Taking Hope to the Hard Places

It’s often in the hardest and darkest places of our world that we see the gospel flourishing. When civil war broke out in South Sudan, many were forced to flee their homes to the refugee camp of Kakuma in neighboring Kenya. It’s in this place of more than 50,000 displaced people that William (pictured below) is using a soccer ball to share the gospel message of hope.

William’s testimony is remarkable in that he himself came to know Christ through a soccer ball and a Sports Friends-trained coach called Wanyama. Wanyama had been struggling to plant churches for many years, until he discovered sports as a way to connect with the community. With just ten soccer balls and a great faith, he was able to plant five new churches in South Sudan. During the unrest, these churches were relocated to the refugee camp in Kakuma (along with Wanyama and William) where Sunday services now take place under the shade of a large tree and Wanyama and William disciple members using the platform of soccer.

It’s uncertain whether William will ever be able to go back to his home in South Sudan, but he dreams of one day returning as a sports minister; using a ball to take hope to those who are living and dying without a gospel witness. For now at least, his ministry ‘field’ is the refugee camp of Kakuma.

Update: We recently held a Sports Friends training inside the refugee camp to equip 70 new coaches from the five church plants. Pray that these new coaches would be salt and light in the refugee camp and back in South Sudan if and when the Lord allows them to return home.

For just $75, Sports Friends can train and equip a coach like Wanyama to reach out to young people like William. As you consider your year-end giving, will you help us train and send out thousands of new coaches as agents of God’s love and hope into the hard places of this world?

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

 

Meet the Team: Coach Jhon

Meet the Team: Jhon Ramirez

Jhon has served with Sports Friends since 2015. His current role is as the Coordinator of Trainings.

What is your role with Sports Friends?
Coordinator of Basic and Ongoing trainings.

Favorite sport: My favorite sports is futbol.

Favorite Bible verse:  Then David said to Solomon his son, “Be strong and courageous and do it. Do not be afraid and do not be dismayed, for the Lord God, even my God, is with you. He will not leave you or forsake  you, until all the work for the service of the house of the Lord is finished.” 1 Chronicles 28:20

What do you like to do in your spare time? I like to further my understanding of the word of God.

What did you want to be when you were a kid? At age 7, I once invited my friends to come to my house and learn more about God. Ever since then, teaching was only on my mind.

What do you love about working with Sports Friends? I really enjoy getting to know the coaches, ministering to them and applying the four concepts of the ministry (Live, Lead, Minister and Coach) with them. I also appreciate spending time with their players and thus sharing with more ease the burden of the coach.

Don’t Go Far… Just Go!

By Cambie Wilson

Sports are a universal language. Whether you are a player or a fan, sports have a way of breaking down barriers and bringing people together. For our Sports Friends-trained coaches, it is an incredibly simple yet powerful tool that allows them to connect with the young people in their communities. Coaches don’t need any special skills or even a background in sports. The most important thing is that they are willing to be obedient to the mandate that Jesus gave to GO and make disciples of all nations, baptizing and teaching. Coach Martin and Coach Meschek are two such coaches who have been equipped to use sports as a ministry tool and are living out this mandate.

Coach Mesheck attended a Sports Friends training one year ago and it transformed the way he saw ministry. His passion for Christ and the youth in his village is evident as you speak with him. Serving the youth and building relationships on the dusty soccer pitch makes his heart tick! He feels privileged to be a messenger of the Good News as he utilizes his childhood desire of playing soccer. Building relationships with youth and their families has been his priority and he seeks to makes use of every single moment to share his faith and hope in Christ. He has now trained an assistant coach and together they are reaching out to the youth of their community, supported by the local church. He is certain that God is up to something big and that lives will be transformed and his community strengthened through this ministry!

