Spared for a Purpose

By Shane Smith (Sports Friends Kenya)

God often allows us to go through hard times so that we may grow and, like a rock being tumbled and polished, become shiny and smooth. His goal is for us to become such a reflection of Him that He and others can see Himself in us.

Coach Dickens grew up in a slum in the outskirts of Nairobi City. His parents separated when he was eight years old, leaving his mother to raise him and his siblings alone. Eventually, the pain and pressure of single motherhood was too much for her to bear, and Dickens’ mother took them to their grandmother’s in desperation.

As his home life turned sour, Dickens decided that the streets were a better option for him. In just eight months, his environment turned him from a soft-spoken boy to a hardened thief.

Dickens soon progressed from a common thug to a deadly criminal. He was wanted by the police, and recalls horrific experiences running from the law. One particular run-in with a mob stands out in Dickens mind as especially traumatic.

“They were ready to lynch me — they had a rubber tire filled with petrol ready to force over me and set on fire,” Dickens remembered. “I obtained bruises all over my body. Thanks to God, I was narrowly rescued by police who were attracted by the commotion.”

This was his third time in the hands of a mob, and he had just barely escaped death.

After Dickens appeared in court, he was remanded for a month and later put under probation because of his age, but he wasn’t yet ready to let go of his past life.

He joined a gang of youth who used guns to terrorize residents. Before long, he was arrested and found his way again to the courtroom. This time, the judge could not excuse the behavior with anything less than jail time. He was sentenced to three years. Sadly, when Dickens’ mother learned about her son’s situation, she suffered a heart attack and died.

Life in jail was Dickens’ turning point. From rock bottom, he surrendered his life to Christ and was never the same. As God began shaping him, his character changed. God showed him favor before the guards who witnessed the tremendous change of events in Dickens’ life, and he became a beacon of hope to fellow inmates. Sharing his faith in prison made others rethink their own lives, and some surrendered to Christ, as well.

After his sentence ended, Dickens left jail a changed man. He was given a visitor’s permit for prisons in Kenya to encourage, mentor and counsel inmates. Then, through Dickens’ local church, he got an opportunity to attend a sports ministry training offered through Sports Friends Kenya, where he was equipped to use sports to connect with and relate to young people in his neighborhood — the same neighborhood where he was previously a wanted criminal.

Coach Dickens has also been reconciled with his father, who had been absent in his life for 18 years. He is optimistic that God holds a bright future for him and his family, and believes that God spared him for a purpose – one much greater than he could ever imagine.

Dickens’ passion for the lost was evident throughout the training, and weeks later he formed two teams. He is using the opportunity to share the Gospel and his testimony — how God spared him through thick and thin so that his life could be a powerful testimony. What Dickens experienced of God’s sustaining grace and sovereignty through his own hurts and hardships, he is now able to give away in increasing measure to the youth on his teams.

“So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day. For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal.”

2 Corinthians 4:16-18

A Sparkle in the Village

In a country where 61% of the population is under the age of 25, Kenya is a fertile ground for camping ministry. It was the second day of a recent Sports Friends camp in a rural Kenyan community and energy levels were soaring; the campers were having the time of their lives, and deep bonds were forming between the youth and their coaches as they joined in the games and activities together. Campers were curious to know more about this person who was the foundation of the Christian faith, and many were receiving the message of God’s love. The gospel had brought a sparkle to the village, and people were beginning to notice…

Suddenly, a group of disgruntled youth stormed into the camp, demanding that it end at once. They didn’t want this change in the village. It was a critical moment as the coaches met together to try and reconcile the situation peacefully. After much discussion and prayer, the objectors were invited to join in the camp for lunch. They hesitantly accepted, and the coaches began to call on friends to be in prayer.

While eating together, the coaches were able to interact with these young people in the same way they had done with the campers – with unconditional love. The youth ended up staying for the rest of the program, and were deeply impacted by their experience. They had come with the intention of ending the camp, but by God’s grace were instead changed by it.

“You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven”. Matthew: 43-45

Throughout May, we’re raising funds to help send 10,000 youth to camps like this one all around the world in 2017. It takes just $50 to bring the gospel to one young person. Find out more: www.sports-friends.org/thecampaign

Meet the Campers: Girls Week

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Jalane

Age: 17

Favorite Activity: Swimming

What did you learn at camp?          “I learned that there’s lots of challenges in life and to overcome challenges we have to be patient.”  [When I asked what she learned that from, she said from going over the spider web at the challenge course tied to two other girls].

