Originally published in The World Invader, Issue No. 2 on February 25, 2003.
You can read the whole edition here.
Believe it or not, one of the most effective tools for ministry on the mission field is futbol (or soccer, as we Americans call it). There have been many skeptics about the effectiveness of athletics in ministry, but the following story is evidence of how God can use such methods.
In June we stumbled upon a small community in the very rural parts of Ensenada, Mexico. It was basically in the middle of what looked like a city dump. Piles of trash, rusted up cars and dead animals encompassed a small community of homes. Small children playing with the trash they’d claimed as their toys ran up to meet us as we approached what appeared to be a gathering of some sort. A futbol game was in progress, but this was no casual game, they were serious. Men from the age of 15-50 were on the field kicking around a ball that should have been thrown away years ago (it probably was). Women were also on the outskirts of the game, along with their children who were running around playing their own simple games like patty cake and tag.
Now the men on our SLAM team had just come from another community where we had lost a soccer game. We’d been telling guys on our team (5 of which were on one of their first mission trips) that “Winning is not everything, but it is an important tool on this mission field. Without winning it’s hard to gain the needed respect of these men to give us the time to hear the gospel. The gospel is best communicated relationally and we have no relationship with these guys. However, soccer is their means of fellowship and this is where community is built. Look around you, everyone in this community is gathered around this field.”
Needless to say, this is a hard reality for an American to swallow, and most of our team played half-heartedly, not thinking it was so serious. We were beat. Our team began to testify, the Pastor translated and immediately men began walking off the field. The teenagers were talking and even the children were disrespectful by running around and being noisy. This had never been our experience. We had always believed that the Lord showed us winning was important, but did it have this much of an effect? By the grace of God, in 7 years we’d never lost before. We were forced to step off the field as the men started another game in the midst of our attempt to bring the gospel—a moment we will never forget.
Now, in a different community, we had another chance to play for the glory of God. To win for Him! The guys got together. “Look fellas, we gotta win! Not for us, but for Jesus! If we can do our best, He’ll honor it. Let’s do it!”
We jogged onto the field to play against what turned out to be Ensenada’s undefeated community soccer team, “The Margaritas.” They came onto the field warming up like a team that plays on a world circuit, while our team had only three players with actual experience.
After an incredibly tense game … we won! We then began to share our testimonies and the gospel. We had the full attention of every young man on that field. “Which one of you would like to accept Jesus Christ as your Lord and Savior?” Without the bowing of heads or the closing of eyes, all together these men raised their hands. They had heard of Jesus the son of Mary, but that day was the first time they knew Him as the Son of God. We stood there, sweaty and covered in dirt, exhausted and out of breath, but captivated by the love of God and how we used our inability for His purpose.
Since then, we’ve been able to visit these guys and bring them soccer balls, jerseys and other clothing. We were even able to bring all of them Bibles in Spanish with both the Old and New Testament. We will be bringing a vacation bible school for their children this summer. We’ll also have a rematch.