Coach Martin is a pastor and was excited to learn how his pulpit and the playing field could be one in the same. After Martin attended a Sports Friends training organized at his local church, he initiated a sports ministry program at the local school. The aim was to reach youth in their everyday context and try to break down the barriers that might keep them from coming to church on a Sunday morning. Now he blends sports activities with a regular Bible study program to speak into these young people’s spiritual lives and make disciples. Several young people from the school have started attending Sunday services at Martin’s local church and their parents and teachers express gratitude that he is investing in their children.

Like so many coaches, Martin sees the incredible need for the gospel and recognizes that young people are often ready to hear and receive, but just need someone to share with them in a way that they can relate to. As he likes to say, “The church doesn’t have to go far – it just needs to go.”

 

The Cinderella of Malawi

by Chisomo Chiwambala, SF Malawi Netball Coordinator

Abigail Mbungwa is a 16-year-old orphan who lives in Balaka, Malawi with her grandparents. Three years ago, Abigail was invited by her aunt to live with their family in the city of Blantyre so that she could start school. But once she moved, things didn’t turn out quite like they planned. First her aunt didn’t pay her school fees. She told Abigail that instead she would help the family by doing all the chores around the house.  Day after day, month after month, and year after year passed with Abigail being promised her education. Her aunt continued to say, “Sorry Abigail, I can’t do anything for you. I don’t have money.”

The pain of this disappointment hurt even more as Abigail’s aunt easily managed to send her own children to school. As Abigail watched her cousins happily prepare and head off to school each day, she began to lose hope and in her despair thought to herself, “Does anyone love me?”

Finally, one day, Abigail’s aunt sent her back to the village in Balaka to assist her grandparents with daily chores there. She was miserable and hopeless as she went through the long list of tasks given to her each day, feeling unloved. While Abigail despaired, the Heavenly Father who created her in His beautiful image saw her – God saw Abigail. He heard her cries and sent His love through His church right into her village.

One hot day, Abigail was invited by a newly-trained Sports Friends coach to come and play netball. Her life was about to change.  Abigail jolted in excitement at the opportunity to play and connect with this coach.

“Could this coach be someone to love me?,” she thought to herself. After several weeks of playing netball, Abigail’s new coach shared about the magnificent love that Jesus offers. She shared Romans 5:8 – “But God shows his love for us in that, while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” From that moment – when God’s Word went into Abigail’s ears – she knew she was loved. She was LOVED!

The Word of God is living and active and the Holy Spirit moved in Abigail’s heart to believe the Gospel that day. Since then, she has had joy for the first time in her life and said, “My own family did not love me but Jesus sure does!”

Abigail still has not started going to school due to financial issues and priorities in her family but she knows that she is a child of God. She is called beloved by her Maker and she has hope because of it. With a big smile, her final words to us were: “Jesus Christ has done something great in my life!”

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. As you consider your year-end giving, 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 

The True Vine

by Sarah Haddow

A few months ago, 100 very excited girls descended on Blantyre – a city in the south of Malawi surrounded by beautiful mountains. These girls traveled from far and wide, some even came from the neighboring country of Mozambique, to participate in a four-day residential netball camp. The camp was held at a local football stadium and the girls who attended were between 13-18. They came in their teams along with their Sports Friends-trained coaches. We held the camp while school was still in session so that we could reach out to girls who do not have the means to go to school – and they absolutely loved it!

As the girl rocked up in minibuses, noise levels rising, they were greeted by the Sports Friends team and welcomed with the joy of the Lord! Faces were grinning with anticipation of what was in store for the next few days, and for many, it was the first time leaving their home village for a night. The girls were divided into team countries and given Sports Friends t-shirts to represent their team.

The camp included one full day of netball coaching clinics, where the girls rotated through four stations, learning different key netball skills; passing, defending, shooting and theory. For those of you who aren’t familiar with netball, it is a ball game similar to basketball but with very different rules and no backboard on the goal.

