JOHANNESBURG (BP)–Four years away from their own county hosting the World Cup, a mission team of nearly 200 Brazilians is in South Africa to spread the Good News.
They shared the Gospel through soccer and health clinics; puppets and plays; and arts, crafts and sewing classes. Representing 25 denominations, the volunteers came under the coordination of the Brazilian Baptist International Mission Board.
“I will never be the same,” said João Batista, who helped out at the health clinic in Zandspruit, an informal settlement in Honeydew, on the outskirts of Johannesburg. “I will go back [to Brazil] a different person. This has changed my life.”
Marcos Grava, who is leading the group, is the sports evangelism coordinator of the Brazilian Baptist International Mission Board and the International Sports Coalition coordinator for Brazil. He prays the Brazilian church will wake up to the opportunities international sports events present, where people from many nations — including those closed to the Gospel — flock to see their team compete.
In 2014 the world will converge on Brazil for the next soccer World Cup; two years later it will do the same for the Olympics. The opportunities boggle the imagination. There is much work to be done before and during those strategic events. But right now, Grava’s attention is on South Africa.
“When we do this kind of outreach during Olympics or World Cups we don’t focus only on the tourist,” he said. “We focus also on the local people. In this case we have concentrated our efforts and resources, energy and time on the African people. But we also go in front of stadiums.”
Ricardo Ximenes, a member of Atletas de Cristo (an organization of Christian athletes) and part of the Brazilian volunteer mission group, came to South Africa to help conduct soccer clinics in underprivileged neighborhoods. Boys were divided into three age groups and taught accordingly. The fundamentals of soccer, such as how to pass and control the ball, were taught through practical exercises. After the exercises, the boys formed a circle and parallels were drawn between soccer fundamentals and spiritual principles. The love of God and the Good News about forgiveness in Christ were then shared with the children.
Grava said security is tighter in South Africa than recent past events in China or Rio de Janeiro, as even the “fan zones” (designated parks where fans can watch matches on big screens) are being tightly controlled. The volunteers were unable to distribute bottled water and tracts in a fan zone during Brazil’s match against North Korea. They were also prohibited from performing some of the theatrics they had planned to present to fans close to a stadium.
Despite the barriers, Grava said he considers the fruit of their efforts very positive. “If we consider the weather — very, very cold; people were walking fast and trying to get into the stadium as fast as they could — and if we consider the security — very tight, not allowing us to do many things — I would say it was very, very positive, because people from my group could meet people from everywhere, and talk in English, Spanish and Portuguese, even in Arabic, and share some things. So it was an amazing time.”
Based on a story by Ricardo Green, a member of the IMB Global Communication Team.