My first adventure with sport and the Church was at the 1995 All Africa Games (AAG) in Harare, Zimbabwe. The AAG is an event that takes place every four years bringing together Africa's elite sportsmen and women. I was in broadcasting already and living and working in Harare in the centre of Zimbabwe with the opportunity to train Christians how to use radio to communicate the Gospel throughout the Zimbabwe Broadcasting Company FM network.
We gathered together several people and organisations, some of whom had radio experience, to report, interview, and produce features in different languages about Africa's sport and interesting aspects about the capital of Zimbabwe, Harare.
Listeners were enthused about the stories they heard from the very athletes they admired. Many would phone into the radio stations commenting on what was being broadcast.
The training experiment went well. We all learnt much about how to connect with the sports fan, sharing the athletes’ faith in Jesus in a non-threatening and interesting way. The local church got involved in an area where they had common ground.
Today, 21 years later, I'm still involved interviewing sportsmen and women about their lives, what makes them tick, the challenges and joys of their lives and their relationship with Jesus. So, when I have the opportunity to share about our work with a church or a small group, I pick on one of the sports interviews found on our website where the sports personality has 'something important to say' and let him/her share it in person.
The other day I was racking my brain on how to engage a Sunday evening service group in an inner London church in the Passion for Sport work when the story of a Congo-Brazzaville Christian footballer came to mind. The national team were trying to force him to go along with the rest of the team in putting their trust in a fetish by touching it for a favourable outcome before an international game. He refused saying that his trust was in God alone even though his fellow players were pressurising him. He did play in the match and took the honours at the end of being “Man of the Match”.
This story which we all heard during the evening was used to challenge the group on what and whom they put their trust and faith in? Is it still in God when the pressure to conform differently is heavy upon us?
There are many ways in which we can engage our churches in supporting this ministry of introducing the sports fan to Jesus. Some ideas of which can be found in our Resources section of this website. We have testimonies you can playback, sports quizzes of varying difficulty you can use, podcasts you can play, previous and current weekly radio programmes your group could listen to and newsletters and brochures you can use. If planned well ahead, one or more of the Passion for Sport team could come and work with you in running an entertaining sports afternoon or evening.
By Norman Brierley