Churches use soccer to share the gospel and message of nonviolence

©2016 Baptist Standard Publishing

Churches use soccer to share the gospel and message of nonviolence

Mexican children celebrate receiving a trophy in a tournament sponsored by Baptist churches in the Guadalajara area. (PHOTO/Kalie Lowrie)

As little boys gathered in preparation for the final game of their soccer tournament in Arenas, Mexico, Pedro Munoz—Texas Baptist River Ministry regional coordinator— recognized a teachable moment.

“Some of you will be winners today, as your team wins the tournament. But all of you can be winners, if you give your life to Jesus Christ,” he said.

soccer david balyeat425David Balyeat, former missionary to Argentina and president of No Mas Violencia, a nonprofit ministry based on Sunnyvale, spreads the gospel as the antidote to violence during a sports-evangelism trip to Mexico. (PHOTO/Kalie Lowrie)

Arenas, a small community outside of Guadalajara, can be very dangerous—particularly on the outskirts of town, where drugs and violence are more prevalent. When Munoz was on the street the previous day conducting door-to-door evangelism, he encountered teenagers who had drugs in hand.

The need for Jesus in the Guadalajara area can be overwhelming at times, he observed. Only about 2 percent of people living in the region profess to be Christians, making it comparable to the “10/40 window” missions experts describe in North Africa and the Middle East.

But in the last five years, Baptists have started seven churches in and around Guadalajara through a partnership involving the Baptist General Convention of Texas, the Mexican Baptist Convention and the Emmanuel Baptist Regional Association.

As the new churches looked for ways to minister to their community and build relationships, soccer provided an effective avenue for outreach. During the height of World Cup excitement in early summer, the new churches sponsored soccer tournaments in their neighborhoods for children and adults. Texas Baptist River Ministry Director Daniel Rangel and several regional River Ministry coordinators traveled to Guadalajara to help.

soccer game425Young people participate in a soccer tournament, sponsored by Baptist churches in the area around Guadalajara, Mexico. (PHOTO/Kalie Lowrie)

Participants played soccer anywhere they could find enough space—even on outdoor basketball courts in the center of communities—and often in areas without any official soccer league or any type of organized sports activities.

The churches discovered the tournaments gave boys and girls something exciting to look forward to, and several committed their lives to Christ during the week after hearing the gospel at outreach events.

The theme for the tournaments was No Mas Violencia, a program developed by David Balyeat and endorsed by Texas Baptists. Balyeat provided training for church leaders, equipping them to begin conversations about violence in homes and communities. He taught them how to reach out and minister through simple messages rooted in biblical principles.

“Many of the people we work with have real violence in their homes. Drug addiction, delinquency, vandalism—there is something happening in the home that is causing all of this,” said Ana Maria Hernandez Alcala, a church planter in the area. “This program will help us look at the need in a different perspective and find ways to help.”

soccer nomasviolencia banner425Supporters display a “No Mas Violencia” banner.

Before and after the soccer games, church leaders talked with participants about the importance of respecting one another and stopping violence in their families and communities. Neighbors embraced the theme of the tournament.

“The phrase ‘no more violence’ resonates in a country where there is violence,” Balyeat said. “As Christians, we should not be the ones who build barriers but the ones that take them down and facilitate conversations. That is the bridge we build in order to speak about where peace can come from.”

Church leaders not only taught the message of nonviolence, but also provided an alternative activity for children, teenagers and adults. In the process, members of the community learned where the church was located and who was involved.

“The community now knows the church is there, and when there is a crisis, they come looking for us to help,” Alcala said. “Sharing God’s love is what has allowed us to open the doors to help.”

Churches use soccer to share the gospel and message of nonviolence