By Jill Ireland, SF Asia
I’m guessing that most of us have in our minds eye a picture of what sort of person we think might make a good sports minister or effective coach for a church-centred sports ministry initiative reaching out to young people. As we think about training coaches through our sports ministry, we probably think of active, young, sporty, male, volunteers from the church.
Based on that preconception, I found myself judging one of our training participants at a recent coaches training in South Asia based on her outward appearance.
As Sister Sachi entered the training room, I wondered if she’d come to the right place. She was not dressed in a track suit, she did not appear to be particularly athletic, nor was she – let’s say – in the prime of her youth! I’m embarrassed to admit that I even found myself asking our local leader why she was there and if she knew what sort of training she was coming to.
He said “Yes, she did know” and whilst he had also had some reservations about her attendance, she had practically begged him to be able to come.
Sister Sachi is a widow, in her early 60’s. When her husband passed away, she took on the leadership of the church of which he was pastor. She had travelled by train a day each way in order to attend our 4-day training. She was one of the most attentive trainees during the classroom sessions, writing copious notes, and whilst she was not able to actively join in during the practical field sessions, she was on the sideline at every one – even at six in the morning! – making notes and observing the games, activities and drills.
On the outside, Sister Sachi seemed an unlikely coach. Yet her heart was overflowing with a desire to reach out to the 80-100 young people from another faith group in her community. She knew they loved sport. She was desperate to reach out to them with the truth of the gospel. She heard about sports ministry and knew this could be a great way to connect with them. She wanted to learn everything she could to help her share the love of Jesus with these young people.
She shared at the end of the training about how much she had learned and about her intention to return to her village and start a sports team for these young people the very next week! Her commitment, determination and passion were evident to us all. I was deeply convicted! Who was I to suggest or even think that this lady who radiated Jesus’ love, who was filled with his word and shared and taught it faithfully, who loved the lost young people in her village and fully appreciated the power of sport to connect with them, would not be an effective sports minister?!
I am truly praying that she will be! Because being an effective sports minister is not primarily about your sports skill or ability, or age, or gender…but is about your love for Jesus and your love for the lost and your willingness to see that a Football, or Cricket bat, or Hockey stick can create relationships, an environment and opportunities to share Jesus’ love with the lost!