From Feb 18-March 25, Rick McKinley, Josh Woltmann and Leo Medeiros were in Brazil for the Chicago Eagles Summer Academy for their set up trip and international training (level 1). Here's a short summary of their time there:
We spent 5 days with our brothers and sisters from Batista Nova Alianca Church in Ribeirao Preto. The main purpose of our time there was to plan our coming trip in June and to run a sports ministry training. Our contacts there are Thiago and Lidia who are part of Batista Nova Aliaca’s leadership and have ministered with us each of the last 3 summers (in Brazil and in the US). We first met Thiago and Lidia during one of our previous ministry trips while they were students at Word of Life in Atibaia-SP. Thiago is working with the youth and missions and Lidia does administration for the church. It was great to spend time with Thiago and Lidia (and baby Ana).
We have decided that we will spend our first week of our missions trip in Ribeirao Preto. Our time there will include evangelism and clinics at a state-of-the-art gym. We will also be able to use the facility for fitness, lifting and practices (indoor court). We will partner with Botafogo de Ribeirao Preto, a professional soccer club and will play their U-15 and U-17 teams, as well as teams from China and Kazikstan. We will also visit two soccer projects that are going on in needy areas: playing matches, running clinics and sharing. We will be spending time with the church (youth meetings, service, sermon, testimonies, worship etc.), and conducting sports ministry sessions with our players. The church is very excited and supportive and is deeply involved in all the planning.
While we were in Ribeirao Preto, we also had a group of 12 leaders attend our international training seminar. They were very excited and had great ideas for sports ministry projects in and out of the church. Thiago and Lidia are following up with all of them to make sure the ideas and planning lead to action. The participants of the course will also minister with us when we bring the teams in the summer.
Following our time in Ribeirão Preto, Josh and Rick traveled to Rio. While there, we met with Miriam, who is our main church contact. We met with the senior pastor of our main church partner. It was in this church, during the Pan American Games in 2007, that the vision of developing on-going sports ministry partners in Brazil really began to take shape! From 2007-2010, we linked together with this church, and saw some dynamic church-centered sports ministry develop. In subsequent years, we included players from their church soccer teams while we ministered in other cities of Brazil. A highlight from this trip was when we ran into David (blue shirt), whom we had met in 2010. He shared how significant our time together had been that year, because he had become a Christian just prior to our trip. He said the time we had together was a huge encouragement in his walk with Christ, and he is excited for our return. We are eager to return and work once again with this long-time partner, assisting them during the World Cup in their ongoing sports ministry strategies.
A Look Back: Bangladesh
Graham West is a missionary in the International Department of Missionary Athletes International. Graham and his family have been with MAI for 20+ years. Graham had the unique experience of being apart of one of the first ever international tours to Bangaldesh for MAI. We asked him a few questions about the trip.
What motivated you to go the Bangladesh? After going on one previous MAI tour and experiencing how God could use my gifts and abilities for Him, I was motivated to go on the next possible tour. The Bangladesh tour was unique in the sense that we would be taking a high level team into a difficult ministry environment. This also intrigued me.
Why did you choose Bangladesh? The Bangladesh tour was set up by Brian Davidson and Jon Ortlip in response to a request by some contacts that had ministry there. We also had 4 or 5 players on our tour that were missionary kids that grew up in Bangladesh. At the time of this tour, however, as a predominantly Muslim country, the Bangladesh government was kicking missionaries out of the country. But they did not kick out the missionaries at a hospital compound we were based because it was the best hospital in the country. We were allowed in the country because we were a "high level soccer team".
What was the purpose of the trip to Bangladesh? Because of the nature of the environment there, one of the purposes of the tour was to serve our partners by helping attract individuals to respond to a flyer that consisted of our roster/photo as well as a note inviting them to write for material allowing them to "know more about their Creator". In order to gain access into the country our platform was initially provided by way of an invitation by the Bangladesh Football Federation to represent the US to play in the President's Cup, a tournament consisting primarily of a number of national teams from around the region. Iran was also invited and when they found out we were coming as a US team, they threatened to boycott the tournament. So, we withdrew from the Cup and, instead, set up matches with professional teams around the country. Not playing in this tournament ended up being a blessing because by playing these other teams we were able to reach much more of the country. Over 6,000 people eventually responded to the flyer and were followed up by christian nationals.
