JOHANNESBURG (BP)–Over the next 31 days, 20 Baptist journalists will spread across South Africa to report on the ministries and matches of the 2010 FIFA World Cup.
Often described as the greatest sporting event on earth, the soccer tournament, which occurs every four years, encompasses 32 teams from around the world playing in 64 matches from June 11-July 11.
The group of writers, photographers and videographers — most of whom serve with the International Mission Board — will split into several teams to cover stories in host cities Johannesburg, Pretoria, Cape Town, Durban, Port Elizabeth and Rustenburg, as well as smaller towns.
The media teams will focus on missionaries and volunteer teams holding sports clinics, kids clubs, street evangelism and other ministries to share the Gospel with local and international soccer fans throughout South Africa.
The journalists also will cover Christian athletes competing in the World Cup; the majority of these believers are from the United States, Brazil and the Ivory Coast. One of them, USA goalkeeper Tim Howard, was interviewed by IMB journalists at an open practice during the week of June 7.
“When we said we were with Baptist Press he got a smile on his face,” photographer Nicole Clark* recounted. “… I think it’s important to share the Christian athletes’ stories — even if you don’t care about Team USA or Brazil or whoever, you can still appreciate how God has impacted their life.”
Howard’s story will be released on BP Sports during the week of June 14.
A focal point of the journalism teams’ coverage is a daily 90-second video podcast featuring ministry and tournament highlights along with cultural tidbits from South Africa.
In addition, they will produce several multimedia packages each week, consisting of text stories, video features, photo galleries and audio clips. From these coverages, producers in the newsroom in Johannesburg will select a photo of the day, quote of the day, video clip of the day and prayer request of the day.
The team also will provide game reports and ongoing updates of Christian athletes and coaches.
Content will be available on BP News (www.bpnews.net), BP Sports (www.bpsports.net) and BP en Español (www.bpnews.net/espanol) as well as Christian websites www.worldsoccerjourneys.com and www.mreport.org.
“It’ll be a lot of work,” said Steve Evans, director of the IMB communication team for Africa, “but I think it’s worth it. The World Cup is a platform to pinpoint what God is doing in the cities of South Africa, and what still needs to be done.”
Around 60 percent of South Africa’s residents are urban dwellers. Although many have heard the Gospel, it has not necessarily penetrated their hearts and transformed their lives.
“In my journeys of Africa,” photographer Graham Isaacs* said, “[I’ve seen that] a lot of people know who Jesus is, they know the stories, and they would tell you that they know Him personally, but when you dig a little bit deeper they really don’t have a full grasp of who Christ is and the relationship that He has a desire to have with us.”
Christians in South Africa plan to take advantage of the World Cup fever to share Christ with those who don’t know Him. Churches will host soccer clubs, broadcast matches on big screens and organize other forms of outreach, hoping to draw in community members who don’t typically attend church.
“My goal is to not just tell the stories,” video producer Martha Richards said, “but to tell them in such a way that it challenges people to get personally involved one way or another, so that when they’ve viewed our materials, they won’t just say, ‘Oh that’s cool,’ and walk away, but that it will really touch them in some way and challenge them toward some kind of action.”
Baptist Press executive editor Will Hall said BP wants to provide stories specifically geared toward its Hispanic constituents.
“We have loyal readers of BP En Español and I trust this coverage will be a blessing to them. It also is an effort to reach out to the growing Hispanic membership in the SBC,” Hall said.
Although soccer is still gaining popularity in the United States, it’s a national obsession in many countries in Middle and South America. Hall thinks World Cup coverage that includes a Christian perspective is a good way to reach out to a growing Hispanic population that can be reached via the Internet.
“Spanish is the fourth most-spoken language in the world, but only about 3 percent of materials on the Web are in Spanish,” Hall said. “Just in the U.S. alone, 25 million Hispanics are regularly online, and research shows that cultural events that bind them create a unique set of opportunities for reaching them in both English and Spanish.”
The IMB journalists hope their coverage will mobilize Latin American Baptists to get involved in missions in South Africa.
“Culturally, there are so many similarities between Africans and Latin Americans,” Evans said. “South America is becoming a dominant force in international missions, and we want to steer them towards Africa.”
For content in Spanish, visit BP en Español and www.historiasdelmundial.com. For Portuguese content, visit www.jornadadefutebolmundial.com.
*Names changed for security reasons. Melanie Clinton is a writer and editor for IMB.