“It is one of the best practice sessions I have ever attended on this ground,” young Ben glowed during water break. That day, soccer practice had revolutionized his heart.
It began a typical Saturday afternoon when the boys streamed onto the church compound. This was the only available place in the village for them to play soccer, and they couldn’t wait to get on the field. This particular Saturday there were two new faces walking in with Coach Joseph. Thirteen-year-old Paul and his brother John, 11, were thrilled to arrive for their first soccer practice. To them, today was a dream come true. They had just met with Coach Joseph the week prior, and shared their great excitement at the thought of getting to play on his team. Even their mother was excited when Joseph picked them up that morning. Her boys didn’t get a lot of opportunities like this. Especially young John. Besides all of the challenges common to other young people in the area, John was blind.
The soccer team was clearly shocked that Coach would bring a blind boy to practice. Disbelief filled their faces. Some boys tried to extend their hands toward John for a handshake, but remained surprised that he did not respond at all until someone reached out to explain to him what was going on. Everyone wondered, how was this going to work?
“It’s time to warm up!” Coach Joseph announced after assistant coach Daniel opened practice with prayer and a quick briefing on today’s unique schedule. John jumped right in and to everyone’s delight, he bravely ran on the unfamiliar ground with the guidance of his big brother Paul. After twenty minutes of warm-up, it was time for dribbling drills. Coach Joseph pulled out a new ball and everyone turned to look. They had never seen such a ball before. Rather, they had never heard one; this ball had bells inside! Coach had invited sightless John into their world. Now he was about to invite them into his.
Coach announced the challenge: they were going to play blind soccer. To prepare, the boys each dribbled with the special new ball for a bit, instructed to function by sound rather than sight, and to keep the ball close as they dribbled around the cones. Then each boy was blindfolded, safety rules were clearly communicated, and the whistle blew for kick-off. The coaching staff was overwhelmed to see the team playing a blind small-sided soccer match together with their new friend.
After the fun of the sightless match, regular soccer practice ensued. Paul had already made some friends and took off to enjoy the time to the fullest. Ben and a few other boys from the team wanted to stay back and spend more time with John and his “jingle” ball. Ben and another friend continued to practice, passing and dribbling with John as they led him by the hand.
Saturday afternoon soccer practice had become anything but ordinary to Joseph’s team of boys. It had completely changed their attitude toward children living with disabilities. John still comes to practices, and whenever he does the other boys are eager to serve and relate to him however they can. One boy on the team got some money from his mother and brought it to practice one day, asking Coach to buy John some fruit after practice.
As Coach Joseph carefully observes in the young people he faithfully serves:
What does every child want? To belong, and to have the chance to play. What does every child living with disability want? The exact same thing.
Through Sports Friends training, Hope FC has developed local church-centered sports ministry in this Kenyan village, and through them God desires to send a clear message of His love to the children and families in the community. Through soccer programs, He is reaching out to invite and embrace the unlikely into His unhindered arms.