PIETERMARITZBURG, South Africa (Mennonite Mission Network) – The eyes of the world focused on South Africa in June and July as it hosted the top 32 national soccer teams battling for the World Cup. Soccer mania didn’t distract South African churches from ministry, however. Many found ways to channel the passion into occasions for sharing the good news of Jesus.
Some congregations borrowed or rented large-screen televisions and invited their communities into their buildings to view matches for which people living next to the stadiums couldn’t afford tickets – a wholesome alternative to crowding around televisions in local bars.
Two Capetown congregations, Way of Life in the black township of Khayelitsha and Vredelust Dutch Reformed in the white suburb of Belville, organized a soccer camp for children where Christian coaches taught ball-handling and life-skills. The lessons included: how to play effective defense against evil, the importance of teamwork, and the necessity of discipline to reach a goal. Volunteers made up the coaching team: 25 from Way of Life, 15 from Vredelust and 13 American students on a short-term mission assignment.
“It was a great success,” said Xola Skosana, founder and senior pastor of Way of Life, crediting Jaco Vollgraaff, a Vredelust member interning on Way of Life’s leadership team and organizer of the camps.
Skosana and Vollgraaff said the example of black and white coach-mentors working side-by-side and living in difficult conditions at Khayelitsha’s Luhlaza Inda High School spoke eloquently about the Holy Spirit’s power to unify God’s people for a common goal.
“As a church, we had to take full advantage of the world-scale event to continue to do what Jesus set out to do 2,000 years ago, bring hope and love to people, especially children,” Vollgraaff said
Vollgraaff said that soccer is the one sport that every child in Africa knows and loves.
“We could use this love to open doors to many children’s hearts in Khayelitsha,” he said.
In Pietermaritzburg, Breakthru Church International also seized upon the opportunity offered by World Cup fever. Kyle Berg, a member of Mission Network’s Radical Journey team that worked alongside BCI for 10 months, was given the opportunity to coordinate the sports program for the congregation’s Kids’ Klub, held on Friday afternoons, and the annual Holiday Club, an all-day version of vacation Bible school from June 21-25.
Berg organized two World Cup Tournaments where children participated in three sports; soccer, netball (similar to basketball) and relay races. About 70 children participate in the ongoing weekly Kids’ Klub competition. More than 200 enjoyed the Holiday Club version.
Watching the kids have fun made the hard work worthwhile, Berg said.
“The kids would eagerly line up at the gate and wait for me to give the signal to go to the field. At this moment, you knew that even if kids were fighting before, they all got along because they were all excited for the same thing,” Berg said.
One of the factors that Berg hoped to address through the sports program was complacency with a life that has no ultimate meaning.
“[Substance] abuse is killing families in Pietermaritzburg,” Berg said. “Often, people grow up with no sense of purpose, so, they turn to drugs, alcohol, and sex to fill that void. If you can instill in kids at an early age that they are worth something and that they have a purpose for living, you will see a generation that is eager to usher in the kingdom of God.”
Berg also hopes that kids will integrate their passion for soccer with their faith.
“The leaders on the sports field were all excellent Christ-like mentors as well, and I am praying that the kids make the association,” Berg said. “In the context that many of these kids are growing up in, it is important that they are immersed in situations where they can be ministered to in ways that are relevant to them.”
The five-person Radical Journey team’s last full day in South Africa, July 11, coincided with the World Cup championship game.