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Salaam

Age: 17

Favorite Activity: Ultimate Frisbee

What did you learn at camp? I learned about honesty and lots of other things, like being careful.  I was afraid of lots of things before I came but now I know I don’t need to be afraid of anything.  [She was one of the few girls that went down the waterslide].

IMG_6850Gelila

Age: 16

Favorite Activity: Learning Time

What did you learn at camp? I liked the teaching best.  It changed my way of thinking.  I want to keep using the things that I have learned in the bible teaching lessons.  I learned about honesty, forgiveness and self-control.  Now I know that I need to be more honest and more forgiving.  I want these qualities in my life.

 

What Does Discipleship Mean to You? 

By Jill Ireland

I wonder if you have ever thought about how you might answer this question?!

As I reflected on it, I realized that ‘discipleship’ is a word we use frequently in the church, though I’m not sure we all understand it to mean the same thing.

For some it is the 10-week beginner’s course that you take once you’ve become a Christian; for others, it’s the life-long process of growing in maturity in Jesus; for others, it includes evangelism and sharing the gospel, whereas others may feel it is something only for believers!

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My personal preference is to avoid using the term discipleship, but to speak rather in terms of ‘disciple-making’. Making disciples is, after all, the language Jesus used in giving His disciples (and us!) their final command:

Then Jesus came to them and said, “All Authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” Matthew 28:18-20

Interestingly, Jesus didn’t say, ‘go and do some evangelism and then do some discipleship’ – he said ‘make disciples’.  Make learners, followers, students of me (Jesus).

Just as Jesus called the twelve to “Come, follow me” (Matthew 4:19), so we too are to implore others to ‘Come, follow Jesus’.  Once we have responded to that invitation to follow Jesus, we never stop following Him for the rest of our lives; it is a continuous, ongoing process of following Him.

I like this picture because it reminds me that I am continually being made into a disciple of Jesus. Whether I am responding to Jesus and following Him for the first time or I am continuing to follow Jesus after 20 years, I am still in the process of following and being made into His disciple.

The process of being made as a disciple doesn’t stop. I never graduate from ‘discipleship’. It is not a program or course. Being made into a disciple of Jesus is a life-long process of following Him, being changed by Him, and being committed to His mission of making other disciples!

Not only is it about our continuing to be made as disciples, but it is also about our making disciples of others, by ‘going’, ‘baptizing’ and ‘teaching’ as we have seen in Matthew 28.

By ‘going’ to the people God has placed around us in our offices, schools, homes, and sports teams. Going to those who are living and dying without Jesus today, all around the world! By ‘baptizing’, by calling people to the repentance and faith represented in baptism, turning from their sin to place their trust in Jesus and his work on the cross on their behalf. And by ‘teaching’ them all Jesus has commanded in the Bible.

In his book ‘Mere Christianity’, C.S.Lewis  wrote:

“The church exists for nothing else but to draw men into Christ, to make them little Christs. If they are not doing that, all the cathedrals, clergy, missions, sermons, even the Bible itself, are simply a waste of time. God became man for no other purpose.”

I am eternally grateful and indebted to the person, Lynda, who introduced me to Jesus and helped me to hear His invitation to ‘Come follow me’. Lynda modeled what it looked like to make disciples by:

  1. Going – she represented Jesus to me and all of the girls in our field hockey team.
  2. Baptizing – she helped me see and understand the need to repent and put my faith in Jesus and to do this publicly.
  3. Teaching – she opened the Bible with me regularly and introduced me to Jesus and continued to help me grow in Jesus.

You may remember in the second half of the verse in Matthew 4:19, not only does Jesus invite us to ‘Come, follow me’, but he follows that with… ‘and I will make you fishers of men’! Lewis is right – there is no higher calling or purpose for the church and for those within it than to draw others to Christ, to be fishers of men, to be and make disciples of others.

So, let’s go fishing!

Ireland, JillJill currently lives in the U.K. and leads the Sports Friends ministry development effort in South America and also provides leadership to Sports Friends’ overall training efforts. Formerly a high-level field hockey player, Jill came to faith through the testimony of one of her hockey teammates and is a passionate trainer and equipper of other sports ministers.

Franco: A Day in the Life

By Charles Millette

At the age of 12, Franco graduated from elementary school and instead of entering middle school he decided to choose another educational institution: the school of “hard knocks”. For 6 years he lived on the streets of Lima where he joined other teenagers in pickpocketing, making trouble, and evading police. Franco did not excel at the last part and would frequently spend nights behind bars.

