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.

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