Rewarding Rocky Roads

Jun 15, 2022 | Sports Friends Perú, Sports Friends The Americas

God’s sense of timing is clearly different from ours. With just a few decades on this earth, we feel limitations press hard against our hopes and ambitions. Sometimes the many challenges we face in life and ministry seem to threaten the vision we trust God has given, and we turn to Him again and again for direction, affirmation, clarity, encouragement, endurance, and replenishment. Perhaps those pressures are all part of the plan. They certainly haven’t surprised the sovereign Lord, and He certainly has His eye and ear carefully attuned to the children He so loves.

Sports Friends sent their first workers to Peru, South America, in 2012. About 70% of the national population identifies as Catholic, though far fewer practice faithfully, and less than a third of youth consider themselves religious. While it seems that church has lost its appeal to young people and the next generation has been disconnected from God, Jesus’s pursuit of them has not diminished. His followers have not lost interest in their young people, either, so when pastors and workers in Peru asked for help connecting with them, Sports Friends responded.

It was a slow start and a long road for a small staff who had a lot to learn about how to fit into the cultural context. Individual Christian men and women would show up for training, excited about the idea of sports ministry, but they were not actually committed to working with the church and often failed to follow through. The team endured a lot of frustration as they struggled to gain traction. It was five years before they could form a solid partnership with a national denomination and start to really connect with pastors through consistent vision sharing and repetitive training.

As national leadership welcomed more Peruvians to join the staff and listened to their insights, significant cultural adjustments took place. They made schedules look more Peruvian, and local volunteers engaged more. They translated subtle differences in speech and body language that told them when “yes” or “no” was the polite answer or the reliable answer to their questions. They determined how and with whom to build relationships with church leaders in order to cultivate commitment and effective ministry. Passionate volunteers shared a contagious zeal to pursue young people in harder to reach areas of the city, the jungle, the mountains. They were making progress.

New challenges arose, however. Life pulled national and international staff in and out of leadership roles, making team unity and expansion difficult. Inconsistency with coach trainers made it hard to grow in depth and breadth. Then the pandemic shut down everything that had been working, and plunged Peruvian families into deep dysfunction as education ceased for many, youth delinquency climbed, adult mental health suffered, and child abuse skyrocketed. Sports Friends Peru, like the rest of the world, felt pressure like never before.

Two years of isolation and increased hardship has done a positive work as well, though. People of all ages are emerging with a readiness for something significant. Last fall nine men gathered for Basic Training and within weeks had all started sports ministries through their churches. They have also created a camaraderie among themselves, regularly connecting to encourage and pray with each other, share tips, and support one another in their mutual pursuit of expanding God’s kingdom among the youth they serve. Their love and unity is inspiring in a culture that is typically slow to extend trust or show vulnerability.

These and other new ministries are discovering what God has done in the hearts of youth over the past two years. As coaches arrived in communities to invite young people to join teams, the youth were ready and waiting. Many have noticed their deep thirst for the things ofGod. They are telling their coaches that even if they don’t get to practice soccer they want to study the Bible. They’re hungry for what He has to say about life, hope, and purpose, and how they can live differently. The awareness came at a price, but its value can’t be measured.

So perhaps prolonged hardship isn’t evidence of failure or forgotten-ness. Perhaps our growing pains press us more into Christ’s image as He meets us in them, ready to reshape our ideas and methods, to remove the obstacles within us, to take our hand and teach us what we could not have otherwise learned. Perhaps He can reveal our own deeper and purer desires when our more temporal pursuits become unsatisfactory or simply out of reach. Perhaps through painful endurance He imparts a courage and confidence that ease will never offer, wisdom that is hard-won, and a greater capacity for awe and wonder, gratitude and deep delight, than a smoother road could lead us to.