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.

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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. 

Pre-Season Training

By Anna Baker, short-term volunteer from Australia

Last month, a group of about 30 key volunteer coaches from across Thailand, all trained by Sports Friends, joined together for several days of pre-season training up in the mountains. In sports, pre-season training aims to get the team pumped-up and prepared, physically and psychologically for the coming season. Similarly, this retreat aimed to encourage the coaches spiritually for the upcoming year of ministry in their churches and wider communities, and develop their coaching skills and knowledge. Some of these coaches have several teams of youth from their communities who they train in football and volleyball, and mentor, with the hope of winning them for the Lord.anna4

During this valuable time away, coaches shared how God had been working in their lives and in the lives of their teams this past year. Several planning sessions allowed coaches to envision and plan camps, trainings and tournaments for teams in their networks. Times of prayer and worship were filled with praise, many voices raised together to the One who hears our prayers and is worthy of all honor and glory. Coaches prayed for the young people in their teams, their communities, and their churches; spurring one another on towards love and good deeds.

The first Bible talk looked at how Jesus picked his team – he called them, lived with and discipled them, and then sent them out. The next session highlighted that Jesus picked ordinary even weak men to be His disciples, and through their weakness God’s power and strength is magnified. This reminded the coaches that they do not have to be perfect, or the most talented player or coach, or choose the ‘well-behaved’ or talented kids for their teams, but just allow God to work through them and their weakness to show His greatness.anna3

“I will not boast in anything, no gifts, no power, no wisdom, but I will boast in Jesus Christ, His wounds have paid my ransom!”

Football sessions highlighted how to introduce tactics into training and game play, and “thinking while you run”, and a session on Futsal gave coaches knowledge and experience in sport-specific strength and conditioning and skills. An all-in game of football was great fun and was a great time of fellowship between coaches and the Sports Friends team.anna2On the final day of the retreat, the Sports Friends leaders washed the feet of the coaches, reflecting Jesus’ servant heart, and encouraged the coaches to lead in the same manner. Communion was also shared, celebrating our unity in Christ Jesus, and in his mission to “go and make disciples of all nations.”

I came to Thailand for one month to see sports ministry first hand, to see how God works through sports to reach the lost. To see how God could maybe use me, a ‘sporty’ girl, in His mission. In my exercise and sports science degree, I learned how the body works and how uniquely we were designed by our creator. What this retreat showed me, is how the body of Christ can work, to win people for the Lord. I am challenged by these coaches. They are not all talented sportspeople, some aren’t even ‘sporty’, but what sets them apart is they are willing. They have a heart for the lost, like their Savior, and see sports as a tool to reach them. How willing am I to step out? How generous am I with my time? How intentional am I with the people that I meet?

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Please pray for these coaches as they disciple the youth in their teams. Pray that they will be bold to show Jesus in their lives and tell their teams of His great love for them! Pray also for these young people, that their hearts would be open, and that they would see their worth and value in the eyes of Jesus, and come to know Him as their Lord and Savior!

#InternLife: Am I truly worshiping?

By Daniel Chang, SF Malawi

Just two weeks into my time in Malawi, I found myself hurtling down a small road in a minibus to a town called Liwonde. I had just begun to find my bearings in Blantyre, and now I was headed to a new place with a bunch of Malawian Sports Friends members who I had only just met. We were off to conduct a Basic Training, where for 4 days we would be training people to start sports ministries in their churches and villages. I was pretty apprehensive about the whole thing, particularly because the whole training would be in Chichewa. I had an English copy of the training manual to follow along, but not being able to understand what people were actually saying had me bracing myself for a long couple of days.

769130eb-b98c-4a53-864c-270cf5237b56The training began in the late afternoon, and kicked off with a couple praise songs in Chichewa. I love music and love singing, so not knowing the songs or even being able to understand the lyrics was pretty frustrating. I felt left out, like I couldn’t participate. Still, it was amazing to simply observe the Malawians worshipping. They clapped and danced with enthusiasm, all the while passionately belting out the words they all knew by heart. How I wish I could join in, I thought to myself, as I stood silent at the back of the room.

