Hunger vs. Hope

May 15, 2021 | Sports Friends Africa, Sports Friends Nigeria

If you could dip your finger here, I bet you could feel how deep the darkness is. This is the reality of our world.”

-Sports Friends Nigeria team leader, Ishaya.

Sports Friends has served Nigerian youth for over 15 years. Nigerian leadership has long ministered in the context of severe poverty, persecution, and instability. This last year, they faced the question of how to best show the love of Christ when their homeland was one of the top seven countries in the world experiencing severe food crisis.

For months now, COVID-19 has further escalated the national emergency. Jobs are lost. Cities are locked down. More and more people are becoming ill. The economy is suffering more than ever as oil (Nigeria’s main export) prices plummeted months ago, and as we enter 2021 Nigerians are facing a second spike in COVID cases. The nation has struggled for years, but the threats to their very survival seem to be growing by the day. 

Understanding the broader impact of pandemic on Nigeria (

Health systems are weak. Without adequate numbers of professionals, equipment, or medical facilities, people are much more vulnerable to worsening disease and more severe (and fatal) effects that can be avoided with sufficient supplies, staff, and oxygen.

Malnourishment is the most common underlying cause of disease and deaths worldwide. Good nutrition is foundational to good health. Chronically malnourished people are far less capable of fighting off illness and surviving. 

Social safety nets that extend economic and nutritional security have played a critical role in sustaining many national populations throughout the coronavirus pandemic. Nigeria doesn’t have such programs and protections. Corruption amplifies the problem immeasurably. 

Supply chain disruptions lead to further food shortages and price spikes. In countries where millions of families were already spending over half of their income on food, increasing prices and decreasing access is devastating.

School closures to decrease viral spread mean children who were receiving a meal at school (often their only meal for the day) have lost their access to food and face severe malnutrition, which stunts growth and development in every way.

Displaced people face significantly higher risks of illness, COVID-19 included, due to crowded living situations and poor sanitation. There are an estimated 1.78 million displaced people within Nigeria’s borders, largely due to violent conflict between religious and ethnic groups in the northeastern region. Over 80% of these refugees are women and children who have been forced to flee their homes and farms.

Family farms, a main source of food, are threatened not only by conflict and displacement, but by illness itself. When people are too weak to work their land, the result is that they have no food. Climate change and drought in Nigeria have only further wreaked havoc on food production.

Sports Friends leaders are seeing all of these effects play out in the lives of youth, their families, and their communities. They come on top of already existing social issues such as joblessness, prostitution, crime, civil unrest and protests, increased drug use to numb the crush of despair, chronic fear of terrorist attacks and kidnappings that never see justice, and child abuse that is covered up in families for years.

In the face of this oppressive darkness, Ishaya and his team bravely battle discouragement with hope and trust in God to sustain them. They see the youth in their nation disillusioned by the brokenness and despair of poverty and injustice, and now COVID-19 brings what feels like the final blow. A generation of Nigerians are tempted to feel that they are no good and have no hope. 

“In the midst of this, we see an opportunity to bring hope to people. We tell them to hope all the more, because our hope is in Jesus Christ. We teach them courage and to face challenges and to hold on to hope. Even through a ‘silly’ ball and soccer drills we tell them to go for it, to have courage, and we seek to inspire hope.” 

The coaches teach their teams, with every opportunity, that they are not to depend on the government or human institutions for help. They need to know that they have a Helper in heaven. They must learn to trust Him and follow Him because only He can turn things around for individual lives, families, and even their nation. 

One Sports Friends Nigeria leader reflects, “I’ve come to have a greater understanding of the verse, ‘You are the light of the world. A city on a hill cannot be hidden.’ We see the darkness in our community, but we also see what God is doing in us, and people are running toward the light. We have hope, and we are seeing Jesus bringing people out of darkness around us, into His light.”

Please join us in praying for Sports Friends Nigeria’s leadership, as they minister to tens of thousands of young people in extreme circumstances with extremely limited material resources. Pray for steadfast hope and courage for leaders and coaches as they pour themselves out for others. Pray for focus and stamina, for wisdom and strength, and for provision of practical needs for their own families and those they are sharing with. 

Pray for dawn in Nigeria. 

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