Franco’s life had not started with so much trouble, but at a young age, he was exposed to deep loss and grief. When Franco was 8 years old, his father passed away. Four years later, his sister did too. Unfortunately, dealing with death wasn’t about to stop and his beloved and cherished grandmother passed away. Soon after, Franco’s uncle – like a second father – died, and finally the following year his mother passed away.

Franco’s first 25 years were marked by deep pain and grief, but today we’ve seen an incredible transformation. The saving grace of the Almighty God has given Franco the hope, love, and help he needs to deal with such a tumultuous start. Today he uses his experiences to minister to others. Franco identifies with the pain and grief experienced by the Apostle Paul and how he chose to use such circumstances for God’s glory. In 2 Corinthians 1:3-4 it tells us: “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God.” Franco sees that God has given him comfort so that he can minister to others who are hurting. Like Paul, Franco has been revitalized by God and now presses on, every week, to comfort kids, teens, and young adults who play for one of the three teams Franco oversees.Franco

After a long week of work in a glue factory where he has diligently been working for the last 9 years, Franco spends his Saturdays coordinating the efforts of several Sports Friends-trained coaches in his home community. Franco learned of the vision of Sports Friends and saw the hope that it could bring for youth who were like him. A typical Saturday looks something like this:

First stop: Head to local church before 11 am. Pick up ball bag and other equipment. Travel way up in the hills to the neighborhood of San Juan de Lurigancho, Lima’s most populated neighborhood. Gather and visit the U-12 team and coaches Oscar and Hector.

Group shot from aboveSecond stop: By 1 pm it’s time to head down to join Coach Josué and the group of young adults who form the church’s official team. Composed of some believers but mainly of unbelievers, the squad faithfully attends the practices where cones, balls, and Bible teachings go hand in hand. Franco continues to challenge the young believers to share God’s Word with their teammates.
Franco & team 3Last Stop: Finish off the Saturday activities by heading back to the church in time to teach a class and further their biblical understanding. Many people in the church can’t relate to Franco’s story, but continue to come because of the simple and easy to understand methodology that he uses to study and teach the Bible.

In the end, just like Paul, Franco understands that his past, as rough and difficult as it was, will always serve as an excellent diving board for the work God has in store for him if he remains faithful and connected to the Lord.

Meet the Team: Maneenoot Temjai

On this month’s edition of Meet the Team, we’d like to introduce you to Maneenoot aka Noot! 

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What is your role with Sports Friends? Administration, Finance, and Camp Programs Coordinator.

Favorite sport: My favorite sports is Volleyball.

Favorite Bible verse: “In their righteousness, they will be like great oaks that the Lord has planted for his own glory.” Isaiah 61:3

13641010_1051042811611792_7418628555829007108_oWhat do you like to do in your spare time? I like to do crafts and listen to music.

What did you want to be when you were a kid? I want to be a teacher.

What do you love about working with Sports Friends? One thing I love working for sports friends is serving the local church and making disciples.

From Noodles to Soccer Balls

By Denise Poon, Thailand

Aof had gone to church for many Sundays and had said many “Amens” to the prayers people had prayed for her – but nothing really worked until she challenged God herself.CoachAof_CatEdwards121

“Aof, God has chosen you. I want you to open your heart and mind and challenge God,” a pastor told her while she was in the hospital. “Actually, challenging God is not really right, but I don’t know how to make you believe, so try to challenge God that if you get better you will become His child and you will walk in His way.”

She was in the hospital at the time for digestive issues that had been plaguing her for seven years. She had severe stomach pain and foods such as sticky rice – common in Northern Thai cuisine and much starchier than normal rice – were hard for her body to properly digest.

Aof’s husband was a Christian, and she went with him to church every Sunday. The church’s pastor, Serm, would visit Aof and her husband at their noodle shop and pray with them, but Aof held tightly to her Buddhist upbringing and beliefs.

“I wasn’t the kind of person that liked to trust others easily, and I had a hard time trusting and believing in God,” says Aof.

In Thailand, Buddhism percolates deep into Thai culture – being Thai and being Buddhist are nearly synonymous. The affiliation is not just religious, but also familial, cultural, and personal. So despite going to church and saying “Amen” whenever Pastor Serm prayed for her and for her health, she remained unmoved by Christianity.

“I was a very strong Buddhist, I always had idols hanging around my neck,” Aof says. “There are famous places in Thailand to ‘make merit’ in Buddhism, and I would always go to those places, hoping that would heal my stomach issues.”

Nothing worked until that day she did as the pastor suggested and challenged God – if He healed her, she would believe.

“After one week, I left the hospital and never had stomach issues again,” she says. “It’s been three to four years now without having that illness.”

