Showing Up, Part I

Oct 11, 2021 | Sports Friends The Americas

He defends the cause of the fatherless and the widow, and loves the foreigner residing among you, giving them food and clothing. And you are to love those who are foreigners, for you yourselves were foreigners in Egypt. 

-Deuteronomy 10:19

In 2017, Sports Friends planted a ministry team in the United States. Though this nation was founded and still identifies as the “land of the free”, many newcomers must struggle to benefit from their new freedom. It is difficult in the best of circumstances to learn a new language, adjust to life in a foreign culture, or establish a sense of community in a strange land. Refugees fleeing war, oppression, famine, or other humanitarian crises arrive in survival mode, ill-prepared to make major life transitions, and traumatized by what they’ve already endured. Many do not speak English, have few to no connections, are completely unequipped to navigate the systems, and have few resources to rely on.

One Sports Friends family saw a huge opportunity to follow in the footsteps of Jesus by welcoming refugee and immigrant families and extending God’s love to them. Sure enough, all it took was showing up in a park with a handful of kids, a soccer ball, and the love of the Savior. We interviewed this family about what God is doing in the lives of America’s often-unseen residents, and you’re going to love this story!

So how did the work in North America begin?

By God’s grace, in 2017, we moved into a US city with a clear calling to reach out to refugee and immigrant communities. We moved into a neighborhood where a lot of our new neighbors were living, and we just started going to the park! Three or four times a week, our family went to the park and let our kids play with their kids. Our kids had been growing up in another country until that point, so they were also new to both America and this neighborhood. Over time, the community found out that I was a soccer coach, and they asked me to coach a team for their boys. That’s how it began! In a park, in a normal rhythm of life, in families, in kids playing together. 

So what about the team there now? How did it form and grow over the years?

God impressed on us that we were to be a faithful presence, that His people are supposed to SHOW UP for their new neighbors.  We believe that Acts 17 is coming to fruition right here! God is moving the boundaries of the nations so that men might seek Him and find Him. We believe that God has shaken things up in some of these places in the Middle East. He has brought them by His sovereign hand to our neighborhoods. We began to share [this vision] with local churches and other people began to see what God was doing and say, “I want to be a faithful presence, too.” So these individuals showed up two-to-three times a week, playing in the park! As the number of foreign kids and families coming together grew, our volunteers also brought more friends interested in helping. Now we have trained several coaches, and God brought others into the picture in various support roles. We have teams here playing in local leagues with Jesus followers (Sports Friends coaches) working with them.

How many workers do you have now? 

We have four full-time folks here, but there are 45 volunteers committed to the work and serving in different ways. God has simply gone before us and called people to SHOW UP. We have ten football (soccer) teams and a cricket team! There are also several other initiatives in the works: running, hiking, biking, camping… We believe God’s Spirit is working. His Spirit is already working in the park when we show up. He works with our little, our weakness, when we just show up.

Can you tell us a story or two of how God has answered specific prayers throughout this endeavor?

Just yesterday! We sat down with a new coach, a woman from a church down the road that we had never met. She had played collegiate soccer and worked with refugees and immigrants, and has a huge passion to mobilize her church! God is connecting advocates to love the stranger! 

We praise God especially for our lady coaches, who are so unified. Girls in the population we work with were never allowed to play soccer in their countries of origin, and now they come together with ladies who love Jesus, and they get to play.

We are also praising God for new connections with a specific coach who loves the Lord, has played professionally, and could add depth to the competitive side of sport. Some churches are partnering together to hire him to improve our teams.

This is amazing what God is doing! We can’t wait to hear more!