Was it a one-time trip or did you return back? MAI team members returned a year or two after this trip and encouraged many of the believers that we had come in contact with.
What was a memorable moment on the trip? The crowds there were enormous. There were between 10,000 - 50,000 fans either in main stadiums against their national team (who had won the Presidents Cup while we were in the country and we eventually played) or other high level teams in venues off the beaten path. An unbelievable moment was talking with a Christian lying in a hospital bed. His feet were black and charred and his neck was wrapped up with bloody gauze. He was persecuted for being a Christian by having his house set on fire. When he ran out of his burning house, they cut his throat with a machete. To see the sacrifice, dedication and perseverance of these Christians living in this country was overwhelming.
What was your most rewarding part of the experience? Sensing the Holy Spirit leading, moving and working. We had a clear sense of the sheer magnitude that the platform of sports was in sharing the Gospel. The open door that sports created, was very evident and it was very exciting to be a part of what God was doing in this restricted country. Sports can penetrate even the most difficult environments.
Learn more about Graham West and his story with MAI HERE
"The Seahorses come to Bangladesh in the spirit of friendship and international co-operation. It is the desire of the players that each of you may have a happy and a gorgeous life. In order for this to happen, you ... a right relationship with your Creator. If you would like to receive FREE literature telling you how can have this relationship, send your name and address to one of the addresses listed below:"
"Research shows that after their parents, coaches and teachers are the most influential people in the life of youth."
The Barna Research Group
Lola, Mitch and I just returned from Kenya where we were continuing the training of coaches and teachers, the most influential role models for youth. We were joined by Terry Moffitt, a great friend and principal with whom I worked for years. He and Lola served the teachers. Graham West, a MAI staff member and Logan Thompson, an Urban Eagles intern, Mitch and I helped serve the coaches.
People That are Making the Impact
OUR TEAM OF COACHES
We met with 15 key coaches on the coast of Kenya where there has been unrest, difficult life conditions and a great need for the Gospel of Jesus. Soccer teams are the delivery method and the coaches are the deliverers.
OUR TEACHER GROUP
Terry and Lola met over five days with teachers from all over the northeastern coastal region. These teachers are amazing servants in some difficult settings. If it were not for them the children in some of their villages would have no education.
MODELING IS A POWERFUL WAY OF TEACHING!
Many of the strategies and concepts we teach must be demonstrated to fully grasp. Who better to do that than Mitch and the MAI team?
THEY MAY BE COACHES, BUT THEY STILL LOVE TO PLAY!
Each afternoon after sports ministry training we would travel to a village where one of our coaches lives and has a team. They would introduce their peers to their kids and elders and then they would play a game with the kids. It was great!
TEACHING THE GAME
Each afternoon we would take time to provide coaching training. You can see them literally leaning into this. These coaches have little to no coaching development opportunities.
MAKING THEM BETTER COACHES
They may be a mentor and life influencer, but they coach the game too. We want them to be excellent in every way possible for their kids they serve.
Logan Thompson, Messiah grad and Urban Eagles intern, came with us to contribute to the training. Here he is teaching a team building exercise. We saw Logan grow during the training as well. He is a fantastic sports minister!
THE KEY LEADERS IN KENYA
Lemmy Dalano (left) was our first trainee in 2006. He is now full-time staff with Sports Friends, a partner ministry that is significantly impacting the ministry in Kenya. Zachs (right) is a big help to Lemmy in the region.
LOLA IS A SAINT!
After a whole day of training Lola joins the ladies on the sidelines of a game in a village. How many games has this woman watched in her mom-wife career?
