In my humanness, I didn't know how we could do a soccer clinic when we had no soccer balls or any of the other athletic equipment, which was tied up in the Congolese transportation system. I was with a group of North American Mennonites traveling to celebrate the 100th anniversary of Mennonite mission workers in Democratic Republic of Congo.
In order to fly into the interior city of Tshikapa, where the Mennonite Church headquarters are located, we were told to get down to one modest suitcase and a carry-on. I had three bags with me, so this meant that my oversized bag of soccer balls, volleyballs, nets, and athletic equipment would have to be shipped separately. We were also told that no soccer or sports events would be held as it would interfere with the rest of the centennial activities.
So I decided to leave my bulky sports shoes behind in favor of one pair of dress shoes, which I wore on the plane, and one pair of flip flops, which I wore in every other event when dress shoes were not required. I was assured that my sport equipment would be shipped ahead and would be arriving at the same time as I would. (In fact, that bag of sports equipment did not arrive until six weeks later, long after I had returned to the United States.)
Once we arrived in Tshikapa, our heavier luggage was carted to our accommodations. We walked with our carry-ons a mile or so from the airport. Our first stop was the church and meeting house where we were introduced to dignitaries from churches around the regions near Tshikapa. A young man approached me and introduced himself as Robert Irundu, the national Youth for Christ director for Congo. He asked me, through an interpreter, about how we were going to do the soccer clinics he had heard about. I told him we were informed that the soccer clinics had been removed from the events of the week. Robert said that was not true. He said that we indeed would want to do such a clinic, and that he and his fellow youth directors were eager to see how we could spread the gospel through soccer, or in his words, futbol.
How could we do a soccer clinic when we had no soccer balls? Word soon spread that we needed help. Our delegation included a family of former missionary kids and their spouses. They were all experienced players, and they had brought a few soccer balls with them. We worked together to organize a soccer clinic with a gospel message. Somehow, more than 400 kids came from all over to participate in this first event.
That experience inspired Robert and many members of the churches in Congo to simulate this event in other communities. In a recent trip to Ndjoko Punda, more than 4,000 young people gave their lives to Christ. What a solid reminder that God's ways are always better than our ways!
We anticipate that we will be able to do many more soccer events with the message of the gospel being shared as well as one-touch passes and penalty goals.
Read more about the first Congolese Mennonite soccer camp and about Lodema Short's biography and the 2012 centennial celebration of the Congolese Mennonite Church.
This story is a slightly edited version of Short's Monday Morning Message that was sent Jan. 4.