Aof was healed – not only of her health issues, but of her distrust of God. He had proved Himself to her – and would continue to prove His love for her, that He Had “chosen” her, as the pastor had said.

“Because I was never sick again, I thought, if God does love me, He will lead me to serve Him,” Aof says.

She and her husband had run a noodle shop previously, though with a business strategy that made little sense – Aof didn’t charge some of her customers. Being from a poor family and broken home herself, whenever she saw poor people or children, her heart went out to them and she could not bear to charge them for her food.

God did open up an opportunity for Aof to serve Him, and to care for people – something she had already started doing running her noodle shop. She began working for Compassion International as an accountant, and then got connected to Sports Friends through Pastor Serm. She attended the first ever Basic Training for women coaches, and has been serving with Sports Friends faithfully and passionately since January 2014.CoachAof_CatEdwards047

“I saw a lot of kids that don’t have opportunities and come from broken families like me,” says Aof, who coordinates sports ministry through her church, reaching up to 100 young people every week. “I am so thankful to God that working with Sports Friends, I can get to know these kids and their families better and be a part of their lives.

“I love sharing Christ and the gospel with children through sports ministry,” she says. “I am thankful that I have the opportunity to help these kids and make them feel safe.”

She shares about one of the boys who she coaches, whose parents had separated and was having a tough time. He was also worried about an upcoming singing competition, unsure if he would be able to perform well. But he did what Aof did, years ago – he challenged God to help him.

“He didn’t know God yet,” Aof explains. “But he said, ‘Aof taught me to pray so I pray that I will be able to sing as best as I can, and if I do it, I will believe in God.’”

He didn’t just sing as best as he could, he won first prize at the singing competition.

“He prayed and God worked in His heart,” Aof says. “I’m so encouraged by his story – I have seen the fruit of this ministry, so I have courage to continue serving.”

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It was not too long ago that Aof prayed and God worked in her heart – and so many are now seeing the fruit of her relationship with God and involvement in Sports Friends. For all the future prayers to God, who meets us where we are and proves himself to us – even though he doesn’t have to – God is up for the challenge.

Meet the Team: Charles Millette

On this month’s edition of Meet the Team, we’d like to introduce you to Charles Millette working in Peru!

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Role with SF: Trainer of Trainers, Communications Coordinator for SF Peru

Favorite Sport/Team: Montreal Canadians, NHL team

Favorite Bible Verses: 1 Jn 3:16 & Rom. 8:28

Favorite Food: Indian

What do you like to do in your spare time? 

Play outside with my wife and three kids, photography, reading, cycling.

When you were little, what did you want to be when you grew up? 

Sports journalist.

What is your favorite part of working for Sports Friends? 

Serving coaches and pastors who want to be a bridge between youth and Christ creatively.

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Charles serving at a Basic Training for new coaches. img_1988

The Millette family having some fun at the beach!

When Losing is Winning

By Luke Voight, SF Malawi

In 2012, I wrote a blog called “When Winning is Losing.” The post was about a time when a few of the boys of Lyzee United Football Club lost their cool in a tournament and got into
a fight. It resulted in quite a scene where many other teams saw the boys fail to be the witness for the gospel they hoped to be. We ended up going back to our house and talking for a long time about how winning a game at all costs is not worth it. Some of the boys stood up to apologize and reconcile with one another. It was a hard lesson that led to a beautiful moment.

Screenshot 2017-02-06 10.56.28(Lyzee United in 2012)

Today I have another story from the same group of boys who we have poured our lives into over the past five years. From the beginning, our team verse on the logo has been 1 Peter 2:17 which says, “Honor everyone. Love the brotherhood. Fear God.  Honor the King.” Our logo reads, “Yesu Ndi Mfumu” (Jesus is King). They have taken these words to heart and know how to work hard, love their neighbor and honor the King. We’ve seen these boys grown into men and they have become our family.  We’ve lost some along the way to sickness and death but the Lord has been near and an exceptional core of young men have grown up to truly love Him and care more about the kingdom of God than the trifles of this world.  Jesus has revealed himself to many of them and beckoned them to come and join his family.

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On Saturday, we entered a big football (soccer) tournament in Malawi for Under-21s.  Many of the nation’s best players were there and ready to wipe the floor with us.  There was a good bit of trash-talk coming from several of the other teams as we arrived. We were certainly the youngest team, but our boys beamed with confidence in Christ. Our captain led the way, setting our minds on things above, saying “No matter what happens, let’s represent Jesus today guys!  Win or lose, we shake the hands of our opponents and treat them with the utmost respect.”  I reminded the boys that many non-believers were watching us hoping for us to fail. We didn’t know then that God had other plans.

