The Light of Friendship

by Fostance Mtolo

Patrick is an 18-year-old young man in Malawi’s northern region. He was an excellent student and was at the top of his academic class with high hopes for a promising future.  Because of this, his parent and teachers loved him. Despite being an outstanding student, Patrick had a struggled with substance abuse.

Patrick would smoke his anxieties away with Marijuana.  He said, “This addiction ended up heavily influencing me in a negative way.  As I smoked more and more frequently, I became increasingly more troublesome, selfish and rude to those around me.  One day at school I got into a fight with my good friend in the classroom while our teacher was outside the room.  This was a bad day for me because I hurt my friend so badly that he was unconscious on the floor from the fight.  The police came, and I found myself in jail that night and then in prison for next 8 months. I brought shame to my family, school and myself.”

After eight miserable months, Patrick was released and came home to his enraged parents who had decided not to “waste their money by sending him back to school.” From this moment, Patrick sunk into depression. He was no longer respected or valued in his community.  He had no hope, no future, and was continuously insulted by his peers.

Just like nearly every African kid his age, Patrick loved playing and watching soccer.   One day he went to the local field to watch a game between two teams from the area.  On his way home after the match, Patrick was joined by one of the players named Robert, He was a part of a Sports Friends team. They started to chat, and the conversation ended with Patrick being invited to join the team. Patrick could hardly contain his excitement and said, “Yes! I love soccer.”

Patrick, the lawbreaker, and outcast was invited.

That day, marked the beginning of a life changed forever.  Patrick joined the team and quickly learned that the coach and many of the players were followers of Jesus.  They were different. They knew Patrick, his story, his reputation, but treated him differently.    They loved him. As they loved him, he quickly grew to love them too. He said, “I felt loved and cared for. My teammates and coach didn’t preach that my behavior needed to change, they just loved me, and I loved them.  And then I changed as I encountered their daily lives and the God they knew.”

After being a part of the team for almost a whole year, Patrick surrendered his life to Christ.  His life has been completely changed. He joyfully left his past behind.   He is a new person with a new heart and behavior because he loves the Lord.

His friend Robert helped him to be part of this amazing team that fears the Lord. The other-worldly love and welcome of this team sent a clear message to Patrick of the power of the gospel. The team knows that we as Christians are the light of the world and we need to shine to all the people around us.

As Pastor Fostance says, “Sometimes people just need our light and love, not our persuasive words.”  Robert and his team were the light in the darkness of Patrick’s. Over time and many gentle conversations, the light exposed his wrongdoings and Patrick could see for himself, the kindness of God through his neighbors. The team continues to be a light in the darkness, helping many young people to know Christ and what he commands of our lives. Now, Patrick is back in school with the full support of his family. He said, “Christ has restored my hope for not just this life but the next as well.”

Meet the Team: Dan Linsz

We are really excited that our International Support Services team is growing with the addition of Dan Linsz. He will be serving as the team leader and based out of Charlotte, NC.

Dan was born in Ethiopia to SIM parents and also grew up in Liberia. He and his wife, Corrie, met in Wheaton, Illinois, where she grew up. They were married in 1996 and moved to Malawi as missionaries with African Bible Colleges in 1998 to help start a Christian, international school, ABC Christian Academy. In 2000, they joined SIM and went back to Malawi. They were in Malawi for 9 years altogether where Dan was headmaster and then moved back to Charlotte for 9 years where Dan was the Director of Recruitment for SIM USA.

As part of Dan’s job in recruiting he was able to lead multiple Sports Friends teams from Liberty University. The last two times he took a team from Liberty University, he was able to bring the whole family along. As a family, they spent the summers of 2013 and 2014 in Langano hosting Sports Friends church teams. Their boys loved getting to live outside and experience what it was like to live “on the field” and experience Sports Friends camps.

 

In June of 2016, Dan, Corrie, Tyler (15), Joshua (13), Samuel (11) and Amos (7) moved to Costa Rica for a year of learning Spanish before moving to Paraguay with SIM. At the end of the summer term of language classes, the family had gone to a local park and while they were there, Dan was stabbed and almost killed. For recovery and healing, they returned to Charlotte, NC so the whole family could receive counseling and be surrounded by their church family for support. Dan has spent the last year and a half serving as Executive Pastor at Center City Church in Charlotte, NC.

