by Sarah Haddow
A few months ago, 100 very excited girls descended on Blantyre – a city in the south of Malawi surrounded by beautiful mountains. These girls traveled from far and wide, some even came from the neighboring country of Mozambique, to participate in a four-day residential netball camp. The camp was held at a local football stadium and the girls who attended were between 13-18. They came in their teams along with their Sports Friends-trained coaches. We held the camp while school was still in session so that we could reach out to girls who do not have the means to go to school – and they absolutely loved it!
As the girl rocked up in minibuses, noise levels rising, they were greeted by the Sports Friends team and welcomed with the joy of the Lord! Faces were grinning with anticipation of what was in store for the next few days, and for many, it was the first time leaving their home village for a night. The girls were divided into team countries and given Sports Friends t-shirts to represent their team.
The camp included one full day of netball coaching clinics, where the girls rotated through four stations, learning different key netball skills; passing, defending, shooting and theory. For those of you who aren’t familiar with netball, it is a ball game similar to basketball but with very different rules and no backboard on the goal.
The following day allowed the girls to put these skills into practice as they participated in the ‘Grand Netball Tournament’! The day started well, with the girls in high spirits desperate to take home the victory. Courts marked out, bibs on, and we’re set to play! After the first few matches, the sky darkened, before torrential rain pounded down – but this certainly wasn’t going to stop the girls. Battling through the rain, knock-out games continued until a final was declared – New Zealand vs. America. It was a close game but New Zealand just had the edge! America’s disappointment didn’t last long before Kaipa, a Sports Friends leader, had the girls chanting around the field, singing songs to their heart’s content! A joyful sight I’ll never forget!
Each Sports Friends camp has a theme and this one was based on Jesus – the True Vine. Jesus says “I am the vine: and you are the branches… if you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit” (John 15:1-9). In each teaching session, a component of the fruit of the Spirit was taught; love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control (Galatians 5:22-32). As these teachings were woven into the fabric of the day it was easy to share how as sports players we can play showing these qualities through the help of the Holy Spirit. It was important that in each study session we brought it back to the gospel message – it is not by our own works or behavior or ‘bearing fruit’ that we are saved, but rather by the amazing grace of our Lord Jesus Christ who shed His blood on the cross for each of us.
‘For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith – and this is not from yourselves, it is a gift from God – not by works” (Ephesians 2:8-9).
It was a great pleasure giving awards out at the end of the camp, especially awarding ‘the most Christ-like player’. This award went to Joanne, a petite girl with a talent for netball. Even though she was one of the better players, she performed so humbly on the court. On multiple occasions she was seen considering others before herself, as well having a sense of joy surrounding her, continuously smiling and seemingly content with life.
As the girls headed home, faces beaming, we lifted our eyes to the enthroned Lord. We give Him all the glory and praise with thankful hearts for a successful netball camp. It is always such a delight seeing sports break down barriers, build relationships, and most importantly being a platform for sharing the great gospel message. May our hearts and lips never stop praising Him!
“From the rising of the sun to the place where it sets, the name of the Lord is to be praised.” (Psalm 113:3)
Sarah Haddow lives in the U.K. and recently graduated from Nottingham University with a Ph.D. in chemistry. She is passionate about sports having grown up playing netball. However, a few years ago she took up the challenge of field hockey! Sarah served as a short-term associate with Sports Friends Malawi this year. She enjoyed teaching netball as well as sharing her love for Christ.