I used to hate soccer. I thought it was for Europeans who didn’t have the coordination to play American sports. Then I lived in South Africa and was continually schooled by kids half my age who did things with a soccer ball with their feet that I can’t even do with my hands. After a year there, my appreciation has grown for the game. I wouldn’t call myself a die-hard, but suffice it to say that I’m going to pay a bit more attention to the World Cup that starts this Friday. I’m even more interested because it is being hosted by none other than South Africa.
South Africa and it’s people has been preparing for this tournament for a long time. This is the largest sporting event to ever be hosted on the African continent. This is a big deal. Most likely, Africa will never host an Olympic Games, so unless another World Cup comes to the continent, this is Africa’s (not just South Africa’s) finest hour.
As much as the international competition excites me, what’s more is the fact that the entire world is coming to South Africa, and churches and para-church ministries want to spread the gospel to the visiting nations. They have been preparing for this since the vote was cast to bring the tournament to their beloved country.
In the next month, you will read or watch a lot about this tournament if you open up a sports page or log onto ESPN.com. You’ll read about Wayne Rooney scoring goals for England, or Landon Donavon leading the Americans on an improbable run. You will hear about Bafana Bafana (SA’s national team) and their fans’ vuvuzela noise makers. You will watch segments about the favorites, Spain, Italy, and Germany, and their superstar rosters that shouldn’t even lose a game. You will learn about a country torn by racism that is slowing healing and how something as insignificant as a soccer tournament can be much-needed medicine.
But the stories that you won’t hear or read or see will be the most eternally important. They will be about a boy from Soweto who hears the Jesus story in his own language. They will be about a local university soccer player who is bold enough to share his faith for the first time. They will be about churches partnering with other churches from another denomination in order to tell people how God and sports are more related than you might think. They will be about Argentinian and Dutch fans who read a gospel tract in their hotel rooms and want to know more about spiritual realities. They will be about those lonely times after a loss when a striker realizes there is more to life than scoring goals and winning a trophy. They will be about a country that needs medicine — not in the form of futbol — but in the form of the Great Physician, who not only heals emotional wounds, but forgives the worst of sins.
These are the stories that will matter millions of years after World Cup 2010 is over. All these stories are bound up in the great story of redemption that God has been, and is still, writing. It’s a story worth paying attention to. Let’s ask our Mighty God to open the eyes of the blind and draw all people to his Son.