To get to know Dan we asked him a few questions!

What is your favorite sport?

Soccer

What’s your favorite Bible verse?  

I love all of Psalm 46 and especially verse 10.

What do you like to do in your spare time?

I love playing and watching sports. I love reading. And I absolutely love hanging out with my awesome wife and boys.

What did you want to be when you were a kid?

A professional basketball player

What do you love about working with Sports Friends? I love God and I love sports. Our family is a sports nuts family. We’ve had the privilege of living overseas and seeing the power of sport (especially soccer) and how it can be used as a bridge between cultures. Sports Friends goes a step further. The vision of Sports Friends is so simple yet brilliant. To equip churches in Africa, Asia, and South America to make disciples of youth, their families, and their communities through strategic sports ministry. I love that we use sports as a tool to make disciples of youth, their families, and their communities.

What is the strangest thing you’ve eaten while working overseas? Where do I start? So many times I’ve eaten things having no idea what they were. I once ate a 1-2 inch ant. It was ginormous and tasted awful!

What is one piece of advice you would give someone who is interested in doing overseas ministry? God doesn’t need you. That sounds funny, doesn’t it? It’s true though. But as a Father, He loves you and loves having you involved in what He’s doing. Remember that your purpose in overseas ministry is to join in what God is already doing in that place, so look for what that is and who He is already working in and through. Remain humble to what God wants to teach you about Himself as you go.

Are You Ready? 

By Lindsay Geverink, Sports Friends Peru Director

At 12,800 feet above sea level, in the little mountain town of Ayaviri, we stood shivering. Although we were chilled to the bone, the warm welcome we received from our Andean brothers and sisters was unlike any other and quickly strengthened our resolve. Surrounded by toothless smiles, “hermanas” shuffling around in their five layers of skirts, countless handshakes, and eagerness to receive teaching from their leaders, we soaked it all in. We quickly realized how much we would be learning from these humble people.

After spending only two days in the Puno region of Peru, we were impacted by how God is moving in His Church in the Andes Mountains and watching how He is using the ready and willing.

As so often happens when my husband, Paris, and I go to visit church leaders with a specific purpose, God amazed us with additional blessings and lessons. After signing a partnership two years ago with one of the biggest denominations in Peru, we’ve been trying to share the vision of sports ministry with the denominational church leaders. Our goal with this partnership is to equip and build up leadership within the denomination. So, we went to share the vision with the leaders and were ready to see what God would do in our time there. The response from the church leaders was overwhelming, specifically in their desire to adopt new tools in order to share the Gospel and make disciples of youth.

“We’re losing the youth in our town. This would be perfect!”

“When can we start?”

“I’m a church planter and this would be a great tool!”

“It’ll be really important to use sports in a positive way and use them differently than the world does.”  

As the leaders excitedly approached us with questions, we were able to hear their passion for God and desire for HisKingdom to expand. I remember one morning as I sat in the dim Sunday School room attempting to escape the chilly morning air, Pastor Juan approached me with excitement and a heart for partnership. He proceeded to tell me of the huge need they have for outreach and service in his region of Puno, and the incredible way that God has provided people and resources along the way to help them thrive in a region that lacks so much. And he shared the desire He has to see growth in the local church and see God bringing more people to Himself.

As Paris and I prayed with Pastor Juan, God brought to my mind all the other faces and stories we had encountered in those couple of days. Stories of hope and expectancy that God is working. Eager faces, always smiling from ear to ear, ready to accept any guidance given them in order to further God’s Kingdom. Loving people, desiring to see their neighbors and towns come to know Christ personally. And as God brought all these things to my mind, he reminded me of His parable in Mark 4:26-29. He tells us that when we sow the seed, whether it’s day or night, the seed grows and continues to produce until it’s ready for the harvest. When we are faithful and obey God, it is His power and work that moves and grows the seed.

Just as God brought this passage to my heart to encourage the leaders of the church in Puno, I hope it also encourages you. Are you ready and willing? Will you sow where God asks and trust that He will grow the seed in His time and power? May we all, as God’s children, look to our Father with hope, expectancy and excitement as He grows His Kingdom!

