Western Guinea Pigs

Sep 27, 2022 | Sports Friends Canada

In Canada, the Sports Friends ministry has developed a bit differently than in other places, and not only because it took shape during lockdown. Sports Friends Canada has voluntarily become the guinea pig:  the experimental body for a western version of the ministry*. In case you missed it, you can read about the origins of Sports Friends in Canada here. Partnering with churches for strategic engagement methods is common; the unique twist to this story, though, is its first-world setting. 

Since peoples’ basic needs are more easily met, the west is notably a land of opportunity. It  provides free education, community offerings, and abundant recreational options to young people. The majority of our field locations lack such resources, so the simple invitation to a free soccer team is all it takes to build meaningful relationship with local youth. Western disciples, however, find that their culture’s relatively affluent lifestyle creates competition to the gospel even in social connectedness and play. The felt needs of the young people are not the same; youth interested in sports can readily find a league to participate in, most are already attending school and have social groups. That said, the unique timing of Sports Friends’ arrival in Canada was perfectly matched to the unique needs westerners were feeling as result of the pandemic eliminating those opportunities. People had briefly felt what it was like to be disallowed the activities and relationships they had always taken advantage of. 

First-world affluence can cross new barriers, too. As the Sports Friends ministry in Canada was born in the middle of a global pandemic and social lockdown, much of the communication and early training was done on virtual platforms. Workers in internet communication helped leaders develop and implement online vision-casting and training for sports ministers in Canada. Common technology that spans entire nations from a single leader’s desk is obviously helpful in a nation that is more than 7,000 km wide! The virtual training concept and relative normality of doing life mostly online has opened the door for churches everywhere to access Sports Friends’ highly-reproducible model.  For the many losses incurred by the pandemic, many accelerating gains are being discovered. Teams continue to work developing these modules and seeking how God desires to use more robust and integrated technology to advance church-centered sports ministry strategies worldwide. 

If you don’t feel you can leave the developed world, have doubted that your non-athletic skills could be useful, but have felt drawn to work in sports ministry… let us know! More than ever we see that “the harvest is plentiful but the workers are few” (Matthew 9:37). We see incredible opportunity for growth and expansion to offer our services and strategies to those who are asking for help. We see masses of young people and families hungry for engagement, relationship, and something real. We see the subtle and not-so-subtle effects of stress, isolation, and discouragement on first-world communities. We see “melting pot” nations swelled with diversity but unable to connect meaningfully with each other despite their loneliness and need for each other’s perspectives. We need more workers! We need coaches and coach trainers. We need administrative personnel, finance professionals, writers, designers, social media specialists, camp organizers, mobilizers, ministry coordinators, and more.  Join us in asking the Lord of the harvest for more workers, but don’t stop until you’ve asked Him if you’re one of them.  Spending these few years on earth building what lasts throughout eternity is always worth it. 

*Sports Friends has worked with refugees in the US since 2018, but engagement with these populations has been slightly more familiar to Sports Friends workers: moving into a dense and somewhat uniform population that faces crisis, social injustice, or system failure, then building a loving, encouraging, Jesus-centered place to belong.