TRAINING IN THE SHADE
Under this shelter is where Lola and Terry met with the teachers. Most days it was over 130 degrees in the sun. The shade could make all the difference!
STUDENTS IN THE SCHOOL/CHURCH OF ONE OF OUR TEACHERS
This small building is where one of Lola's teachers serves and it holds about forty children for the village school. There would be no education opportunity for these children without this project.
THE STUDENTS ARE SERVED LUNCH DAILY THROUGH A SPONSORED FEEDING PROGRAM
This feeding program serves about sixty children every day. During last year's drought this was the only food they had. The teacher runs this program too.
LEADERS THAT MAKE A DIFFERENCE
This Pastor leads four churches and schools. He loves the people in his region and carries the love and honor of the people. Leaders like this are critical. It is a privilege to serve them.
THEY NEED LOVE AND ENCOURAGEMENT
Lola prays with a teacher who is from a hostile community that killed 36 people last year because they were Christians. These are amazing and powerful brothers and sisters.
OUR GOAL: EMPOWERMENT!
Coaches and teachers touch lives like no one else! Our investment into these tireless servants is a no lose proposition - resources of time, money and energy well spent.
Serving Ukraine with MAI
Today, Ukraine is in the forefront of everyone’s mind as we have watched the events in that country unfold on a daily basis in front of our eyes. We want to introduce you to one of our missionaries who has had a commitment to reach the people of Ukraine and Russia for more than 15 years.
Thomas Merchant began his involvement with MAI while he was a high school student in Maryland and continued as he studied at Liberty University. Tom went on an international outreach tour to Russia in 1991 and continued to return to Russia for the next eight years until he joined staff with MAI and moved to Moscow in 1999 as a missionary. While ministering in Russia and Ukraine, he met his future wife, Olena. Tom was based in Moscow, but traveled extensively in Russia and Ukraine, partnering with Athletes in Action-Russia, from 1999 to 2003. In June 2003, the Merchants moved to Dnipropetrovsk, Ukraine and began working with the soccer team of a local student ministry called Alpha and Omega. Later, in 2007, the Merchants moved from Dnipropetrovsk to Rivne, which is in the northwestern section of Ukraine, near the border with Poland and Byelorussia. Tom is involved with a church-based soccer ministry called “Nadia” or Hope to the People. Tom shares his journey to living as a missionary in Ukraine below:
We were what I considered a typical American family. Dad was military. Mom was a school teacher. We were four kids in the family. From second grade on, I loved playing soccer more than anything else. As I searched for a university that I could play soccer for, one coach introduced me to an organization (Missionary Athletes International) that was recruiting players to join them on a missionary soccer trip to Europe. I enjoyed that trip so much that I had no reservations about doing it again the following year. My third missionary soccer trip with MAI took me to Eastern Europe, the Soviet Union - just before it “collapsed”. Now that was a trip that I will never forget! The people seemed so empty, frustrated. They seemed to have an unquenchable thirst for information, especially concerning spiritual things. Bibles were torn from our hands by so many people who had never had their own copy of God’s Word. The language was thoroughly not understandable. The culture was gray, cold and very foreign. There were no smiles. There was no courtesy. It didn’t seem to me that these people were living “the good life”. I was captured by curiosity. What kind of a country is this? God laid a love and compassion on my heart for these people and I began to absorb and even seek out anything I could find that had anything to do with the Soviet Union and its people. My “American dream” had obviously shifted. Not “the good life” - just “a Godly life”.
For the next eight years, I traveled to and from Russia. Each summer included a missionary soccer trip. Many of those years included 3, 4, 5, 10 month trips of ministry and education. Finally, God opened the doors for me to move to Moscow and partner with Athletes in Action-Russia. I spent four years with these dear friends. We spent much time encouraging, teaching and assisting Christian athletes and churches in sports ministry.
