Diana first got involved with the Chicago Eagles by volunteering at a summer camp in 2017. During her time at camp, she met a lot of people who love the Lord and in particular, a girl named Berlin, who had come to the US from the Dominican Republic for the Chicago Eagles Summer Academy. Diana and Berlin hit it off and had some very good conversations about life and the Lord. As a result of these conversations, Diana started thinking about who God really is, and who He is to her. She grew up Catholic but the thought of having a personal relationship with God was not something she had been interested in. Berlin returned to the DR after the summer but Diana continued her involvement wit the Eagles, playing in the fall on the U19 Lady Eagles team and attending Bible studies. She continued to learn and continued to ask questions about God. The Chicago Eagles staff were aware of her spiritual journey and never stopped praying for her, confident that the Lord was working in her heart. Then one night, during devotions following a U19 Lady Eagles practice, Diana heard Lauren, one of the Eagles coaches, talking about something that struck a cord. Lauren was speaking about one of the teams core values - Submission. She shared that submission meant fully giving her life to the Lord and she also shared how much she herself, struggled to submit. Nicole, another Chicago Eagles staff member drove Diana home after practice and it was obvious that she was contemplating what she had heard. Nicole asked her about what she was thinking and Diana shared that she was worried about giving up complete control of her life and what that could mean. Nicole explained more about what the Lord offers and how easy it is to become part of His family forever. When Nicole asked Diana what was holding her back from giving her life to the Lord, she said "nothing". So right there in the car, Diana prayed and accepted Jesus as her Lord and Savior.
In 2012 the Chicago Eagles staff was praying over different locations in the Western suburbs to expand our youth soccer and launch an incarnational, urban focused ministry. As two coaches we're praying in a community called Timberlake, a young boy and his friends came up and asked if they wanted to play some soccer with them. After kicking around for about 30 minutes (and breaking no windows), the kids asked if we knew any coaches, because they had no one to be their coach and form a team for them.
We felt this was God opening the door for our coaches to move in and begin launching our urban ministry.
Five years later, in January 2017, one of those young players, Eraclio, traveled with MAI and coaches from all 3 offices to Cuba for his first international missions trip.
Eraclio accepted Christ at a Chicago Eagles soccer camp, captains for the Chicago Eagles Youth/Urban teams, participates in weekly Bible Studies with the Eagles Coaches, and helps lead a Christian, after-school club at his public high school.
Of his trip to Cuba, Eraclio writes, "The impact that this trip made in my life was seeing those cubans who live in poverty being so faithful to the Lord. It made me want to keep striving into getting closer towards him. It was also awesome using the sport of soccer to spread the Gospel. I'd love to do this again for sure, new bonds are made and together we work to spread the Gospel."
Cody Snouffer, the Chicago Urban Ministry Director, writes, "Eraclio's story is a special example of the gospel and kingdom in action through MAI. Eraclio has experienced Chicago's Summer Academy, Camp, Urban, and International ministry in the last 5 years. He is a special young man and dear friend that we pray continues to seek and serve the Lord!”
Trained to Make a Difference
“She is playing the best soccer I have ever seen her play!” – college coach, after watching one of his players near the end of the summer.
“First fitness test (in preseason) was the beep test, and I crushed it! I did better than my last year score by 10 rounds!”
These are encouraging reports from Eagle’s Academy players from this past summer – consistent with the way we approach the soccer aspect of the Academy. But they really pale in comparison with the transformational growth that we see taking place in the hearts and lives of so many of our Chicago Eagles Academy players!
The Chicago Eagles Summer Academy (CESA) completed its 12th season in 2015. Designed as a two-month sports ministry experience for collegiate soccer players, CESA15 challenged players to raise their level, and pursue excellence – both in their sport and in their relationship with Christ! It also gave them a taste of what authentic community is like, and of the impact they can have when they seek to glorify God through the game of soccer.
Over 30 men and women from 19 different colleges and universities participated this past summer in CESA15. During that time, they spent two weeks in Brazil (playing matches, running clinics for kids, and working with churches), coached at ten soccer camps with close to 1,000 campers, trained and played in the Illinois State U23 league (with only one loss total for both teams), worked with under-resourced youth, served local churches in the Chicago area, met in small groups and studied our sports ministry curriculum – and seasoned everything with tons of laughter and fun! Two of our players also chose to be baptized this summer! And still another finally came to the point, during our time in Brazil, of giving her heart and life to Jesus Christ!
Several of our players, while serving as coaches at our Eagles soccer camps, had the chance to lead some of their campers to Christ! Twelve of our players participated in our student leadership program, leading the camps and various other events. Most of those student leaders, along with a few other players, have returned to serve as captains of their collegiate teams.
