BMS World Mission's summer of sport
How sharing Jesus through sport can get you off the bench and onto the mission field. By Melanie Webb
England’s nail-biting cricket wins, another victory for the USA in the Women’s World Cup, wonderful tennis at Wimbledon and now the hair-raising netball cup final – it’s a summer of sport and I’m breathless just keeping up!
Speaking of trying to keep up, I’m about to have a Skype call with a Brazilian footballer, well known by people around the world. It would have been nice to meet in person but he’s a busy man whose schedule takes him from country to country. Was he last in India? Thailand? Peru?
Can you guess who it is?
BMS World Mission partner, the Thailand Karen Baptist Convention (TKBC), gets ready to welcome the Brazilian footballer.
His name is Joshua. He grew up in poverty on the outskirts of a favela, a Brazilian shanty town, in Rio de Janeiro. Growing up in such a modest household, his mother motivated him to keep football as his focus. But to most of the people around him, it was just a waste of time.
Eventually, he made it – to the reserve bench. Until finally, he was called off the bench and onto the pitch.
It was the same story every match. He got the pass. Scored the goal. Cheers from the crowd.
But this time, his head wasn’t in the game. He was thinking about his church and the small sports ministry they ran. “God was calling me to use football to grow his kingdom,” he explains.
Suddenly he was losing the tackle. Didn’t score a single goal.
“I didn’t play well because it weighed so heavily on my mind. I told my coach I couldn’t play for the team anymore, that I had to follow God’s calling,” says Joshua – and although this was years ago, his eyes still show that same passion for God. “The coach told me I could earn a lot of money. But I said ‘no’ and followed the Lord.”
His saying “no” started a domino effect of people saying “yes” to the gospel across the world.
Now the meaning of victory for Joshua was entirely transformed. It looked like helping Matthew, a young man with a mouth deformity which made it difficult for him to speak. Years of feeling inadequate and unable to express himself made it hard for him to relate to others. Sport was the only place where he could fully feel like himself. By the end of Joshua’s training week, running a sports club with a gospel focus, Matthew was able to confidently speak and share the gospel with the group.
And this was in a country where Christians face societal pressures and persecution. Thanks to Joshua’s training week, young men were able to gather to play football and study the Bible together. An officer who eyed the group with misgivings all week had joined in a game by the end, and even stayed for a Bible study session.
“Sport opens so many doors. I can enter places where mission workers might not be welcome, just because I’m a coach,” says Joshua.
Joshua works with BMS partner JMM (Brazilian Baptist Mission), training local coaches to run sports clubs with a gospel focus. With his sporting skills, Joshua found he had a VIP pass into the heartlands of 100 per cent Buddhist communities in Chiang Mai. Working together with BMS partner the Thailand Karen Baptist Convention (TKBC), Joshua used his skills to teach local trainers how bring young people together when they often don’t have access to leisure activities.
I’m sure you can see why I describe Joshua as being well known all over the world. And I’m keen to know what’s next for this sporting evangelist…
Young boys are keen to join the sports clubs and now Joshua is looking to get girls involved too.
“At the moment it’s mainly boys playing football because of traditional gender roles, but I’m already seeing more girls get involved and I’d love to see more in future,” says Joshua.
In addition to looking to see more women to get involved in sports ministry, Joshua tells me he’s preparing for a trip to Peru in November – and I can’t wait to find out the score!
Are you looking to get off the bench and onto the pitch? BMS World Mission is looking for people like you to use their skills to grow God’s kingdom! BMS workers have used their talents in sport, healthcare, art and teaching to reach more people with the gospel.
This story was originally published on the BMS World Mission website and is used with permission.