Later that night, I again found myself in a room surrounded by 30 Malawian men and women singing songs of praise to the King in Chichewa, but this time it was different. Again, I didn’t know the songs, so I simply shut my eyes and began to pray, and the songs became a beautiful soundtrack to my prayer. I honestly believe that I worshipped God more earnestly than many of the times when I’ve known every word of the song. Maybe you can relate to this, but often times I find myself singing familiar worship songs without really paying much attention to what I’m saying. My mouth is engaged, but my heart isn’t, and therefore am I truly worshipping? But I discovered that when I was engulfed in the sound of people worshipping in a foreign tongue, my heart was tuned to worship in a way like never before. He is worthy of all glory, honor, and praise – that is why we sing! And the next time I’m singing Oceans or Amazing Grace or some other well-known song, I want to remember that.

As I get further into my assignment and worship more in Chichewa I know quite a few of the popular choruses that are sung. Whenever I don’t know the song, I simply clap and dance along joyfully with everyone else, knowing that it’s all for the glory of the King!

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Daniel Chang serves as a short-term associate with SIM in Malawi. He graduated from university in May of 2016 with a degree in kinesiology. Daniel is the first Sports Friends Intern to serve in Malawi. This blog is a part of series called #InternLife and highlights the journey of an intern to the field and his return home again.

Seven vs Seventy: It isn’t always about the numbers

By Bec Oakley, SF Thailand

Recently we have been part of the Sports Friends training team for two very different trainings.

A few weeks back we travelled through the mountains to a small Karen village outside of Mae Sot, near the border with Myanmar. There were seventy participants from Karen churches in the region. Fifty had come to attend a Basic Training and twenty, who’d already attended a Basic Training, came for ongoing coaching training.

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We returned to Bangkok to host our first ever Basic Training in Bangkok for just seven people. While we had hoped to have about twenty, seven didn’t feel like a failure and reminded us of the immense differences between the churches in hill-tribe areas and the church in Bangkok.

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The Karen Baptist Convention is one of the largest and most well-organized denominations. While Karen people are by no means majority Christian, they have a significant Christian presence and most Karen people have plenty of opportunity to interact with Christians. The church, like the people group, experiences poverty and disadvantage and is struggling to work our ways to reach the younger generation who have opportunities that are so unlike anything their parents experienced. They have been really excited about Sports Friends’ training. While young people may have multiple points of contact with the church, ongoing sports teams make young people feel like the church cares about the things that matter to them and provides great opportunities for discipleship by leaders they understand and respect.

In Bangkok, the percentage of Christians is much lower and their presence in the community is much less visible. The church is more fragmented and the diversity of churches can sometimes be a hindrance to creating networks and relationships. The seven people who came are all working in communities where an invitation to join a sports program is likely to be the only opportunity a young person might have to come into contact with the church.

The rapid growth of sports ministry in hill-tribes is something to be very excited about, but we are also very aware of what it looks like to try and take the gospel to much less reached areas. We are trying to keep these two things in balance as we make plans and share vision throughout the country. We are very blessed in the last twelve months that our strong denominational partnerships with hill-tribe churches has led to two new sports ministry coordinators being appointed by the denominations. This has freed up our national staff to recently run trainings in the much less reached areas in North-East, Central and Bangkok.

Please pray for all seventy-seven, who all matter to God and that this little tiny seed in Bangkok might be the start of something great.

#InternLife: From Urbana to Blantyre

By Daniel Chang, SF Malawi

In December of 2015, I traveled with my family and a good friend to St Louis, Missouri for Urbana, a five-day student missions conference. I was getting ready to start my final semester of college, and I had no plans for after graduation. In the days and weeks leading up to Urbana, I had been praying that God would guide me. All throughout college I had sensed a calling to missions, and I told God that I would go anywhere He sent me – I just didn’t know where that was yet!

On the drive to Urbana, my dad asked my brother, friend, and I what we were hoping for during our time there. I shared that I was praying for direction and that I was really hoping to find sports ministry opportunities in particular. My three greatest passions in life are Jesus, sports, and kids. And as I studied kinesiology, I really wanted to glorify God by using what I studied for missions.