The following day allowed the girls to put these skills into practice as they participated in the ‘Grand Netball Tournament’! The day started well, with the girls in high spirits desperate to take home the victory. Courts marked out, bibs on, and we’re set to play! After the first few matches, the sky darkened, before torrential rain pounded down – but this certainly wasn’t going to stop the girls. Battling through the rain, knock-out games continued until a final was declared – New Zealand vs. America. It was a close game but New Zealand just had the edge! America’s disappointment didn’t last long before Kaipa, a Sports Friends leader, had the girls chanting around the field, singing songs to their heart’s content! A joyful sight I’ll never forget!

Each Sports Friends camp has a theme and this one was based on Jesus – the True Vine. Jesus says “I am the vine: and you are the branches… if you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit” (John 15:1-9). In each teaching session, a component of the fruit of the Spirit was taught; love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control (Galatians 5:22-32). As these teachings were woven into the fabric of the day it was easy to share how as sports players we can play showing these qualities through the help of the Holy Spirit. It was important that in each study session we brought it back to the gospel message – it is not by our own works or behavior or ‘bearing fruit’ that we are saved, but rather by the amazing grace of our Lord Jesus Christ who shed His blood on the cross for each of us.

‘For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith – and this is not from yourselves, it is a gift from God – not by works” (Ephesians 2:8-9).

It was a great pleasure giving awards out at the end of the camp, especially awarding ‘the most Christ-like player’. This award went to Joanne, a petite girl with a talent for netball. Even though she was one of the better players, she performed so humbly on the court. On multiple occasions she was seen considering others before herself, as well having a sense of joy surrounding her, continuously smiling and seemingly content with life.

As the girls headed home, faces beaming, we lifted our eyes to the enthroned Lord. We give Him all the glory and praise with thankful hearts for a successful netball camp. It is always such a delight seeing sports break down barriers, build relationships, and most importantly being a platform for sharing the great gospel message. May our hearts and lips never stop praising Him!

“From the rising of the sun to the place where it sets, the name of the Lord is to be praised.” (Psalm 113:3)

Sarah Haddow lives in the U.K. and recently graduated from Nottingham University with a Ph.D. in chemistry. She is passionate about sports having grown up playing netball. However, a few years ago she took up the challenge of field hockey! Sarah served as a short-term associate with Sports Friends Malawi this year. She enjoyed teaching netball as well as sharing her love for Christ.

Crossing Barriers Through Sports

By Tripp Johnston, Sports Friends International Director

All across the world, through the Sports Friends ministry and many other like-minded organizations, God is using sports to build His Kingdom.  How exciting to see God using something that the world is so passionate about to draw people to Himself!

I recently returned from Nigeria where Sports Friends was celebrating its 10-year anniversary of ministry in that country.  Over the last seven years, we have trained more than 1,400 Nigerian missionaries to effectively use sports ministry in the communities God has called them to.  For many who have used sports ministry, they share testimonies like this:

“For the last two years, I have tried to build relationships in my new community, but I did not have much success.  I tried many different approaches.  But still, I didn’t know people.  People never invited me into their homes.  But since starting sports ministry, I go through the town and all of the youth are calling out to me: ‘Hey Coach!  Coach, how are you?  Coach, will you come visit my home today?’  Now, people know me and accept me.  They invite me to their homes and into their lives.  I wish I had known about sports ministry earlier!”

I was especially encouraged to hear the testimony of a Nigerian church-planting network that is effectively using sports to minister into Northeastern Nigeria, a region where militant extremists have in large degree driven out the Christian community – killing many and destroying much property in their wake.  Recently 10 new churches have been established in this area through sports ministry programs.  One of the Nigerian leaders of this church-planting movement shared that “only sports could open the door to these communities that were so hardened to the gospel”!  Sports is the bridge that God is using to build meaningful relationships, open hearts, and create acceptance for His workers in this difficult region.

