Unstoppable Camaraderie

Feb 7, 2022 | Sports Friends Africa, Sports Friends Malawi

What happens to church-centered sports ministry in southeast Africa when a global pandemic shuts the entire country down? What happens when worshippers are no longer allowed to gather together corporately, or even to mingle freely with their neighbors because the risk of viral spread is too high? What happens when soccer and netball teams of children and young adults are not permitted to come together for practice, and tournaments are impossible? It would seem to be a death sentence for a ministry based on relationship, teamwork, and sharing life together. 

However, it is precisely that lifestyle of relationship, teamwork, and life-sharing that has sustained not only the ministry but the lives and hope of so many young people who make up the teams. In times of life’s most agonizing isolation, Sports Friends Malawi worked hard to ensure that trainers and coaches were supported and strengthened. Leaders strategized and used common technology to hold regular video conferences with each other. They shared each other’s burdens in prayer and (virtual) presence. They encouraged each other with reports of God’s faithfulness and provision. They studied the Bible together and pressed into the God of their faith. They also invited the pastors they partner with, to stay connected and encourage them. Everyone knows that times of suffering are not times to be alone, so this barrier of physical separation would not keep Christ-followers from each other. They maintained relationships, lifted each other up, and witnessed God caring for their souls’ needs. 

Then the Sports Friends food distributions began in summer of 2020. The local church and the entire community were amazed and encouraged. People had lost their jobs, businesses, income. Receiving support during such a time of need revealed God’s personal commitment to them. Families and neighbors of young people engaged with Sports Friends saw that God is caring for their children and blessing them. Church leaders were so grateful when they discovered that Sports Friends was not just partnering with them in the gospel, but in meeting basic needs of the people.

“It’s like we hold each other’s hands in the good times as well as in the bad times. We are partners,” reports Fostance, Sports Friends Malawi’s Team Leader. God cares about the physical needs of His people.

When small gatherings were permitted but practices and tournaments could not be planned yet, coaches held small Bible study groups with their team members. They would not be kept from these youth they loved, who needed faithful leadership. Four or five young people would meet with their coach to dig into God’s Word together, pray together, and discuss their personal situations or struggles. During these small Bible study times, coaches saw numerous young people, often from drastically different religious background, come to faith in Jesus. It is always profound to discover that in Jesus, God is with us in hard times. He cares for the spiritual needs of His people. 

This is the heart of Sports Friends.

It’s not just about sports and tournaments. It’s about daily walking with people through life, sharing the love of Christ, and helping others to grow in their faith. It’s about letting Jesus serve young people and families through us in just the right ways for the time and needs at hand. So even when the football stops, the ministry continues, and young people and their families continue coming to faith in the Son of God.

But yes, we’re still glad to get back onto the sports fields as soon as they open up! Laughter and play does wonderful things along the journey of healing, and we will stay together, enduring together, and healing together, under the banner of God’s love.