People surge in from all over the world- eager to learn and meet new people. A steady hum of voices fills the large room. Booths are set up all over the with vendors eagerly waiting to testify about how God is working through their organizations in marvelous ways.
REACH Conference is a gathering for individuals and churches who are involved in sports ministry. Not long ago, we went to share about Sports Friends. On the first day of the conference, the Sports Friends booth was really busy, and one of the many visitors was a man (pictured above) who had a heart for sports ministry and has pastored for over twenty years in Kenya. Little did we know; this pastor was more connected with the ministry than we realized…
As he was walking around, I began to explain who Sports Friends was. He responded with a realization, “Hey, I know this group.” With this recognition, he grabbed a couple of the brochures off of our table. Then he pointed to the photo on the cover of the brochure and said, “This is my friend, Sanchez!”
He asked me, “Do you work for Sports Friends? We work with them in Kenya!” The pastor began to point excitedly at Sanchez and then at the front cover of the Year-End Review booklet. He said, “This is Joseph, I also know him, he goes to my church. I have discipled and invested in both of these men.” The pastor continued on saying, “Wow! Wow! I can’t believe that they are here at this conference, and that you are featuring the work that they are doing.”
He then called his wife over and shared with her as well. He told me that he really believed in the power of sports ministry, and he had been trying to build a team in his community for many years. He had also been to this conference several times before. I interacted with him and his wife a little bit more throughout the conference, enjoying small talk as we chatted about our passion for people to find their hope in Jesus.
The last evening of the conference, the host of the conference opened up a time for people to come and share about what they had learned at the conference and how they had been encouraged. A few different people shared, and then this pastor rose up and walked to the open mic.
He began to share how he and his wife had traveled from Kenya to attend this conference. He shared that he had been a pastor for many, many years, and he had seen how powerful sports ministry was, which was why he continued to come back to the conference.
After his brief introduction, he began to share openly on a personal level. He said, “You know, I’ve been a pastor for many years, and sometimes I find myself thinking, have I been an effective tool? And I wonder how God has used me. If I really made a difference in this world? But I was so encouraged when I came here to this conference this week, and I saw the ministry of Sports Friends represented here by pictures of two men I know. This is the same ministry that we work with in Kenya, and at their booth, I saw two men that have attended my church that I have personally invested in. And I thought to myself maybe I haven’t done a ton myself, but I’ve had the opportunity to invest in these two men who are reaching hundreds of lives across Kenya doing a really amazing work. God was so kind to remind me that he has graciously allowed me to be a part of what he is doing, and to be a part of these men’s lives and in this great ministry called Sports Friends.”
God used our Sports Friends booth in a way we could have never imagined, graciously showing the pastor how he has been “an effective tool” for God’s glory through his investment in these two coaches. This Kenyan pastor’s testimony also gave encouragement to Sports Friends in a way we did not expect to receive at the REACH Conference. What a blessing we had to witness the work of God in and through him!
“So neither the one who plants nor the one who waters is anything, but only God, who makes things grow. The one who plants and the one who waters have one purpose, and they will each be rewarded according to their own labor. For we are co-workers in God’s service; you are God’s field, God’s building.” (1 Corinthians 3:7-9)
By Bryan Mills: Bryan lives in Charlotte, NC and is the Coordinator of Short-Term Teams and Church Partnerships for Sports Friends. Having served with several organizations through short-term ministry, Bryan is passionate about creating opportunities for churches and individuals to be involved in what God is doing through global missions.