Urbana was awesome. There’s nothing like 16,000 people all together in one place praising Jesus and desiring to discover the role and purpose God has for them! I spoke to many recruiters and missionaries, but one stood out in particular, a woman holding a soccer ball.  As we started to chat she shared about how she and her family were doing sports ministry in Malawi. As she shared the heart and vision of Sports Friends, as well as some of the amazing things God has been doing in Malawi, every word resonated deep within me. Now, I couldn’t have placed Malawi on a map if you had asked me to at that moment, but as this woman prayed over me at the end of our conversation, I knew that God had laid before me the direction I had been seeking!

d-chang-blog-3And so here I am, in Malawi, and I know that I am exactly where the Lord wants me. I faced so many fears and unknowns this year, and then God stepped in and paved the way for me. I will never forget the many miracles that brought me here. I’m amazed at how God led my path directly to the ministry he had in mind. Matthew 6:33 says to “Seek first His kingdom and His righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well,” and I have seen this so clearly. Ever since God placed Malawi on the radar for me at Urbana, I’ve seen that God loves to provide for His children. Instead of worrying and stressing out about God’s will, I’ve learned that I can simply delight and put my trust in Him.

Daniel Chang serves as a short-term associate with SIM in Malawi. He graduated from university in May of 2016 with a degree in kinesiology. Daniel is the first Sports Friends Intern to serve in Malawi. This blog is a part of series called #InternLife and highlights the journey of an intern to the field and his return home again.

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Meet the Team: Jeremy and Beki Helwig

On this month’s edition of Meet the Team, we’d like to introduce you to Beki and Jeremy Helwig working in Niger!

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Name: Jeremy Helwig

Role with SF: Niger team

Favorite Sport/Team: Redskins American football

Favorite Bible Verse: John 16

Favorite Food: Meat!

What do you like to do in your spare time?: Play sports

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

What is your favorite part of working for Sports Friends?: Coaching and working with teams.

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Name: Beki Helwig

Role with SF: Niger Team

Favorite Sport/Team: Volleyball

Favorite Bible Verse: Philippians 4

Favorite Food: Anything with Cheese!

What do you like to do in your spare time?: Play games!

When you were little, what did you want to be when you grew up?: A missionary actually…

What is your favorite part of working for Sports Friends?: Being part of a team and getting to see how God is working in lives all around the world!screenshot-2016-10-04-09-14-37

A Godly Commitment

By Charles Millette, SF Peru

Getting to know a coach means entering into his world, getting familiar with his routine, his joys and his struggles, seeing his life and God’s plans for him. Every time I visit a coach, there is so much to talk about because each and every one of them is a treasure box that God places in my path.

Charly’s day job is as a Physical Education teacher at a well-known school in Lima. His job requires discipline, creativity and dedication. Charly personifies these character traits and his experience comes in handy when he steps on the field each Saturday to guide the group of kids in his sports ministry program. As I’ve gotten to know Charly, I’ve come to understand that for him, being on the field every single Saturday comes at a cost. It takes a significant amount of his time to plan each practice and train his team. This has been a challenge for him because time is something he has little of. Charly has felt God challenging his heart in this area and after reflection and prayer, he has accepted God’s challenge and has decided to reprioritize his schedule to increase his commitment to the team.

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As his players meet with him weekly, they are unaware of the cost of his presence. They love belonging to a team in the midst of their personal challenges and troubled home lives. Charly rejoices that his decision to trust God with his time increases his connection with his players and allows him to strengthen the relationship he has been building with him little by little over the year.

img_9171His ministry has not gone unnoticed by those around him and the school he works at decided to support Charly’s team by donating 10 used soccer balls. For him, it is a sign that God is behind him and ready to answer needs that will come as he commits to leading, ministering and coaching these young men whom God has placed on this particular field!

In all of this, Charly knows that the cost he pays with his time is so insignificant in comparison with the needs of his players who are living their life without yet, fully understanding how much they are loved by their Heavenly Father who watches over them day in day out!

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