We can find people of all ages, all around the world, who love sports. Yet, we know the most widely enthusiastic fans and participants are young people. Young nations are particularly receptive to being loved through sports-based relationships.
Senegal is one such young nation. Over 60% of Senegalese people are under 25 years old, and the majority of those are younger than 14. While the youthfulness of the population promises opportunity and is full of potential, it also carries certain challenges.
Most Sports Friends coaches in Senegal are students. They are young and energetic, but it is difficult for them to find time to invest well in the ministry. There are many younger citizens who want to be on teams, but there must be limits on the youth:coach ratio in order to accommodate strong relationships and not stretch coaches too thin. There is always a need for more workers, more coaches. It is like this on almost every Sports Friends field. Our leadership in Senegal keenly feels the pressure of time demands on their student coaches.
Regional leadership focuses on working to strengthen these young coaches in their own Christian walk, so that they will have a solid foundation for sharing their faith. As 94% of the national population follows Senegal’s predominant religion, many parents ask their children what they are learning at practices or camps. Some coaches have difficulty sharing the gospel in high-pressure situations, or face opposition to their faith and to their work.
There is also plenty of fun to be had with the energy of youth! You may remember how much fun summer camp is, and Sports Friends camp remains a key way to reach young people. Our regional coordinator for Senegal reports, “When kids come to camp, they are out of their comfort zone. Their coaches have been working with them weekly for a year. When they come to camp they can go deeper, and we see in them a desire to say yes to Jesus. It is a joy and privilege to see these transformations happen. Through camp we can feel the life-changing work that is happening in the kids.” Sometimes staff can immediately see the fruit of their labor and many young people give their lives to Jesus. Some years short-term teams come to help, and this always increases the excitement of all attending camp. Everyone would agree, though, that camp is a highlight of the year from any perspective.
Philippe sums up the work in Senegal as it applies to camp, but his words also define the work of coaching year-round, the training and vision-casting, as well as our own personal growth: “We just do our part and leave the rest to God.”