Global sports ministry kicks off June 26

By Squeals and shouts drifted across the grassy field in front of Orlando Colonial Church of the Nazarene on a cool June morning. Wearing colored wrist bands of white, yellow, red, and green, about 30 kids dribbled, passed, and kicked a football bearing the same colors. Parents clapped and yelled, some stopping to examine sheets of paper explaining how the unusual football's colors symbolize God's plan to bring all people into relationship with Himself.

It was day one of the church’s first ever summer football camp, and Pastor Sean McNabb was jubilant. Most summers, his church hosts a vacation Bible school with a peak attendance of 30 kids. This year, the camp started with that many, and by the end of the day 12 more kids had registered for day two.

Youth on the Southwest Latin American District played a game of football in a
Tucson, Arizona park to reach young people in the community. Photo by Marty

“We’ve really struck a chord with the soccer thing,” McNabb said in a phone call later that day. “They were coming out of the woodwork. I’m loving it.”

The camp concluded with 55 attendees, and 15 of the students invited Jesus into their lives. (Read more about how the church contextualized football camp to reach their community.) 

Setting the GOL
In nearly any region of the world, a ministry team playing a game of football (called soccer in some countries, including the U.S.) rarely fails to draw a crowd, creating a prime opportunity for informal interaction. It’s the perfect open door for ministry.

That door will open wider during the next 12 months.

The Fédération Internationale de Football Association (FIFA) World Cup, the competition that takes place in a different country every four years, will be hosted in South Africa—a first for the Africa continent—in July 2010. It will be the biggest yet, with a record 204 nations competing for the title. 

As the playoffs intensify, football’s monumental popularity in most countries will climb new heights among even the most casual players. Just as in past World Cup years, people of all ages will join football leagues and teams, and pick-up games will fill streets, alleys, and parks.

Building on this frenzy, GOL 2010, a year-long global football ministry emphasis, officially kicks off at the 2009 General Assembly and Conventions in Orlando, Florida, this summer. During the following year, Nazarene districts and churches, like Orlando Colonial, will host football camps around the world as a means of outreach and evangelism.

During the Southwest Latin American District NYI's training, they led a
local teen to Christ following a game of football. Photo by Marty Hoskins

Kenneth Phiri, Africa Region Nazarene Youth International (NYI) representative, will present the emphasis to the NYI convention during the Friday morning, June 26, service at General Assembly. He has high expectations for the GOL 2010 strategy in Africa.

“I think one of my greatest hopes is that it will help us be able to unify the African continent that is so divided by so many things, to be able to find unity in diversity,” he said.

“For us as NYI to call this generation to a life in Christ, we have to find a unifying building block. I believe the GOL 2010 is one of those things that is going to help us to build towards that.”

One game, many ways to play
Several years ago a sports manufacturer developed a football with the salvation story colors as an evangelism tool. In April 2007, JESUS Film Harvest Partners began sending these custom balls with film teams. As Nazarenes globally incorporated the ball into their outreach and evangelism efforts, and the 2010 World Cup emerged on the horizon, it occurred to a lot of people that football evangelism might be the perfect tool to reach many for Christ.

Collaborative discussions amongst members of Children’s Ministries International (CMI), JESUS Film Harvest Partners, Nazarene Youth International (NYI) and World Mission yielded the GOL 2010 concept.

The simple emphasis involves districts and churches holding football events throughout the next year – one-day clinics, weeklong camps, afternoon leagues, even impromptu pick-up games in parks and open fields. During the events, ministry workers will explain how to accept Christ, and invite players to submit their lives to Him, discipling them afterward.

Children in a Sri Lanka village appeared on the streets
and wanted to play when a ministry worker brought out a 
multi-colored football. Photo by Marty Hoskins. 

Many believe the plan is flexible enough to be implemented by churches and districts of almost any size and cultural context.

For instance, seven pastors from the Central Florida District, who met at a brainstorming meeting in January, came up with seven different ideas that would utilize football evangelism within their diverse ministry contexts, said Gary Hartke, director of Nazarene Youth International (NYI), the global youth department of the Church of the Nazarene. Hartke was a member of the group that birthed the idea.

“One worked with physically challenged children and would do a strategy to use the ball with physically challenged children,” he said.

Another person, who is planting a church, believes she could use a football camp to reach out to the surrounding community.

People in Nepal cheer at the sight of the multi-colored football.
GOL 2010 aims to provide districts in every world area an effective and
culturally adaptable tool for evangelism and outreach. Photo by Marty

Orlando Colonial’s Pastor Sean McNabb volunteered to give the football-camp concept a test run before the June 2009 kickoff.

“There is a large Hispanic population of students in our area, and so within the Hispanic culture soccer is a very big thing,” McNabb said. “I believe that because of the Hispanic population within the community, if we can tie into them through the GOL 2010, that we may be able to create a base or at least a core with which to build on a Hispanic ministries within the church.” (Read more about how this church held the week-long camp.) 

A ball of many colors
While the GOL 2010 strategy is not about the multi-colored football itself, the colors provide an easy way for camp leaders to explain the story of God’s love.

For instance, during the recent NYI convention at the Southwest Latin American District Assembly, youth trained in the GOL 2010 strategy, including how to explain the meaning of the football’s colors to others: black for our sin and disobedience to God; red for Christ's sacrifice to take away our sin; white for our purity after we accept Christ's free gift; green for our growth in Christ; yellow or gold for the promise of eternal life with God.

The young people set out for a local park to practice what they’d learned. As they started a rousing game, a local teen stopped to watch and they invited him to play.

The Southwest Latin American District NYI in April 2009 learned how
to share their faith using the colors on the specially designed football.
Photo by Marty Hoskins.

“It wasn’t long until they presented the Gospel to him, and he accepted the Lord,” said Marty Hoskins, who participated in the district training. Hoskins is administrative director of Mission Personnel, which coordinates global efforts to discover, develop, and deploy mission personnel in the denomination.

Later that evening, one of the district teens publicly shared that as a new believer, he hadn’t known how to share his faith with others. But after the GOL 2010 training, he’d gained confidence and learned how to easily talk about his relationship with Christ, Hoskins said.

The district’s Superintendent Roberto Hodgson believes that with a strategy like GOL 2010, the youth of his district will do greater outreach and evangelistic activity.

“I think young people need an opportunity for something to engage them in evangelism and put them in the front lines,” he said. “With this strategy they can go and have fun and play soccer, but after that they can share the Gospel of Jesus Christ with those around the park.”

The district is planning to mobilize 300 to 400 young people in the region to do football camp evangelism June 13-21, next year, as part of the GOL 2010 emphasis.

“The soccer ball—the colors—is something that will be attractive, but the real thing is for the young people to share their faith. They might use the colors, they might not. But they will share Jesus with those who come.”

Hear more of Roberto Hodgson's interview in Spanish and English.

What do you think about the GOL 2010 emphasis? Can you see your church or district hosting a football camp in the next year? If so, what strategy would work best in your context? Discuss this in the comments area below.