In coastal Kenya, Sports Friends-trained church planters are working among many people groups and communities where Christ is not known. In one such people group (per Joshua project, 0.00% Christian) there are three Kenyan church planters working in a total of six villages using sports as a bridge to build relationships with the youth and their families. These three church planters have trained an additional six coaches to help them and are ministering to over 240 youth on a regular basis.  Nine youth have accepted Christ, and we pray that this will be the beginning of a significant movement of this people group to Christ in the coming years.It’s incredible to see sports crossing the barriers which so often divide us and hinder the advancement of the gospel; race, ethnicity, age, gender, social and economic class, physical or mental ability, religion. If you have a ball, young people will come! Praise be to God for the thousands of young people coming to faith in Christ and growing as His disciples as a result of the love, example, and witness of Godly coaches.

Thank you for your faithful partnership in this ministry!

Reflections from a Short-Term Trip to Kenya

By Nick Elizondo, Short-Termer from the Village Church

What a trip Kenya was… I am still trying to process everything that we saw the Lord do and all that we experienced. This is a trip that I can truly say I returned with a full heart and greatly encouraged by the work that is going on in Kenya, specifically through the ministry of SIM and Sports Friends.

We traveled to Kijabe, Kenya to assist in the running of a sports camp for young people with physical disabilities in the area. However, this camp was so much more than simply playing sports with some children for a few days. As we arrived at camp, we quickly learned that many believed this was the first ever camp for children with special needs in the whole of the country! We saw that in Kenyan culture, young people with physical disabilities are frequently marginalized or abandoned because communities believe that they are cursed. So, the purpose of this camp was to show the young people and their families that they are seen, known, and loved by God.

Connecting with children

These children were so precious. The camp was set up for ultimate attention to the children, so each camper had one American coach and one Kenyan coach assigned to them. It was our joy to love on them and serve them for three days — through eating breakfast, lunch, and dinner with them, accompanying them to chapel, and playing many different activities with them. For some, this meant kicking a ball for hours on end, and for some, this meant sitting in the sun allowing the child to feel its warmth on their skin. The three days were draining and filling all at the same time; physically tiring as some campers had to be carried everywhere, and spiritually filling as we were blessed with the opportunity to be the hands and feet of Christ in these campers’ lives.

Connecting with families

Many of these families have been living in isolation for many years. All of these families were from the same area and yet they did not know each other. While our team was loving on and playing with the children, the local Sports Friends staff were loving on the families through a workshop designed especially for them. They answered questions such as, “Are there people with disabilities in America or just in Kenya?” We heard comments like, “I thought we were the only ones with a child with a disability, I had no idea there were others!”.

It’s hard to put into words the impact of this camp. We heard one Mom testify that at the end of the camp she now saw her son as a blessing. No one had ever told her that before, and she had never seen it for herself.

Takeaways:

  1. Importance of community: These families had no idea there were others in the world and even in their neighborhoods that were in the same situations as them. Until we are willing to be vulnerable and let others into our lives we will face many circumstances feeling alone. Walking in community reminds us we aren’t alone, and we aren’t the only ones facing whichever circumstance we find ourselves in.
  2. Freedom of the gospel: It’s the gospel that sets us free and allows us to serve out of this freedom. As the truth of the gospel was revealed to these families, burdens that had been carried for years were lifted. The gospel frees you to step outside your comfort zone to love on those who don’t speak your language, look like you, or can’t ever repay you.
  3. Global work of God: We serve a global God who is doing a global work all around the world. This week in Kenya reminded me that He is doing a work of drawing people to Himself of every tribe, nation, and tongue.
  4. The body of Christ: There is a strengthening of souls that occurs as servants labor alongside one another for the sake of the gospel. Both the missionaries and the short-term team displayed Jesus; not only to the campers and their families but also to me. Watching their actions helped me see Jesus more clearly and love Him more.
  5. People are people: Despite language barriers, cultural differences, abilities or disabilities, people are people. Precious image bearers of God who are seen, loved and known by Him. A smile or a hug goes a long way to connecting with them and pointing them to Christ. This comes easily on a mission trip, but it is imperative that we practice this in our daily lives with those we do life around.

I could go on and on about this trip, I don’t have time to go into all that I learned. The Lord is doing some amazing things in Kenya, I’m thankful for the opportunity to see a part of it; the people of God doing the work of God for the Glory of God!

