After a nail-biting four hour journey along the winding mountain roads of northern Thailand, we finally pull up outside the house. We’re met by Coach Sathit, his family, 12 new-born puppies, and a whole host of chickens. The kettle is boiled ready for coffee, and we are welcomed warmly into their home.
Visits like this one, following up with Sports Friends-trained coaches, are a wonderful privilege to experience, and are key to ensuring the longevity of the ministry. We’re here today to encourage Coach Sathit in his ministry, and to help with any particular challenges he might be facing at present.
As we sip on our coffee, Sathit and his wife chat freely about the joys and challenges of the past five years, doing sports ministry in their village. Two things come through in particular: their love for God; and their heart to do all they can to help the young people in their community.
Sathit tells us how he had tried to take a break from coaching while his wife was expecting their second child. But the following week, when the usual day of soccer practice arrived, the entire team of boys showed up outside his house, begging him to come down to the field for training.
“My heart melted”, he says, “and I just had to start coaching again!”
It’s clear that these boys – many of whom lack father figures of their own – not only look up to him as their coach, but also deeply love him.
Coaches like Sathit are the heart of the Sports Friends ministry. As we listen to how God has been at work through his soccer ministry, Sathit shares the story of Somchai, a young hill tribe boy who had hung around on the field for weeks, watching Sathit coach his team. Eventually Somchai plucked up the courage to ask if he could join in, and Sathit said he could. Of all the kids on his team, Sathit admits thinking that Somchai was the least likely ever to be interested in matters of God or faith. But he was wrong.
For four years Sathit faithfully shared the gospel message with Somchai, using soccer as a tool to teach, to challenge, and to encourage. In the fifth year, Somchai came up to him after practice and asked what he needed to do to become a Christian. Sathit didn’t think he was serious, so told him to go home and pray about it, and they would talk again next week.
“I had told him about Jesus for four years and he never seemed to take any notice, so I thought he must be joking!” Sathit laughs.
The next week, Somchai came and asked him again. Sathit felt a growing confidence that his desire was genuine, but told him once more to go home, pray about it, and come back to talk to him next week if he was serious. All that week, Sathit prayed earnestly for Somchai, too.
On the third week, Somchai came to him after practice and asked him again, and this time Sathit knew he was serious. Right there and then, on the edge of the soccer field, they knelt down and Sathit prayed with Somchai to accept Jesus into his life as his Lord and Savior. A few months later he was baptized, just before he was due to move away to the city to study.
Sathit understands the importance of discipleship: that it takes time and effort to be transformed by God. So, as more of his team were growing up and moving to the city for their education, he set up a social media group so that they could keep in touch and he could pray for each of them regularly.
“I told the kids – don’t think of me as your teacher, but think of me as your brother. Because if we’re brothers, I can pray for you and help you with what’s going on in your lives.”
Sathit regularly received requests from the team which he would bring before the Lord, but one day he was touched to see that Somchai had sent a message asking if there was anything he could pray about for him.
“I gave time and energy for so long and got nothing back,” Sathit says, “but God was working the whole time”.
Sathit ministered faithfully for four years, but it was in the fifth year that the fruit came. Praise God that he had the faith to persevere! Join us in praying for Sathit, and others like him, that just as God suffers long with us, so our coaches would also lovingly and patiently suffer long with the young people God places in their paths.
“Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up.” (Galatians 6:9)