Your Guide to the World Cup and the Gospel

In 2014, over 3.2 billion people, almost half the world’s population, tuned in to watch the World Cup in Brazil. In many ways, sports are a universal language. They unite people across countries, languages, and cultures. Sporting events inspire us and many of us can quickly name off our sporting heroes. So, with the eyes of the world (and your neighbors) turning to the World Cup in Russia next week, how can we make the most of this opportunity for sharing the gospel? Here’s a selection of some great free resources we pulled together as you prayerfully consider how you might share Jesus with those around you who also love sports!

  1. Does God Care Who Wins?
  2. In Defense of Sports
  3. What does the Bible say about… sport?
  4. World Cup Resource Pack from Scripture Union

Think you know who’s going to win? Make your predictions on Fifa’s Bracket Challenge, and you could win some Sports Friends apparel!* Follow the steps below:

  1. Go to https://bracketchallenge.fifa.com
  2. Click “Play Bracket Challenge”
  3. Register with a username and password
  4. Create your own bracket predictions
  5. Click “My  Brackets” then “Join a League” and enter the code 4bf132c1 to join the Sports Friends bracket

*All are welcome to join the bracket, but only U.S. participants are eligible to win apparel.

CAMPaign Giveaway

Gallery

This gallery contains 11 photos.

Every year we raise funds to send thousands of youth to camp. We are excited to have a giveaway this year with goodies from some of the countries we work in and several local Charlotte area partners! Share with your friends, family, give and … Continue reading

A Game Changer

By Cambie Wilson, Sports Friends Kenya 

Being young and wanting to change the world seem to be synonymous these days. Young people want to make a difference, and they long to see the world better than they entered it. Repha, a 26-year-old woman born and raised in rural Kenya, is no different. Eager to be a positive force in her community, Repha teamed up with others who shared her passion for reaching out to young people in her community.

In 2015, she attended a youth sports camp organized in her local area. Little was it known that this would mark the beginning of a great future for Repha’s community. During this time, she learned how sports and the gospel aren’t polar opposites, but that God could use a soccer ball to build trust and share the Good News about Jesus! She left the camp inspired to be a catalyst for change. She knew that this was an opportunity to positively impact the lives of young people in her community, many of whom face incredible hurts and hardships on a daily basis.

She passionately shared with her local church Pastor about her idea and asked him to attend a Sports Friends training so that he could grasp the vision of using sports as a ministry tool. Her Pastor agreed, and the rest is history! The Pastor bought a soccer ball after the training and rolled out a church-centered sports ministry program with Repha as the coordinator.

There is no doubt that Coach Repha has been a game changer in her community through her soccer ball. Her passion for young people is written all over her face but is also seen in her actions every day.  She is determined to be a beacon of hope to many in her village. Sharing her testimony has been an inaugural part of what she does in the field. She has witnessed God transforming lives of young people and so far six have said ‘Yes’ to Christ. She desires to walk alongside these new Christians and disciple them to live a Christ-like life.

Repha’s church has been amazed to see youth streaming to the church ground every evening to play and hear Repha teach from the Bible. Repha is optimistic that God will continue to show up in the lives of young people in her village, breaking down cultural bonds and setting them and their families free. Her zeal in reaching out to youth through a soccer ball has earned her respect not only from her peers but even from village elders who have seen her boldness to share the Good News.

The fruit of Repha’s boldness is multifold; the village youth have found a place to hang around and are enjoying a sense of belonging, the Pastor is excited to see the church youth ministry growing spiritually and numerically, and the local church has found an avenue to carry on Christ’s mission right in its backyard. Sports has proved to be a game changer for the entire community!

God is able to do more than we can pray or imagine (Eph 3:20) Glory be to His name!

Planting Seeds of Hope

by Susan Davies, Sports Friends Thailand Intern

The Esan region of northeast Thailand is often described as one of the hardest places to do ministry in Thailand. Christians are few and far between, Buddhism is strong, and drug addiction is widespread. Although there are some church-planters in the region, the sheer size of the area means that gospel workers are often spread out and isolated with limited resources. The local Christians truly lean on the Lord, living by hope and perseverance, knowing that they probably won’t see much spiritual fruit in their lifetimes.

One of these Christians is Coach Mhee. Through sports ministry, Mhee coaches 25 boys, using soccer as a positive alternative to the temptation of drugs. Mhee grew up following the tradition of his family’s Buddhist culture in a village close to the Laos border called Sang Khom. However, when he was 23 years old, Mhee moved to the United States where he lived with his sister, a Christian. During his time in the U.S., Mhee learned about Jesus and began to follow Him. After two years, he decided to return to Thailand, so he could attend seminary and take the gospel to his own people.