The first whistle sounded and the boys immediately took complete control of the game.  They have been playing with each other for more than five years so they play as one body.  It’s amazing to watch, especially since they are smaller than the other teams.   We easily won our first match (3-1). The rest of the matches went the same way and we cruised through the group stages into the quarterfinals.  Many people were coming up to me as the coach and saying, “Wow! Who are these little guys and where do you come from and why do you do what you do?”  I had four opportunities to share that why during the first few games. The boys were worshipping Christ on the pitch and I was able to explain and testify to their attitudes and work ethic and point all those who questioned to the glory of Jesus Christ!  “We love Jesus, we love football, and we love you.” This was our slogan as coaches for the day as we interacted with many who asked.  It was the most God-honoring display of football that I’ve ever been a part of.

We easily won our quarterfinal game and narrowly won the semifinal game, which put us into the final.  Everyone gathered to watch our boys. We have not lost a game all year and they fought hard in this one.  Blood, mud, sweat and tears were all present.  I’ve never seen them so exhausted.   The game finished 0-0 and we ended up losing in penalty kicks. I could see the agony in the boy’s faces. Though we lost, this was our moment.

In every other tournament, I have seen in Malawi, the losing team always fights the referee or makes a scene to try to change the end result. I was amazed to watch our boys go out of their way to shake the hands of the other players.  They shook the hands of the champions and then took the second place trophy with grace and heads held high. They realized, more than winning games, we want to win souls. I wanted to explode with joy as I watched their maturity and heard the things they were saying.  The glory was being directed away from themselves and onto Jesus.   This is the goal of what we do.  Though we lost, we won! I’m actually thankful that we lost because this was a God-given opportunity for the boys to allow the Holy Spirit to work through them.

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After everything, their disappointment faded quickly and we got into the minibus. The whole way home we celebrated! It was the sweetest celebration I’ve ever experienced in sports and it was pure worship – absolute Holy Spirit-given joy in the midst of loss. I don’t think many of the boys saw me, but as they sang I wept with tears of joy to the Lord listening to their worship. It wasn’t a worship that celebrated the outcome of the tournament but worship that flowed out from hearts that are full of the love and joy of the Father. In Jesus Christ, even when we lose we can win because He has already won the battle for us on the cross.  He shed his blood for these boys and I got the blessing of hearing their praises to the King.

There are 220 active church-centered sports ministry teams like Lyzee United all over Malawi who are intentionally and effectively preaching Christ and making disciples. We are praying that God would raise up more laborers for the harvest because the fields are ripe!

Friendship First

By Chuck Millette, SF Peru

My first visit to coach Franck was a joy. God has allowed for him to coach and minister to a community in a special location in Lima. The open field where he trains is located in a shanty town known has Pacifico, named after the nearby ocean. It is far from the cement and the traffic that characterize Peru’s capital city. img_5040The church that Franck is a part of has been serving in this community for years. Starting to use futbol to reach this community is new and innovative, but it is in line with the objective of the local church: to bring Jesus Christ in the heart of the community and to make disciples. This task is a challenge that Franck and his church take seriously. They know that it will take time and they know that reaching this community without God’s help is an impossible challenge to face!

Franck and his helpers are dedicated to building this precious bridge of trust and friendship with both the youth and their parents. This relationship gets stronger every time they interact in a meaningful way and one day this trust will give them the right to bring Jesus and his glorious hope into the conversation. As they come prepared week after week to offer a coaching practice, the kids and their parents see their heart and their love for them, solidifying the bond that now unites them.

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On this particular Sunday afternoon that I visited Franck, my co-worker Lindsay and her
husband Paris accompanied me. Having three sets of eyes allowed for our team to grasp Franck’s work better but also notice the details surrounding the community. As Paris and I were participating in the practice, Lindsay saw three men standing in the street nearby. They were dressed to impress with a speaker connected to a microphone held by one of the men. As she focused her attention on them, she quickly realized that they were passionately, but not a single person was present to listen. Was it that the speaker was not working? Were the people too busy to stop and listen? Or was it that these men were preaching at rather than patiently building relationships of trust, love, and respect.

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After the visit, Paris, Lindsay and I talked about the beautiful afternoon and together we praised God for the way this local church is willing to invest what it takes in order to gain the right to present the need of a saviour, namely Jesus Christ to this impoverished community that could be one day, rich in God.

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**Pray for the many coaches in Peru who are working in hard to reach communities. Pray that God would use them to be a light in the darkness and that many would come to know the saving love of Jesus Christ through the Sports Friends models all over Lima.