officially joined the FCA staff in 2003 after completing a two-year program through Ashland Theological Seminary. He originally ministered in nine counties before later becoming the multi-area director and developing a staff that covered 30 counties in Southeastern Georgia.

Along the way, he has served on various committees within the FCA and worked on mission trips to both the Bahamas and Nicaragua. He and Shelton both still serve on a national chaplain advisory team, and he completed the FCA Coaches Ministry Academy back in May.

Gittings plans on taking a simple approach with Tech’s football team at first. That approach entails just being around, introducing himself and getting to know all the players. Then he hopes to develop some junior chaplains within the team – guys who will lead small group discussions and facilitate Bible studies.

“I’m very relationship driven,” he said. “I don’t expect anything out of the players or the coaches. I’m here to make friends and be a part of this organization. I think it’s important for me to allow that natural relationship to grow. When players and coaches trust you, they’re willing to listen to the things you have to say. They’ll begin to listen as time goes on. But if I were not willing to make friends and just journey with them and live life with them, then my job would be much harder.

“But I think God has given me a gift. I just enjoy people. I’m passionate about people. I want to see the best in people. That makes my role as a chaplain a little easier. I love what I’m doing.”

Gittings’ transition, of course, involves getting his family to Blacksburg as soon as possible. He and wife Kim have four children – two boys and two girls. His oldest son works in Fernandina Beach, Fla., for the federal port system, and his youngest son, Everett, is married to wife Katie and is pursuing a doctorate degree in sports medicine and chiropractic medicine at Life University in Marietta, Ga. His oldest daughter, Niesha, just graduated from Edinboro University in Edinboro, Pa., with a degree in child psychology and is working in Erie, Pa. His youngest daughter, Briana, is in high school and will be attending Blacksburg High, probably in December.

Though it figures to be difficult, Gittings is willing to be away from his family for a few months. After all, he felt God moved him in this particular direction with his life.

He also knows it won’t be easy to replace Shelton, who became a popular figure not just among the football team, but also among those working in the athletics department and those in the community. Yet in his short time at Tech, he has seen the type of people in the Tech football program and looks forward to helping carry out God’s will for his life and theirs.

“There are a lot of great guys on this team,” he said. “Some of them are young, but the reality is they are young men and they’re growing leaps and bounds every day. We’ve got guys who are doing it right.

“So I am here to make sure that level of spiritual and moral excellence is valued. But my job is not that hard because here at Virginia Tech we have a great group of guys who are moving in that direction.”