During the Academy, we also had the opportunity to train several players and coaches from various countries - Brazil, Turkey, Cuba, Barbados, the Dominican Republic, and Thailand.
Our hope and prayer is that as all of these players and coaches return to their colleges and countries, their love for Christ will continue to grow, and that God’s Kingdom will continue to grow through these influence of these young men and women!
Charlotte Eagles Swing a Hammer!
This article is written by Hannah Turner. Hannah is a MAI’s missionary in Charlotte working with the Lady Eagles W-League team and is married to Habitat in Humanity Site Supervisor, Josh Turner. Josh and Hannah have been married for 3 and a half years after meeting in college during a semester abroad in Tanzania, Africa. Hannah was introduced to MAI in college when she spent two seasons with the Chicago Eagles. This began the journey of being trained as a sports minister. Soccer since, has become a journey to Ethiopia, Brazil, Kenya, Costa Rica, Colombia and now Charlotte watching lives transformed through the power of the Gospel. Josh and Hannah believe in the power of community and what it means to build relationships with the people in and around your life at home, work, neighborhood, church, and ministry.
Missionary Athletes International is a community that reaches far beyond the soccer world. Recently in March, the Charlotte office staff spent a day framing a house for a Habitat for Humanity homeowner. Lots of 2 by 4’s, hammers, nails, solid corners, ladders, bathtubs, pizza, laughing and missed nails filled an incredible day. It was neat to work alongside the staff we see all week at the office and out on the field, but in a much different capacity. Construction muscles are much different than soccer ones!!
One of the highlights of the day was working alongside Vincent and Bahati a young married couple that are refugees from the Congo. It was incredible hearing about their long journey the past five years from the Congo to a large refugee camp in northern Tanzania where they met, married and started a family. Three years ago they made their way to the States and the transition into our fast paced culture hasn’t been easy. Vincent and Bahati are in the beginning process of applying for a Habitat for Humanity home.
The time spent framing the second story townhouse were the beginning of their “sweat equity” hours which is one of the qualifications as they pursue more permanent and affordable housing for their family. MAI’s connection with Habitat in Charlotte comes through site supervisor Josh Turner who said, “It has been an honor working for Habitat the past 3 years in Charlotte. My current role is to coordinate the materials, plans and inspections that go into building a home as well as leading the volunteers that come out and serve at my sites. It’s amazing watching a house come to life when many hands work towards the goal of providing a new home for a family in Charlotte. My job with Habitat and the chance to serve the community is a huge blessing.”
It was an amazing experience to work together as an office in a different capacity to help well-deserving people acheive the dream of bettering their lives in America.
Power Glory and Ministry
Bilal Duckett is looking to grow as a soccer player and in his faith with the Charlotte Eagles.
“I joined the team for two reasons,” Duckett said. “First, I grew up a Christian.”
The Eagles (5-10-3) are the only USL Pro team dedicated to Christian ministry, particularly through soccer camps that gives players time with kids in a Christian setting.
Duckett, a defender who is in his first season with Charlotte after playing with Major League Soccer’s New England Revolution, recalled that several children gave their lives to Christ at a recent camp, which is something he enjoys playing a part in. In such settings, Duckett is able to encourage younger generations to “dream bigger.”
Charlotte’s other draw for the Macon, Ga., native was the opportunity to play center back, as he has traditionally played right back. Duckett models his style of play after several players, such as Brazilian defender Marcelo and Vincent Kompany of Belgium.
“He has made great strides at that position and is becoming a force there,” Eagles head coach Mark Steffens said, adding the Notre Dame graduate’s athleticism is a “gift from God. He is very quick and has blinding speed.”
At 6-foot-2, Duckett’s height makes him ideal for set pieces—corner kicks or free kicks, which give him the opportunity to press forward for a chance to get shots on goal. His composure and confidence is evident on the field in tight game situations, which as Steffens noted, make him a “strong role model that … younger players look up to.”
Steffens believes that if Duckett “continues to improve at this rate he will be one of the premier center-backs in the USL.”
Duckett took up soccer at age 4. “I played soccer, basketball and baseball until I was 13,” he said. “Actually I gave up baseball around 11.”
While basketball was his first love, Duckett’s family encouraged him to pursue soccer. They follow the English club Arsenal and Duckett has competed against former Arsenal star Thierry Henry, who plays for MLS’s New York Red Bulls.
If the opportunity presents itself, he would like to return to MLS, where he was drafted 37th overall in 2011 by the Vancouver Whitecaps, or play in Europe. Regardless of where he is, he considers himself “supremely blessed,” and looks to use his gifts both on and off the field.