“We must be global Christians with a global vision because our God is a global God.” – John Stott

It Touched My Heart

By Denise Poon, SIM Thailand

“It touched my heart,” PbeeMai says.

It’s one of his constant refrains, and when he says it, he puts his hand to his heart in a slightly dramatic fashion and smiles, shaking his head and making a face as if he’s really touched or just goofing off. It’s a little bit of both – PbeeMai is equal parts sincerity and lightheartedness.

In this case, he’s talking about Brian, an American who did campus outreach at the university PbeeMai attended. According to PbeeMai, Brian reached out particularly to the students within the department of physical education, which included PbeeMai.

“I was impressed with Brian,” PbeeMai says. “He invited us into his home, and that really touched my heart. I was surprised – I felt like I was part of a family.”

It is rare in Thai culture to be invited into someone’s home, but Brian regularly opened his home to a group of about ten of the PE students to eat and hang out.

“The students in the PE department were the hardest group of students to reach,” PbeeMai says. “In other departments, there were students coming to faith, but not with the PE students, because they’re prideful and don’t think they need it.”

PbeeMai says he was that way too.

“I was very proud. I always wanted to be the best at football,” he said. “I was also angry and when I played, I was easily upset.”

He was also like any other twenty-year-old – looking for validation from his peers, wanting to be well-liked and popular. But he saw something different – something perhaps even worthwhile – in the way Brian welcomed students into his home and built relationships with them. Brian played futsal with the PE students and shared about Jesus and the gospel during their breaks – breaks that were only five minutes, and no one really paid attention.

“I didn’t really pay attention to Brian either,” says PbeeMai, “but I did hear what he would say. He talked about how God sees people as valuable, how every person has worth.”

Though it wasn’t as immediate, this would also touch PbeeMai’s heart and gradually become more real in his life. He began to go to church and saw the love in the community and spending time with Christians. But he couldn’t shake his old habits – going out to nightclubs, drinking – things that he did with his peers in order to fit in and be liked. He describes it like having a delicious cake in front of you that you know you shouldn’t eat.

He wanted to “be good,” he said; this idea is common in Thai Buddhist culture, where doing and being good are valued for boosting one’s “merit” for their next life and karma shapes one’s actions.
PbeeMai talks about one night in particular, after being out and drinking – it was two in the morning but he hadn’t had enough yet and wanted to keep going. He somehow wound up on the side of the street, sitting on the sidewalk and feeling like he was fighting a battle with himself for who he wanted to be and the feeling of helplessness that he couldn’t do it.

“I wanted to be good,” PbeeMai says. “I wanted a savior. I knew I couldn’t be a good person and get to heaven on my own.”

That realization pushed him to turn to Jesus, and today he works with Sports Friends, coordinating the ministry in the Bangkok and Isaan region in Thailand. He checks in with people who have gone through the Basic Training, continues building into relationships, and participating in camps and trainings.

“I love the kids and I feel so encouraged by the coaches. Some of these kids don’t even have soccer shoes at some of the camps we do, but they still come,” he says.

It is something that touches his heart – seeing the relationships sports can foster. PbeeMai knows that athletes can be arrogant and angry – but in his work now he sees young people who are humble enough to want to learn, even without proper equipment, and coaches who are patient and generous with those around them.

There were parts of PbeeMai’s life that he left behind when he began to know more about Jesus, and grew in deeper relationship with him. The anger and pride, the need for popularity, the nights out drinking and partying. But other parts have remained – his love for football, his dedication to the game.

“I had never thought that there would be a way for me to serve God through sports. I had no idea.”, he says.

And that – loving a God who sees and knows the ways we are talented and can serve him – is something that touches PbeeMai’s heart.

Spared for a Purpose

By Shane Smith, Sports Friends Kenya

God often allows us to go through hard times so that we may grow and, like a rock being tumbled and polished, become shiny and smooth. His goal is for us to become such a reflection of Him that He and others can see Himself in us.

