We are so excited to be serving in Malawi. We invite you to take this journey with us. Keep the beautiful people of Malawi in your prayers, and us too.

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Vinny - The Best Day of His Life

When you give a dinner or a banquet, do not invite your friends or your brothers or your relatives or rich neighbors, lest they also invite you in return and you be repaid. But when you give a feast, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind.”
Luke 14:12-13

In typical Malawian culture, one of the last places you would expect to find a person with a disability is on the soccer field. Usually those with disabilities are mocked ruthlessly and prohibited from participating in even the most common daily activities. But when the Spirit of God moves through a coach and team, the culture adapts to what God’s Word teaches. Sports Friends Malawi places a high value on inclusion, so we invite the “crippled, lame, and blind” to our teams just as Jesus would have it.

Meet Vinny.  Vinny lives in Malawi and is a joyful, enthusiastic kid. He has cerebral palsy and struggles to walk at times, but you would never know how difficult his life is when he comes to soccer practice. His radiant personality adds so much to the sports ministry team that he is a part of in the city of Blantyre!

I’ll never forget the first time Vinny came to practice.  After receiving an invitation from a few of the boys, he was ecstatic to join a team for the first time in his life.  That first day, he tried as hard as he could to kick the ball and run.  Sweat poured from his brow as the final whistle for practice sounded, and Vinny ran to our coaching staff saying, “One day, I will be the greatest player in Malawi!”

As time passed, Vinny continued to come to practice and learn about the greatness of Jesus and the story of redemption.  He listened well, and our coaching staff was always amazed at the way he answered questions with such wisdom and thoughtfulness.  Though it was difficult to understand Vinny at times due to his speech impediment, when we could hear what he was saying, it was often a great blessing. 

Having Vinny as a part of our team has taught us so much about God and His Kingdom. I will never forget a time when our U-16 boys were competing in a match and 9-year-old Vinny wanted nothing more in the world than to join them. Our best player was named Jonto and, at the top of his lungs, Vinny shouted, “Jonto looks tired, let me in for Jonto!  I can do it.  I will score.  Come on coach?”  

Our coaching staff didn’t consider substituting our best player for Vinny - we wanted to win, and Vinny often struggled just to get his foot on the ball.  But Jonto had a different perspective. 

Jonto heard Vinny chirping from the sidelines and saw it as a moment to bless Vinny and to show him how valuable he is in the eyes of his teammates and in the eyes of God.  In a moment, Jonto ran off the field and said, “Vinny!  You are in!  It’s your turn to go for it!” 

Vinny’s mouth literally hung open in disbelief.  Then, that disbelief turned into the most beautiful smile that you’ve ever seen.  Vinny dashed onto the field and hugged Jonto. He wrapped his legs around Jonto and asked, “Can you stay with me and help?” 

Jonto agreed, and the other team, impacted by Jonto’s Kingdom decision, allowed the ball to get to Vinny’s feet. He dribbled up the field towards the goal.  Everybody was chanting his name, “Vinny, Vinny, Vinny….”

Vinny’s joy overflowed as he softly kicked the ball into the goal and dove in the dirt.  He ran over to the coaching staff and gave us the biggest hugs ever, shouting over and over again, “This is the best day of my life!”

This is why we do sports ministry. It’s not about winning games; rather, it’s about winning Vinnys into the Kingdom of God.  And in doing so, we are learning so much more about how God uses people like Vinny to broaden our view of the greatness of Christ and of how each person is “fearfully and wonderfully made.”   

Saturday, August 1, 2015

An Airport Oasis & God's Provision

From May 9-16, I was in Kenya for the Sports Friends Training of Trainers with sports ministry leaders from all over Kenya and Malawi.  It was an incredible time of fellowship, fun, learning, and growing in Christ.   The Lord met us and encouraged each person at the training to love Jesus more, serve His Church passionately, and preach His good Gospel more boldly than ever.  

On the first day of the training, Coach Clement from Malawi was leading devotions and quoted 2 Cor. 5:17-18, “We have this ministry of reconciliation…” then came Romans 12 and how “we are living sacrifices…” These words swirled around in my head for the remainder of the training. A follower of Christ abides in Him and then has a ministry of sacrificial living and opening our mouths about the greatness of God.  High thoughts, about to be brought into my reality. I soaked this wonderful time in, completely oblivious to what was coming my way.

From Kenya, I traveled to Malawi with my Malawian brothers who also serve in Sports Friends’ ministry.  We had nine days scheduled to do trainings, plan for the year, visit and encourage coaches, and accomplish many other things. To make a long story short, I got very sick with some mysterious virus that gave me chest pains, sores in my mouth, sharp pains, and extreme body fatigue.  All of my plans went out the window and I went solely into survival mode. During this time I was completely overwhelmed with the goodness of God through His people.  The Body of Christ was so generous and served me in such sacrificial ways. God provided for me in my time of greatest need.

After a wild week of sickness and the Lord sustaining me, I wearily dragged my bags through the airport thinking that my journey back to the USA would go according to plan.  But, I quickly found that things wouldn’t be so easy as my first flight was delayed 5 hours.  Because of this, I missed all of my connecting flights.   At this point, I was still very sick and in a great deal of pain.   I made it to the airport in Nairobi, Kenya, but was stranded there for 29 hours with no guarantee that I’d have a seat on the next flight. I sat in that airport completely deflated and in agony.  With no money, I just wanted to get home to my family.

As I sat there with mosquitoes swarming my ankles, I fumed in frustration. “Come on Lord! I know you see me, but what is going on here?” In the middle of my muttering rant, the Lord whispered in my ear, “Be still, my son.”  As my stomach growled and my body ached, the Lord showed up.  In the midst of that airport, He provided.  This time, God provided through complete strangers leading to a divine appointment.

Despite my bad attitude and sick body, He gave me a wonderful opportunity to share His greatness with the lost.  After being questioned at the airport security about why I did not have a ticket, I made my way to the airport shower & barber shop. Immediately after I stepped foot in this little oasis, the four workers in the shop saw me and asked, “What happened to you?” They heard my story and bought me a meal, let me use their shower, and took care of me. Then they asked, “Why are you in Africa?” 

At that moment, God’s words came to mind.  “We have this ministry of reconciliation….” Simultaneously, a wave of enthusiasm, love and energy filled me and I opened my mouth to share Christ with boldness out of an energy and love that was not my own.   We talked for over an hour about how there is no one like Jesus and how they will each have to answer to Him.   Wonderful Gospel opportunity that ended with them asking me to pray for them.   Jehovah Jireh.   After three hours, I left that shop with a full belly and clean body, but most importantly, my heart was so full and my joy was so complete that I forgot about my pain and difficulties.   God always provides.  We just need to be ready, “in season and out” (2 Tim. 4:2).  So often I fail to see His provision, but when I was weakest, He opened my eyes to His ways.

He provided food, comfort, company, a shower, and an opportunity.

To Christ be the glory for He is worthy!  He has broken the curse of sin and death and we can live in freedom and preach His healing to the nations with confidence.