When he pulls on his jersey, Duckett plays for God andfamily, particularly his grandmother who recently passed away. Playing with the Eagles has put Duckett closer to his family than at any time since he left home for Notre Dame.
“Playing soccer is my dream,” he said.
Tracing the Roots, the History and the Legend of the Seahorses
“The Foolishness of God is wiser than man’s wisdom…”
If you ask Seahorse founder Dave Irby where the idea came from for the Missionary Athletes International Seahorse soccer team, he likes to say “it came from the first chapter of Corinthians, more specifically verse 25.”
“For the foolishness of God is wiser than man’s wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than man’s strength.”
One of the pioneers of the “soccer ministry” movement Irby goes on to say “if God can use a ‘cone’ like me to minister around the world for him, he can also use a Seahorse.
Irby grew up in Anaheim, California in an era before cell phones and laptop tops, before “soccer moms”, when soccer was still on the fringe of “the mainstream” in the United States and the US National Soccer team (in a time when there was virtually no women’s soccer) was chosen “alphabetically” by a committee that had not seen many of the players even play.
Even when Seahorse founder Dave Irby, first played soccer on the first soccer team at Azusa Pacific College, “it was still a time when people thought you had to be ‘crazy’ to be a goalkeeper.”
“So it is only fitting that it was a goalkeeper who thought that “Seahorses” would make a good name for a soccer team, a name that later Irby would use for the first Missionary Athletes International soccer team.
As Irby likes to say “it was truly the ‘foolishness of God’ that brought about the founding of the Seahorse team back in 1985.
It was a sideline encounter between Azusa Pacific Men’s Soccer Coach Dave Irby and Biola University Soccer Coach Tim Conrad that began a relationship that would eventually lead to the founding of the Southern California Seahorse Soccer Team. Irby had taken his Azusa Pacific Soccer team to Mexicali to the men’s and boys’ team over spring break and during the summer Conrad had taken his second Sports Ambassadors, Christian college “all-star” soccer team, on tour.
On that trip to Mexicali Irby began to sense a calling to “soccer” ministry, after spending his upbringing being afraid that if he fully trusted Christ, that God would make him a missionary.
That next fall just before the “big game” between Irby’s Cougars and Conrad’s Eagles Irby remembers going to Conrad and saying “If you take a team on a tour next summer I would like to go with you, I will even go as the ‘water boy.’”
Well the next summer Irby coached the “Soccer Friends” team that Conrad put together, to Jordan, Israel, West Germany, Austria and Holland; and it was in the little town of Amstetten, Austria that Irby knew that he was called to soccer ministry. It was also on this trip that Irby also made a lifelong friend- Paul Gizzi, who was player/assistant coach on the tour.
While Conrad concentrated on building MAI’s high school tour and soccer camp program and his fulltime job as a travel agent Irby was working on putting together a professional Christian all-star soccer team to travel to Jordan and Egypt.
Up until that time most USA based Christian soccer teams wore “red, white and blue” and were promoted as being “American”, which was clearly a “novelty” in the soccer world, in an age before soccer was popular in America.
But after four men representing the Palestine Liberation Front hijacked the MS Achille Lauro cruise ship off the coast of Egypt killed Leon Klinghoffer, it became too dangerous for an American team to travel to the Middle East.
After the trip to Egypt and Jordan was cancelled, Irby presented the idea of radically moving away from the “American” theme for MAI, and starting a team under the MAI banner called of course “the Seahorses” and putting them in the color “orange,” with MAI founder Tim Conrad. Conrad said “go ahead”…and the Missionary Athletes International Orange FC Seahorses soccer team, later to become the Southern California Seahorses was born.
Irby chose “Orange’ for the city of Orange and for the new colors of the team “orange, navy and white” and of course FC for the international designation “Football Club.”
Irby likes to add one bit of trivia to the founding of the team. On the Seahorses first international tour to Mexico (and the World Cup), Guatemala and Costa Rica the team not only wore orange, they also had an all green uniform.
So many wonderful coaches, leaders and players have now worn the “kit” of the Orange FC Seahorses and the Southern California Seahorses and so many lives have been changed as the teams have gone boldly forward sharing the gospel around the world, not only under the Seahorses banner but with many other organizations as well. Many “off shoots” of the Missionary Athletes International concept and the Seahorse program would be founded, carrying the gospel on to more places around the globe.
Note: Dave Irby is the CEO of Surge International, a sports ministry based in Salem, OR. For more information on the activities of Surge International, visit their websitewww.surgesoccer.org