While at seminary, Mhee met his wife, and they both felt God calling them to be missionaries. After finishing their studies, they made plans to start cross-cultural ministry together, but it didn’t work out. Instead, they were asked to join a church-planting team in Chiang Mai, Thailand. For 13 years, they led a successful church-planting ministry, and the Lord blessed their work.

During this time, they regularly visited Sang Khom where Mhee grew up, as most of his family still lived there. Mhee and his wife saw an enormous need in his hometown and felt the Lord asking them to move back and begin ministering there.   

They have now been back in Mhee’s home village for two years. Many things have changed since Mhee grew up there, and his wife is not from that part of the country. In many ways, they feel like cross-cultural missionaries!

In this farming community, Mhee works his land to live sustainably; he has never received a pastor’s wage. He strives to help others in his village as much as he can, but his focus is working with children and teenagers in Sang Khom through English and sports ministry. They also hold a small house church called “Home of Hope,” and are committed to holistic evangelism and discipleship.

Coach Mhee’s vision is beautiful. He wants to disciple young Thai people and send them out to live as Christians across the country. He believes they can have a great spiritual impact on Thailand, and sports is one of the tools Mhee uses to do this. The reality is, though, that many will leave the area to further their education without accepting Christ.  This could be discouraging, however, Mhee knows that seeing any gospel fruit at all is rare in Thailand. He is content to plant seeds and hopes in the Lord that one day these young people will turn to Jesus and put their trust in Him.

“If God can change me, He can change them,” says Mhee.

Being the only Christian worker in the area is lonely, and Mhee often longs for fellowship and encouragement. He is thankful for the Sports Friends staff who come to visit and encourage him and his soccer team. Saturday Day Camps bring kids from all over the area to learn skills, hear gospel stories and testimonies, and play in competitions. The Sports Friends staff spend time encouraging Mhee, and with his strong passion for making Christ known, Mhee is able to persevere even in the hardest of places. He tells us repeatedly that no matter how difficult the job is, working with God is fun, too! Mhee’s task is enormous, but his faithful God is bigger still.

We are 100% funded by contributions from friends like you! To help train more coaches like Mhee, click here

A Long View on Short-Term Trips

By Bryan Mills, Director of Church Partnerships and Short-Term Teams

Seven years ago, I went on a short-term trip with Sports Friends, and was encouraged to see how God was using the simple tool of sports to introduce youth and their families to Himself. I came home humbled by God’s love for us and His pursuit of the lost. Today, I work for Sports Friends, and get to walk with short-term team members as they experience God in that same environment. We pray that each individual who serves with us will be encouraged and challenged in ways that will shape and direct how they live their lives moving forward.

Short-term teams are a huge blessing to our staff, volunteers, and the youth that we serve. But team members almost always return home saying that they feel that they were the ones that were blessed and amazed at how they saw God at work. It’s so easy to underestimate the impact of a short-term mission trip. We forget that in one month, or even in a single week, God can completely transform our lives. It’s in those short moments of time that we can look back and see the profound effect on the lives of both those who go and those that are served.

We recently asked some of our short-term participants to share how God moved in their lives during their trip to Ethiopia, and what they’ve learned looking back. Here are their responses:

Lynn Smith

I never asked to go to Ethiopia. It’s where God sent me, and honestly, it was the first time I walked completely by faith. For the past six years, God continued to call me to Ethiopia. Each year, I would fall in love with “my team” of soccer players, amazed at how close I felt to a group of boys or girls who didn’t share my language. Before my last trip, I remember realizing that God was hand picking each and every child that came to camp and I prayed for these campers, chosen by God.

Josh Mills

One of the great things about serving with Sports Friends and seeing how the ministry works is that it is the church being the church in the countries that they work. One of the key points of mission work is to train and teach people to do things for themselves, following Ephesians 4:12, where the leaders of the church are equipping the saints for the work of service, to the building up of the body of Christ. The work that Sports Friends is doing year-round is exactly that. The short-term trips are spectacular because you get to help the church in these various countries be THE church. You are not doing the work for them, you are just running alongside them, helping and supporting them. What a blessing!

