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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Meet Mohammed

By Luke Voight, SF Malawi

Mohammed was born in a remote village in eastern Malawi. For decades, his family has been full of individuals who have been born, lived their entire lives and then died as non-Christians. A normal person in his community adamantly resists the Gospel of Jesus Christ.  These are precious people made in the image of God, and that is the way that one of our trained sports ministry coaches in the area views them.

Just a few months ago, Kumbu was trained to be a sports ministry coach who specifically reaches out to populations of people who are hostile to the message of Christianity.   He left the Sports Friends training full of the joy of the Lord and zeal for reaching the lost with the Gospel through the platform of sports.  Coach Kumbu quickly had a crowd as his church helped him buy a ball to start his team with.   His team was full of young non-Christian boys who were deeply excited and interested to become part of this new soccer team in their village.  The ball was rolling and the Lord was moving in hearts.

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One thing that we always try to encourage our new coaches to do is to get to know the families of the youth who are on their teams.  Coach Kumbu took this to heart and got to know each and every family of his players. Even though he was a Christian among many non-believers, coach Kumbu earned the respect of his village. For the first time, he had a voice in his community.  Little did he know that God was about to speak powerfully through him.

Once he had developed respectful relationships with his players, their families and the community, Coach Kumbu began to gently introduce people to Christ.  He would teach his team Sports Friends character studies which are specifically geared towards communities resistant to the preaching of God’s Word.   The Lord magnificently used these studies during soccer practices to awaken a hunger in the kids of Kumbu’s team for biblical truth.  One of those hungry kids was Mohammed.

Mohammed really leaned in to hear what this man named Jesus is all about.  As he listened closely, something profound happened inside of him.  The Lord, by His great mercy and love, “took the blinders off” off Mohammed’s eyes and it was like someone switched the lights on for this boy for the first time as he saw the glory of God in the Gospel and, specifically, in the person of Jesus Christ.   He got it!  From that moment, Mohammed was not the same, and his actions quickly followed his heart.  He began to desire new things that lined up with God’s Word and think new thoughts because of the Holy Spirit residing inside of him.  He was a changed person.

It didn’t take long for Mohammed’s parents to begin noticing significant positive behavioral changes in their boy and they went straight to Coach Kumbu. They asked the coach… why?

Why is our boy different?  Why is he not fighting often with others now?  Why does he want to help more around the house?  Why?

Coach didn’t have the answer to the “why” questions because he knew it wasn’t about behavioral change or some new discipline that their boy picked up from coach. Coach pointed them to a different question:  Who? And by God’s incredible saving grace, when Mohammed’s parents asked the “who” question, Coach Kumbu pointed them straight to Jesus.

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Today Mohammed’s whole family is redeemed by the blood of the risen Lamb.  They have come to faith in Christ, have been baptized into the local church and are growing in discipleship.  Glory be to Christ for his salvific work in the heart of lost people!  They are His now.

*for security reasons, the names “Mohammed” & “Kumbu” are not the boy and the coaches real names.

A Stolen Court, A Priceless Opportunity

By: Lindsay Geverink, SF Peru

You pay for the court, you play on the court. Right? Well, according to the boys in Coach Aaron’s neighborhood, the person with the loudest voice wins. For many of us, we would just get louder to prove the court is logically ours. But Aaron choose a different road.

IMG_0279 copy-2When Coach Aaron began soccer ministry through his church about two and a half years ago, there were many roadblocks and frustrations in regards to the players’ behavior and attitudes. Looking at these boys now, you’d hardly even recognize them and almost laugh at the incredible 180 that God has done in their lives. Through constant mentoring, sharing of God’s Word and love, Aaron and his leadership team have been able to build into the lives of these young people and show them God’s way of living.

When Aaron was in the middle of his soccer practice and was rudely interrupted and shoved off the field by the neighborhood boys, it wasn’t anything new to him. Amidst the chaos, confusion, cursing and arguing from the unexpected visitors, Aaron had an idea to solve the problem with minimal disagreement while showing Christ as well. He chose to be an example and a light to his team, as well as to the pushy teenagers.

“Ok boys, so let’s share the field. You play for 10 minutes and then it will be our turn.”

IMG_2869 copy-2 Surprisingly, the boys quickly agreed and cooperated, and the playing continued for some time back and forth like this. Finally, the new guests wanted to play a game against Aaron’s team. You can probably imagine that the team was struggling with the idea of having to unexpectedly share THEIR practice time. It was the moment for the team to decide if they were going to truly practice what God had been pouring into them through Aaron for the past two and a half years. Praise God, because they chose to follow their coach’s leadership and demonstrated good attitudes and sportsmanship on the field, even in the moments of unwarranted penalties, yelling and cheating.

Finally, share-time came to an end and the new “friends” headed out. However, when they got to the corner, one of them turned around and yelled, “Hey Coach! See you next week?”IMG_2877 copy-2

The incredible thing is that Aaron was ready to whole-heartedly welcome them back, because he knows that God’s work is not yet done and he desires to love and serve the people in his community.

Although some may see the situation only as a stolen court, God was able to give Aaron His eternal perspective to see the priceless opportunity. Please join us in praying for the youth of Peru, that they may see and experience God’s light and truth.

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“…let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.” Matthew 5:16

Wanyama in South Sudan

A year ago, Kennedy, one of our Sports Friends leaders, asked me if Sports Friends would provide ten soccer balls for Wanyama, a Kenyan missionary serving in South Sudan. I was reluctant to supply the balls since Sports Friends is not working in South Sudan, I had never even met Wanyama and we rarely provide sports equipment. In the end, because of Kennedy’s persistence and our long-standing friendship, we decided to supply the ten balls for Wanyama.

Last month I received a call from Kennedy letting me know that Wanyama was in Nairobi for a few days. It had been a year since we had provided the soccer balls and Wanyama wanted to give me an update. During our visit, Wanyama shared his background and talked about how he has struggled as a church planter in South Sudan. During his first five and half years as a missionary he had only planted one church. He told me that a year ago, Kennedy had trained him how to use sports to plant churches and provided him the soccer balls.  Wanyama took the ten balls and used two balls in each of five villages. He began to mobilize the youth and develop teams. As Wanyama shared the Gospel with the teams, he was thrilled that people began to have an interest in the gospel and be saved! One after another, churches were planted… until there were five new churches! Within each church plant, Wanyama was able to identify someone from the local village to lead the church. Now he continues to use the same strategy with many other villages in his region and is greatly encouraged.

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IMG_20160124_161233Pray for the current crisis in South Sudan: that the leaders would be committed to resolving their differences peacefully rather than through violence; that the local Christian leaders would be able to care for those who are caught in the midst of conflict and violence. Finally, pray that the Gospel would continue to move forward through people like Wanyama who minister even in the midst of difficult circumstances.