I was sent to a couple of groups in Ukraine who were just starting to use soccer as a ministry. We wanted to see how we could help. While running the first ever Christian soccer camp in Ukraine, God led me to my future wife! We married seven months after we met. After two more years in Moscow together, we felt God calling us back to Ukraine and we had two obvious partners with whom we could serve. And that’s what we’ve been doing ever since (2003 to the present)!
Our first Christian soccer camp with Alpha & Omega in Dnipropetrovs’k intrigued Igor Solodenko, one of our local non-Christian players. He thought it would be interesting to see how these Americans could teach soccer to the Ukrainians. He agreed to help us as a camp coach. God worked on his heart as he worked in our camp. A few months later, Igor became a believer in Jesus Christ and my partner in ministry. He continues to this day as the leader of the soccer ministry of Alpha & Omega – Dnipropetrovs’k.
Christian soccer camps in Rivne served as a jump-start for Sasha Gonchar and his new club “Hope” (Nadia). He invited campers to join his new team. At every practice, Sasha read the Bible with them and prayed. Some parents disapproved of this and removed their boys. This broke Sasha’s heart but did not stop him from continuing to serve God and the few boys that he had. Soon, more boys started to come…and more…and more! Today we have three youth teams and one men’s team that compete on the state level, plus a younger beginner group – each focusing on Christ as the center of our club and life.
Andrei Petrenko heard about the soccer ministry in Dnipropetrovs’k and came to introduce himself and ask for help. He is a great player who had recently become a Christian. We began a friendship and partnership, teaching and assisting him in his hometown. His friend, Dima, also came to Christ through his influence and the two of them have served faithfully in their city. Andrei recently studied in South Africa at the Sports Ministry Leadership Training Institute and I hope to see God continue to use him in a special way on a national level.
These are just some of my closest friends. There are many other churches, missions and Christian athletes (Oleg-Odesa; Vitaliy and Dima-Irpen/Kyiv; Sergiy-Lutsk; Volodia-Lviv…) that are serving God through soccer (and other sports) ministries throughout Ukraine and the Former Soviet Union. God is working.
It’s the land of mate, gauchos, asado and a fervor for futbol which we call soccer. Going back to my childhood country of Argentina reminded me that change is everywhere. One thing that remains the same in Argentina is their passion for futbol (soccer) where it continues to be the most popular sport and pastime.
Mitch Sanford and I had the opportunity to visit the city of San Rafael in the province of Mendoza. In this city of some 200,000 people, there is a vibrant church with a vision for reaching out to those in their “Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria and even to the remotest part of the earth” (Acts 1:8). This church operates two radio stations, a television station, a school with grades K through 8, 16 satellite churches a bookstore and thrift shop -- and a soccer program that goes from 3 year olds all the way to the pro level. They have plans to develop land they own into an amazing training center with a stadium and facilities to house top professional teams. This is where MAI fits in!
The purpose or our visit was to learn more about their soccer program and determine if there was a common ministry vision to either be a resource to or partner with this church and their soccer outreach. We learned that they are a people with great vision and drive. They don’t stop with a vision alone but pursue it with an unyielding work ethic. Their goal is to have tactically outstanding Christian coaches that will train and influence players for the Lord as they come up through the ranks of the program, ultimately impacting the country of Argentina for Christ.
They have a long way to go to reach their goals in soccer ministry, but having seen what they have already accomplished and their passion to reach the spiritually lost, we look forward to great things from them. Psalm 127:1 says “unless the Lord builds the house, they labor in vain who build it.” Our fellow brethren in San Rafael are seeking God’s blessing and guidance as they seek to build soccer ministry in that community.
What will MAI’s role be in this ministry in the future? We are waiting on the Lord for the answer to that question. We were able to share our sports ministry training materials with them and encourage them in their pursuit of establishing a Christian soccer ministry. Together we are prayerfully considering when and if there is a next step. Regardless, we thank the Lord for the opportunity to share, encourage and challenge our fellow partners in Argentina in building God’s kingdom through the environment of soccer.