Coach Dickens grew up in a slum in the outskirts of Nairobi City. His parents separated when he was eight years old, leaving his mother to raise him and his siblings alone. Eventually, the pain and pressure of single motherhood was too much for her to bear, and Dickens’ mother took them to their grandmother’s in desperation.

As his home life turned sour, Dickens decided that the streets were a better option for him. In just eight months, his environment turned him from a soft-spoken boy to a hardened thief.

Dickens soon progressed from a common thug to a deadly criminal. He was wanted by the police, and recalls horrific experiences running from the law. One particular run-in with a mob stands out in Dickens mind as especially traumatic.

“They were ready to lynch me — they had a rubber tire filled with petrol ready to force over me and set on fire,” Dickens remembered. “I obtained bruises all over my body. Thanks to God, I was narrowly rescued by police who were attracted by the commotion.”

This was his third time in the hands of a mob, and he had just barely escaped death.

After Dickens appeared in court, he was remanded for a month and later put under probation because of his age, but he wasn’t yet ready to let go of his past life.

He joined a gang of youth who used guns to terrorize residents. Before long, he was arrested and found his way again to the courtroom. This time, the judge could not excuse the behavior with anything less than jail time. He was sentenced to three years. Sadly, when Dickens’ mother learned about her son’s situation, she suffered a heart attack and died.

Life in jail was Dickens’ turning point. From rock bottom, he surrendered his life to Christ and was never the same. As God began shaping him, his character changed. God showed him favor before the guards who witnessed the tremendous change of events in Dickens’ life, and he became a beacon of hope to fellow inmates. Sharing his faith in prison made others rethink their own lives, and some surrendered to Christ, as well.

After his sentence ended, Dickens left jail a changed man. He was given a visitor’s permit for prisons in Kenya to encourage, mentor and counsel inmates. Then, through Dickens’ local church, he got an opportunity to attend a sports ministry training offered through Sports Friends Kenya, where he was equipped to use sports to connect with and relate to young people in his neighborhood — the same neighborhood where he was previously a wanted criminal.

Coach Dickens has also been reconciled with his father, who had been absent in his life for 18 years. He is optimistic that God holds a bright future for him and his family, and believes that God spared him for a purpose – one much greater than he could ever imagine.

Dickens’ passion for the lost was evident throughout the training, and weeks later he formed two teams. He is using the opportunity to share the Gospel and his testimony — how God spared him through thick and thin so that his life could be a powerful testimony. What Dickens experienced of God’s sustaining grace and sovereignty through his own hurts and hardships, he is now able to give away in increasing measure to the youth on his teams.

“So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day. For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal.”

2 Corinthians 4:16-18

A Sparkle in the Village

In a country where 61% of the population is under the age of 25, Kenya is a fertile ground for camping ministry. It was the second day of a recent Sports Friends camp in a rural Kenyan community and energy levels were soaring; the campers were having the time of their lives, and deep bonds were forming between the youth and their coaches as they joined in the games and activities together. Campers were curious to know more about this person who was the foundation of the Christian faith, and many were receiving the message of God’s love. The gospel had brought a sparkle to the village, and people were beginning to notice…

Suddenly, a group of disgruntled youth stormed into the camp, demanding that it end at once. They didn’t want this change in the village. It was a critical moment as the coaches met together to try and reconcile the situation peacefully. After much discussion and prayer, the objectors were invited to join in the camp for lunch. They hesitantly accepted, and the coaches began to call on friends to be in prayer.

While eating together, the coaches were able to interact with these young people in the same way they had done with the campers – with unconditional love. The youth ended up staying for the rest of the program, and were deeply impacted by their experience. They had come with the intention of ending the camp, but by God’s grace were instead changed by it.

“You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven”. Matthew: 43-45

Throughout May, we’re raising funds to help send 10,000 youth to camps like this one all around the world in 2017. It takes just $50 to bring the gospel to one young person. Find out more: www.sports-friends.org/thecampaign