How Soccer Can Change the World for Christ
Lying in bed the afternoon after a lively night spent in the emergency room (I had eaten some bad chicken from the local grocery store) I decided to rent the documentary Pelota off of iTunes. The film is centered on a young couple that had recently graduated from college and was unsuccessfully trying to find their calling in life. Rather than dwell on their misgivings, they decide to fundraise enough money to travel the globe playing pick-up soccer games with persons of every country they visit.
They had both played soccer in college, and the goal of this experiment was to show how, amidst all of the different racial, socioeconomic, and religious backgrounds of the individuals with whom they played, the game of soccer could unite people under the friendly guise of brotherhood and community. The test worked – so much that in fact even Muslims and Jews could peacefully play a scrimmage against one another on a public court in the middle of Jerusalem!
As good as secular brotherhood and community are, how much more could a person’s life be touched through soccer if Christ was brought into the equation? I know a priest from Nigeria who carries a soccer ball everywhere he goes in case a pick-up game occurs in the streets of the city in which he serves: Montgomery, Alabama. Being from there myself, I don’t remember a time when a game took place at any one of the hundreds of hunting equipment stores in the city, but I appreciate his sentiment. He believes that the entire world can be reached for Christ through these small-sided competitions.
I played soccer in college, and five years after graduation it is safe to say that my glory days cannot even be seen in the rear view mirror. Nevertheless, each year at FOCUS New Staff Training at the University of Illinois, I relish the opportunity to play on weekends with my fellow brothers and sisters in Christ on the campus intramural fields. Just imagine thirty young, dynamic, and orthodox people who are in love with Christ invading two soccer fields on a Saturday afternoon. It is bound to turn some heads.
Yesterday was a slow day, however. Still, about eight missionaries made the half-mile long trek to see if we could start a pick-up game with another group. We did. We mixed up the teams with eleven locals and played for over two hours. We laughed and cried together (actually I was the only one who cried because I scraped my shin up pretty bad) and by the end of those two hours we had made eleven new friends. While playing a pick-up soccer game is not the easiest place to start a conversation about Christ, I hope that they saw a difference in my fellow missionaries and me by the way we played with virtue and a constant smile on our faces.
In several minutes, I am going to put on my soccer duds and head on out to the field to see if my fellow missionaries and I can make some more friends. My goal is to share lovingly Christ in my actions, and, if the opportunity arises, using words with the persons with whom we play. Sharing Christ with others while playing soccer could mean not arguing when the referee makes a seemingly poor decision, not using language when one makes a mistake, or even simply encouraging and affirming members of the opposite team. Maybe we will meet the eleven men we saw playing yesterday again and begin to develop more of a friendship with them. Eventually, those friendships may lend themselves to verbally sharing the Good News of Christ.
I believe that Christ is smiling when he sees people playing the beautiful game together, irrespective of their differences. He is the great Unifier, but soccer is one of many tools He uses to do His thing.
Food for Thought:
For more information on how to share the Gospel with words, check out this article.
How Soccer Can Change the World for Christ
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Since the pontificates of Pope Paul VI and John Paul II, the Roman Catholic Church has been commissioned to engage and embrace the world with God's message of love once more with ‘new methods, new ardor and new expression.’ It has come to be phrased, 'the new evangelization.'
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