MAI’s ministry in Czech began in the late 80’s when we took teams into (then) communist Czechoslovakia located behind the Iron Curtain. The teams led to resident MAI missionaries being in the country for most of the years 1993 – 2010.
Atheism ruled during the Communist era and continues to dominate the spiritual landscape of Czech. Though only 1.1% of Czechs would identify themselves as Protestants the spiritual climate in Czech seems to be softening and people are more open and responsive to the Gospel. The further away from the communist past they get and the more people who have grown up without the oppressive atheism that was imposed by the state the more open people are.
In recent years our ministry partnership in Czech has been with three sister churches in the southeast part of the country. A soccer camp and outreach match is part of one church’s targeted ministry of a housing project in the city with many low-income families and immigrants. Our Seahorse short-term teams (comprised of high school and college-age players) help run the camps and play against local teams. This summer the youth pastor at the church prayed with several boys at camp who responded to his invitation to ask Jesus to be the Lord of their lives!
The other two churches have pastors who play in adult leagues as a way of reaching their peers. Our team has been involved in a tournament with their two churches and local teams that they are trying to reach. We are working with these churches to help them see and take the next steps in sports ministry. With soccer being the most popular sport in Czech there is great opportunity to start church-youth leagues where the Gospel can be shared and where kids can be discipled. Pray that as the vision is caught MAI can step in to help train coaches. Pray as well for the players that go on these short-term trips to see how God can bless them as they use their gifts in ministry to others.
Southern California Seahorses Mexico Outreach 2014
As part of their training with the Seahorses PDL team, our players have the opportunity to experience using their soccer talents for the Lord through a cross cultural trip.
This year we went to a new site Tecate, Mexico. Through a former Seahorse we came into contact with the leadership of the Rancho San Juan Bosco orphanage where we stayed.
Our players were able to conduct a clinic with the kids of the orphanage and love and play with them. The kids and our players thoroughly enjoyed our time there! These orphan kids come from broken homes where they have had little to no male positive interaction and role modeling; consequently, our visit there had a very positive influence on these kids.
Along with our stay at the orphanage, we played two games with local teams from Tecate at their sports center facility. The kids from the orphanage were able to come to our games and cheer us on to victory!
On Sunday, we attended a Spanish speaking church service where we were able to share the Seahorse ministry. One of our Spanish speaking players shared his story as part of our presentation.
Our Mexico trip is always a highlight or THE highlight of our players’ time with us as it opens their eyes to the reality of what the platform of soccer can do around the world in sharing Jesus’ love to others.
Shizuoka Sangyo University visit ôSeahorse Country"
After 4 years of ministry with Pastor Hasui in Iwata, Japan and matches with both the women’s & men’s teams, the concept of coming our way became a reality. Pastor Hasui is an innovative & youth oriented pastor and has been the instigator of this relationship. One of our PDL players, JT Searles, stayed with Pastor Hasui and practiced with the SSU men’s team for a summer. Since then we have had the privilege of hosting their teams for games against UC Irvine, APU, Vanguard U, Biola U, Westmont, CSUF and our own Seahorse men’s PDL team through the years. As part of their “cultural” experience they will attend church.
Ironically they streamed the message to the entire University who was following their journey. Besides soccer matches, we take them on some sightseeing trips to the beach, Spaghetti Factory, Santa Monica Pier, etc. At the end of each trip we spend some time with them to ask what their time was like. One of the most memorable responses came from the men’s visit last year. Most of them were surprised how nice we were compared to what they expected. What they expected was “Hollywood” type Americans. How sad. Our Host family was able to explain to them that the difference between the Seahorse “family” & Hollywood USA was that we are Christians. Our goal is to continue to connect them to Pastor Hasui’s church there in their hometown.
This fall the team captain, Yuka will be staying close to the Seahorse office & near Biola U with a host family. Her plan is to study English and live the dream of many Japanese youth, to visit “America”, the land of opportunity. Please pray with us that the opportunity will be to meet Jesus.