The apostle Paul wrote to the Corinthians that “love always protects” (1 Corinthians 13:7). The Sports Friends model thrives because more than 12,000 volunteer coaches embody this feature of God’s kind of love to the young people they work with. The teams are not like standard recreational (or competitive) sport leagues the West is familiar with. Coaches volunteer and train in order to mark young people’s lives with the love of God. Two stories from Ethiopia reflect the powerful bond between coaches and players who love each other fiercely.
One coach had access only to a small field that trucks sometimes used as a temporary parking lot. As the boys were practicing a drill one day, a large truck came and parked right on their field. The players asked the driver and his assistant to move the truck and park somewhere else, but they would not. The intruders yelled at the youth and began to threaten them.
Frustrated at being disregarded and bullied out of their practice field, the boys began throwing rocks at the truck driver. Unfortunately, one stone struck the windshield and broke it. The driver was enraged and began chasing the boys down to beat them for their bad behavior resulting in damage to his property. The coach intercepted him and promised he would take full responsibility upon himself. Because he was unable to pay immediately, the truck driver had the coach arrested.
The team went to their homes and told their families what had happened, that their beloved coach was in jail for their crime. By morning the families had pooled together enough money to pay restitution for the windshield and get the coach out of jail. Multiple lessons were learned that day, but most clearly the team (and their families) saw a love that would take their punishment upon itself so that they could go free.
Another coach in Ethiopia lived in a region rife with ethnic and religious conflict. An angry mob, zealous for their own religion, was systematically burning down Christian churches in the area. By the end of their rampage, more than 100 orthodox and evangelical churches had been burned to the ground.
However, when the mob approached the local SF coach’s church, the young people from his soccer team ran ahead of them and linked arms, forming a barrier between their church and its attackers. They stood firm, yelling, “You must kill us before you burn down our church!” This caused quite a disturbance, particularly because some of the soccer players happened to be the sons and little brothers of the rioters. In the end their commitment to their coach and his faith prevailed.
They knew what they had was worth fighting for, and God fought with them. This ended up the only church in the region left standing.
Persecution will come, and in some of our countries the resistance to the message of Christ feels crushing. Jesus describes this as ultimately a mark of God’s favor; faithfulness has always faced worldly opposition and will always reap eternal rewards (Matthew 5:11). Trouble will come in this world, and Jesus told us to be ready for it. “But take heart,” He said, “for I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33).
We don’t always get to see quick victories like these, but while we wait elsewhere to see what God is going to do, we will still believe Him, and live like love never fails.