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Decisions for Christ are the greatest World Cup result

JOHANNESBURG, South Africa (BP)–Ten stadiums, 32 nations, 64 matches, four weeks and one winner. They all add up to the 2010 FIFA World Cup, held in South Africa from June 11 to July 11.

It was an intense time, full of victories and defeat. The fans cheered or wept. The rich and famous gathered to see and be seen. The teams gave it their all. And Christian ministries took advantage of opportunities that may never come again.

Dignitaries and heads of state from at least 20 nations arrived to celebrate the festivities and were joined by royalty and celebrities. The list includes Princes William and Harry of England, King Juan Carlos and Queen Sofia of Spain, former U.S. president Bill Clinton, rock star Mick Jagger and soccer legend David Beckham.

But it was the fans, apart from the teams themselves, who made the World Cup memorable. They arrived in the hundreds of thousands, faces painted, wearing outlandish costumes, and enthusiastic to cheer on their teams.

South Africans caught World Cup fever en masse.

This was to be Africa’s World Cup. For the first time ever, the competition was held on African soil. But five of its six teams bowed out early, leaving Ghana the sole responsibility of pulling Africa through. After defeating the United States in the round of 16 and advancing to the quarterfinals, Ghana acquiesced to Uruguay.

Still, Africa is proud. It pulled off what many thought it could never do — host the world’s most popular sporting event. Accolades came from FIFA authorities, political personalities, footballers, celebrities and fans.

“South Africa should be really proud of themselves,” said German chancellor Angela Merkel. “I told President Jacob Zuma that they’re doing a great job and that they’ve gained the respect of the whole world. It’s been a huge victory for the people of South Africa. When we look back on the tournament in the future, we’ll remember Africa in a different light.”

From early on, though, it seemed South America would prevail. All five of its teams did well, with four making it to the quarterfinals and one, Uruguay, to the semifinals. The world was shocked when the Netherlands knocked out Brazil and saddened to see South America’s other teams drop out one by one.

In spite of Team USA being eliminated in the round of 16, they won the hearts of America. U.S. fans were the second-largest group of ticketholders in South Africa and set television and Internet usage records in the United States. Now the sport seems firmly planted on American soil, and the United States is making a bid to host the World Cup in 2018 or 2022.

Clarence Goodson, a defender on the U.S. squad and an outspoken Christian, said, “It’s nice that people are taking notice and really getting behind our team.”

But in the end, it turned out to be a European World Cup, with Europe taking first, second and third place. Spain was crowned the champion, followed by the Netherlands and Germany.

For some the World Cup was four weeks of fierce competition. For others it was a month-long party. Yet for another group, which is as passionate about its goal as the world’s best soccer teams are about theirs, the World Cup provided an opportunity to shine in a much different light — sharing the Good News of Jesus Christ.

Joseph Jacobs, chief operating officer of The Ultimate Goal (TUG), a soccer-oriented ministry organization in South Africa, said, “I believe that together we contributed to actually getting our country and our people to become Jesus-like — loving people and creating an experience for people that they will never forget.”

Now that the World Cup is over, Jacobs insists the organization cannot die.

“What we have seen here is something amazing that we have never seen before,” he said, praising how ministry organizations, mission agencies and churches of different denominations worked together for the common goal of showing the love of Christ to all peoples and nations.

International Mission Board worker Wade Coker, responsible for evangelism and church planting strategies in Southern Africa, is happy with what was accomplished throughout the World Cup.

“The goals we had for the World Cup were to primarily impact South Africa and the people of South Africa in our urban areas,” Corker said. “From all the reports I’m hearing, the goals were accomplished in that we did go into these townships and had a great impact.

“Thousands upon thousands of people had the Gospel presented to them either in a written form or in verbal witness, and there have been hundreds of decisions made for Christ,” Corker said.

The “shine” for Jesus could be seen on the field as well. Some of the game’s superstars openly talk about life being more than sports, referring to a goal that is much greater than even a World Cup victory.

“Independent of what you have, who you are, where you play, what you do, apart from your work or your profession, Jesus loves you the same,” said Lucio, captain of the Brazilian team and a member of a Baptist church in Brazil. “For me, I see this when I win or even when I fail. In God’s eyes, I’m the same person, and He’s going to continue to love me just the same.”

U.S. goalie Tim Howard expressed similar beliefs.

“I am blessed to be living a dream,” Howard said, “and yet, if it all went away tomorrow, I know I would still have peace. That probably sounds crazy to most people, but that’s the kind of peace Christ gives.”
Charles Braddix is a writer and photographer for the International Mission Board.

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  • Charles Braddix