JOHANNESBURG, South Africa (BP)–While the world’s focus has been on 32 national teams competing for the prestigious FIFA World Cup trophy, activities of high significance are taking place behind the scenes.
Christian volunteers from around the world have ventured to South Africa to work with local ministries and churches, tapping into World Cup fever.
Hundreds of volunteers with ministries such as the IMB’s International World Changers and Athletes in Action arrived in South Africa to conduct soccer camps, holiday Bible clubs and specialized sports ministries. The workers have traveled from the United States, Canada, Brazil, France, Liberia and Ethiopia, among other nations.
In addition, churches affiliated with Baptist conventions in North Carolina and Virginia joined South African Baptist churches and International Mission Board missionaries to strengthen and expand local ministries.
IMB missionaries themselves organized evangelistic initiatives, match and film showings in church facilities, and church planting efforts.
The fruit of their labor is evident. In Cape Town alone, where North Carolina Baptist volunteers served alongside IMB missionaries, local Baptist seminary students and a nearby Baptist church, 287 youth and children in three Life Champs Day Camps professed faith in Jesus Christ.
IMB missionary Bonnie Doughtie, evangelism team strategy leader in Cape Town, said, “It’s been a huge impact, and now our work is to disciple [the youth and children] and point them in the direction they need to go.”
While volunteers and missionaries see the World Cup as a platform and opportunity for sharing the Gospel, the message they share is that life not only goes on after the World Cup, but that there is more to life than sports.
“Yes, sports can transform your life, but what about life after sport?” Sylvester Harris asked eager young South African athletes at a soccer clinic in Johannesburg. “Most professional soccer players are finished at the age of 30. Remember, sports is temporary,” said Harris, a member of an Athletes in Action team from Liberia.
His team leader, George Blackstock, told Baptist Press, “Though sports teaches many good life skills that are key to leading a successful life, many young men only see the glamour and money that sports can bring. They don’t realize that they must prepare themselves for life after sports.”
Providing a safe haven for children on school holidays has been a key emphasis for those ministering during the month-long World Cup tournament in South Africa, where children can be at risk for crime, drugs and human trafficking.
During activities organized by mission volunteers, local churches and missionaries, children learned about the day-to-day dangers they face and how to stay clear of them.
“It’s important for the church to have an image in the community of being a place where their children will be safe,” said IMB missionary Jeff Holder, who serves in the coastal town of George. “It’s a testimony in this community of a caring church.”
Charles Braddix is a writer with the IMB, currently in South Africa as part of a media team providing sports and ministry coverage during the World Cup tournament. To learn more about the events and ministries around the World Cup, visit www.WorldSoccerJourneys.com, an IMB website, and www.mReport.org, an inter-organizational website.