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FIRST-PERSON: Despite U.S. loss at World Cup, we gain by staying tuned in

DEERFIELD, Ill. (BP)–I played a little soccer as a youngster. Then, as a teenager, I discovered a brawnier game in which the ball was thrown, tossed and carried; the only person who touched the ball with his foot was the lone soccer player on the squad, and that only on kickoffs and extra points.

Then I went on a summer mission trip to Ireland. There I realized that to the international community, soccer is “football.” And football requires using your feet. And this football reigns supreme.

So when the World Cup comes around every four years, millions of people and hundreds of nations turn their attention singly to football’s greatest stage. In Ireland, for instance, public transportation stops when their Green Men take the field. One could take a nap in the middle of any main street in Dublin during an Irish match. And this year in Senegal, for example, public school was called off so students could celebrate the upset victory over France. According to international newspaper headlines, nations “grieve” after significant losses.

The United States has been lacking in enthusiasm when it comes to one of the world’s most universally played sports. We have our national championships — the Super Bowl, baseball’s World Series (don’t they really mean “national”?) and, to a lesser extent post-Jordan, the NBA finals. The surprising success of the U.S. team this year, though, has stimulated greater interest in the World Cup nationally.

However, now that the U.S has lost to Germany 1-0 in the quarterfinals, many will be tempted to neglect the sports page and sleep later in the mornings. Christians in this country, however, should continue to pay some attention to the World Cup. Let me offer some reasons:

It’s a great way to connect with people from all over the world. You might have a Senagelese neighbor who would love to talk with you about that “equalizer” in the Brazil-England match. This simple connection might become an inroad for a gospel witness.

It can get us thinking globally rather than nationally. Take group B of the tournament: Spain, Slovenia, Paraguay and South Africa. Such a grouping reminds us how broad, big and diverse is our world.

Like any good sport, it can offer the observer significant life lessons. Ireland’s valiant play in the tournament, despise having sent home their greatest player, Roy Keane, after a rude, insubordinate outlash, suggests that team chemistry is more important than raw individual talent.

And: A gathering of nations, such as that represented in the World Cup, is reflective of the nature of the body of Christ and of the future gathering of his bride. As Revelation 5:10 tells us, Christ has redeemed believers “out of every tribe and tongue and people and nation, and has made us kings and priests to our God.”
Roberts is a member of Evanston (Ill.) Baptist Church and a doctoral student at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School in Deerfield.

    About the Author

  • Kyle Roberts