The church is growing in one restricted country in West Africa at a rate nearly double the global average, but still 80-90% of its 20 million people do not know what it means to have certain peace with God. Worse, the northeastern region of the country has recently seen a brutal onslaught of deadly attacks on Christian villages and churches. Violent extremist groups in this region are targeting followers of Jesus and the churches, with the hope of “purifying” the region of Christianity. This harsh treatment has of course introduced an environment of fear as believers (especially converts from the main religion) may feel too threatened to go to church or send their children to school. (Source: Open Doors)
Sports Friends was welcomed into this county in January of 2017. Our international worker is the only full-time staff present and is working hard to prepare the way for further growth of the ministry. There are four coaches leading teams, and over 110 youth participating in their clubs. We interviewed our worker to understand a bit more of what it is like to serve in a place so full of resistance.
What are some of the answers to prayer you have seen recently?
We had a good Basic Training in December 2019. One of the new coaches is working to plant a church now, starting with four months of sports ministry prior to establishing the church.
How can we join you in prayer?
Pray that the other churches will support this ministry they were eager to begin. We want them to “own” it, and sustain it. We also need prayer for wisdom in how to manage security for everyone. Pray that God will protect the Christians, the expats, and for how the ministry should navigate risks.
What are three of the biggest struggles for young people there?
Poverty, education and drugs…We are one of the poorest countries in the world. The education is also very poor, which perpetuates the cycle of poverty. There is an increasing use of drugs as well.
How about your coaches? What challenges are they facing in these early years of ministry?
Strategy. How do we use sports to minister effectively in our context? Do we start with Bible teaching directly or first focus on training and relationship building, then add the Bible? The coaches need wisdom for leading each of their teams.
We know there is a lot of persecution and fear right now. What are some other barriers to the growth of ministry?
Lack of understanding. We want to see more churches pick up the sports ministry strategy with a real understanding that it is for the purpose of discipleship. These are not coaching positions as a paid job.
What is something that has encouraged you personally in the midst of this difficult work? How have you seen the community impacted by your presence?
We are given respect in our community. The kids on the team call me “Poppy”, like my children do. When we participated in a tournament in a nearby village, people noticed that our team played well and with good character despite bad calls or losing. They noticed the youth we had been working with played differently than other teams.
Thank you for praying for God’s people in our West African fields. Please continue to lift up His servants who are willing to do this very difficult work in a spiritually hard and dry location. Pray for hearts to be softened and ready to receive His words. Pray for protection and provision that is perfectly applied to the context. Pray that God continues to glorify Himself by saving many and making His kindness and redemption widely known in West Africa. He is worthy!