“Oh no. The church has sent the wrong person.”
It was the first thought to run through the trainer’s mind. “This man cannot do anything for Christ.” He looked like a thug! He did not know how to speak or behave in a church context, and his story revealed his familiarity with “all the bad things.”
And yet, in Southeast Asia, some of Sports Friends’ most effective coaches are men whom God has radically changed from violent and destructive lifestyles to redefine them as godly community leaders who are wise, generous, and trustworthy.
It took one Sports Friends training for God to set this former-thug ablaze to serve young people who are still caught in the same traps of addiction he had been rescued from. He went home, found a soccer ball, gathered the unruly kids in his area, and began to teach them how to practice both soccer and repentance.
He was so zealous and effective in his work that Sports Friends invited him to participate in the next level of ministry training. Thrilled with the opportunity, he determined to reach even further with his new training. He approached the chief villager of a region and asked if he could gather more young people to train on his teams. Even having come from a recognizably lawless background, because the coach had so freely and faithfully served local residents, the chief granted permission to assemble more children. Then the chief himself asked the school principal to let him work within the education system, and this coach became the PE teacher for children from 10 villages! He is freely permitted to share his testimony and speak of his faith to the young people he spends his days with. The grace and redemption that marks his life is now marking the lives of hundreds more.
In another location, a rehabilitation-focused church uses sport to invite adults struggling with substance abuse into addiction-free and healthy lifestyles. Coaches ask God for insight to which participant is most ready to take steps forward, and intentionally reach out to build strong mentoring relationships with them. Many have trusted Jesus through this program, and one former addict is now head coach of his own new team. This church has become a community transformation center where many gather to learn, grow, and reach out to others who come for rehab.
There is another unexpected coach in the far south. An ex-gangster and member of a family rich through competition and gambling, he was poorly educated but well-practiced in organizing people to accomplish his goals. Now walking with Jesus, he allows God to redeem all of his abilities. Having grown up in shadows of fear, he retains a great love for street children. He was already using his financial savvy as the church treasurer, and after he attended a Sports Friends Basic Training he realized that God could also use the organizational skills he honed in his gangster days.
He opened three soccer clubs: one for young children, one for teenagers, and one for street kids. He tells the church guard to invite any homeless kid he sees to come join his team, and they come! He started the ministry in January, and by springtime 45 of those young people joined their coach to attend an Easter service where they all put their hope in the risen Christ! Over 200 people have met Jesus through this coach’s influence, and we pray he continues to boldly share the love of Christ with all who will hear.
These are just a few displays of God’s glorious reclamation of His image. They remind our churches that there is no person beyond His reach, and there is no life He is not willing and able to restore. They teach us that God works all things together for His good purposes, and that everything we place in His hands will be redeemed.