Rachel Gregory

God used my short time in Ethiopia in such powerful ways. The magnitude of how God is using camping ministry to reach children who don’t know the Lord and His love for them is much greater than I could have ever understood from a brochure or orientation. I remember my team leader telling me before camp these children would always remember us and the love they saw among the staff at camp and the foreigner friends who came to share Christ’s love with them. When we had to say goodbye on the last day, we ran alongside the busses just for a chance to hold their hands one more time and shout “God bless you! We love you!” Walking away with a lump in my throat, I believed her. I will always have this reminder from my time in Ethiopia – we can trust the Lord with anything. He cares, and as Paul reminds us in Ephesians 3:20, “He is able to do far more abundantly beyond all that we ask or think.” 

Clay Hayes

Sports Friends has afforded me both spiritual and relational growth opportunities over the past six years. Serving in Ethiopia alongside humble and Godly people has reminded me of the importance of leading by example; reminded me of the importance of being a light to others.

If you are interested in going on a short term check out our web site (www.sports-friends.org) or email Bryan at go@sports-friends.org.

No Longer an Orphan

By Luke Voight

Rachel is 17 years old, living in extreme poverty and raised by a single mother when her father died. Her mother washed clothes, fetched water, and cleaned pots to earn enough to feed their family once a day.  Rachel would wake up 2-3 AM every morning just to wait in line at the well to get water to help her mother. Life was hard but one day, Rachel was invited by a Sports Friends trained coach to play netball. She loved playing and joined Bangwe Trinity Netball Team. Today, four years later, she is the captain.

Rachel was the most respected player on her team, but she still felt “empty in her heart.” She longed to know the Jesus that her Coach Chisomo was sharing each and every week.   From the time she was little, Rachel attended a local church every Sunday but personally had never experienced the genuine love of God the Father. Rachel questioned her coach about the goodness and sovereignty of God. “How can God be a good and loving Father if he took mine from me?” “We struggle so much and live in poverty because we don’t have a father bringing home food and money to support us. How can the Gospel be real if we struggle so much?” “Why couldn’t God choose someone else to be an orphan?”

Coach Chisomo embraced the awkward. Like many of us, she didn’t feel she had the perfect answer, but she continued to love, pray for, and be a source of stability and encouragement. Rachel was wrestling with God but she was not wrestling alone.  Her coach was wrestling with these questions and issues with her and did not give up on her. In August 2017, the Lord led Coach Chisomo to share with her girls about how God is a good Father. Coach Chisomo said, “Even if we don’t have a biological daddy anymore, we have a much better heavenly Father who is the founder and creator of everything including you! He cares about you and sees you where you are now.” It was in that moment that the gospel truly came alive to Rachel. She knew the truth.

It has not been an easy journey, but now Rachel studies God’s Word and is keen to learn and even share with her teammates. She understands that she now has a good Father who loves her and has given her the Holy Spirit. Rachel went from questioning and wrestling to knowing and loving the Jesus. She is no longer Fatherless!

Sports Friends’ ministry is built around godly coaches who pour their lives into young people like Abigail. They love them, get to know their families, share with them the truths of God’s Word, and connect them to the local church. It costs just $75 to train and equip one new coach ready for ministry. Will you help us train and send out thousands of new coaches as agents of God’s love and hope?

Donate now: www.sports-friends.org/give 

Meet the Pete

Sports Friends currently has over 80 full-time missionaries and staff around the world. Get to know our newest national staff member, Pete, who is serving in Thailand. 

What is your role with Sports Friends? Sports Ministry Trainer and Coordinator

What is your favorite sport? Football

What’s your favorite bible verse?   “But if serving the Lord seems undesirable to you, then choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve, whether the gods your ancestors served beyond the Euphrates or the gods of the Amorites, in whose land you are living. But as for me and my household, we will serve the Lord.” – Joshua 24:15

What do you like to do in your spare time? Spend time together with my family. Sometimes I go spearfishing too!

What did you want to be when you were a kid? I always wanted to be a teacher. Then when I was older, I wanted to be a teacher AND serve God!

What do you love about working with Sports Friends?
I love teaching coaches so that they can share the gospel! I also love seeing kids have opportunities that they wouldn’t otherwise get in life – especially Lahu and hill tribe kids.