Sports Friends has been present in Nigeria for 14 years. Currently there are 8 full-time national staff facilitating the training and ongoing support of nearly 3,700 active coaches. There are almost 75,000 young people playing on soccer teams around the country, and each of them have been strategically surrounded by men and women who love them and are passionate to see them know the depth of the love of God. We interviewed the in-country director, Ishaya, to get a better idea of what the spiritual and social environment they are working in is like. Some of the difficulties our Nigerian brothers and sisters are facing are familiar globally, and some are more specific to their corner of the world. Please join us in supporting them with prayer, thanks, and understanding.
What are some specific answers to prayer you’ve seen recently? We want to praise God with you.
Ishaya: Thank God that He is keeping us. My team members travel a lot. God is faithfully keeping us safe on the roads; Nigerian roads are terrible. He is keeping us from kidnapping and robbery.
What are some specific prayer requests for the work, staff, coaches, and players? We want to gather the global Church around you and lift you up.
Ishaya: Pray that God will continue to strengthen the hearts of the coaches that work in difficult areas. There are insurgencies clashing with locals. Pray God will continue to strengthen people to not give up. Pray God will continue to lead the work into bearing fruit: relational evangelism takes time. Just pray for hearts to stay focused and to be hopeful. Pray God will keep us healthy, and that God will bless our families that are supporting us. For the staff: pray that God will provide for their needs, meet with them, and they will have even more joy in serving Him.
What are three of the biggest struggles for youth in your region?
Ishaya: Many are in despair right now, when they see politics and economics.* They are being very disillusioned both by the church and by poor leadership in the country. We need, more than ever, more training for more coaches to bring the message of hope. It should be a ministry of the church to keep encouraging the people. Politics is impacting every aspect of life. A nation cannot rise above the kind of leaders they have. The impact of poor leadership has turned many, many young people to drugs and prostitution. There is no admission into school or they cannot afford tuition; there is no employment. They are giving in to peer pressure: stealing, gangs, and thuggery. They are in despair.
* Over 60% of our Nigerian brothers and sister are living in absolute poverty, defined as receiving less than $0.63 per day. Though Nigeria is home to the largest oilfields in Africa and maintains successful trade, it is one of the most financially unequal countries in the world. The disparity experienced is intolerable and growing, with the effects felt most intensely in the north/northwest.
What are some of the particular challenges for your coaches?
Ishaya: The coaches are volunteer based. There is turnover with people who move, seeking employment in a different part of the city. Sometimes work is too demanding on their time. There is general discouragement, when a coach can’t afford to get his [soccer] shoes or sports equipment. When we do follow up, we take a gift of used jerseys, etc, to encourage them if we can. We must continually encourage them; we want to strengthen them with follow-up to keep coaches going.
What are the great barriers to the growth of this ministry in your country?
Ishaya: It is that coaches are unable to provide for their ministry. Sports Friends Nigeria is overwhelmed; local churches are unable to provide basics the coaches need. There may be a team with excellent coaches, then the ball pops and the church is unable or is unwilling to provide another ball for them to train with. Occasionally Sports Friends can purchase balls and we share them across the denominations to encourage them. There is a limit to how far it can go because of the number of coaches and teams we have.
Please join us in praying for our brothers and sisters in Nigeria. Praise God that He is with them always, and most near when the injustice and sin of this world is heaviest upon them. Thank God for His faithfulness; pray for an awareness of His presence and supernatural peace and joy in a context of great struggle. Pray for justice and equality in the nation, and that the Church will diligently and joyfully be a source of encouragement and hope to those around them. Ask God to make you an encouragement today to the people around you, and ask how you can encourage our Nigerian family.
“The Lord Himself goes before you and will be with you; He will never leave you nor forsake you. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged.” (Deuteronomy 31:8)