In 2012, I wrote an blog called “When Winning is Losing.” The post was about a time when a few of the boys of Lyzee United Football Club lost their cool in a tournament and ended up getting into a fight which resulted in quite a scene where many other teams saw a very bad example of the Gospel. We ended up going back to our house and talking for a long time about how winning the game at all cost really is not worth it. Some of the boys stood up to apologize and reconcile with one another. It was a beautiful moment but a very hard lesson.
|Lyzee United FC in 2012|
Today I have another story from the same group of boys who we have poured our lives into over the past 5 ½ years. In that time, the Holy Spirit has moved mightily and has really transformed several of the boys of Lyzee United. Now, they are no longer little 10-12 year olds. They are young men who are 16-18 years old and who know how to work hard, love their neighbor and honor the King. From the beginning, our team verse on our logo is 1 Peter 2:17 which says “Honor everyone. Love the brotherhood. Fear God. Honor the King.” Here is a picture of our logo which reads, “Yesu Ndi Mfumu” (Jesus is King).
|Lyzee United Football Club logo|
These boys are our family. We’ve lost some along the way to sickness and death but the Lord has been near and has grown up an exceptional core of young men who truly love Him and care more about the kingdom of God than the trifles of this world. Many of you have knelt on behalf of the salvation of these young men and we have seen it with our eyes! Jesus has revealed himself to many of them and beckoned them to come and join his family.
|Teaching the boys from God's Word in 2012|
On Saturday, we entered into a big soccer tournament in Malawi for Under-21s. Many of the nation’s best players were there and ready to wipe the floor with us. There was a good bit of trash-talk coming from several of the other teams as we arrived and they saw how small we were. Like I’d mentioned before, the boys are ages 16-18, so we were certainly the youngest team. But our boys beamed with confidence in Christ and our captain led the way with setting our minds on things above, “No matter what happens, let’s represent Jesus today guys! Win or lose, we shake the hands of our opponents and treat them with utmost respect.” I reminded the boys that many many non-believers were watching us hoping for us to fail. But God had other plans.
|The boys on Saturday|
The first whistle sounded and the boys immediately took complete control of the game. They have been playing with each other for more than 5 years so they play as one body. It’s beautiful to watch. Especially when they are so much smaller than the other teams. We easily won our first match 3-1 and so went the rest of the matches as we cruised through the group stages into the quarterfinals. By this time, many people were coming up to me as the coach and saying, ”Wow! Who are these little guys and where do you come from and why do you do what you do?” I had 4 opportunities to share the WHY we do what we do in the first few games. The boys were worshipping Christ on the pitch and I was able to explain and testify to their attitudes and work ethic and point all those who questioned to the glory of Jesus Christ! “We love Jesus, we love football, and we love you.” This was our slogan as coaches for the day as we interacted with many who asked. It was the most God-honoring display of soccer (football) that I’ve ever been a part of.
We easily won our quarterfinal game and tightly won the semifinal game, which put us into the final. Everyone gathered to watch our boys fight hard in the final. We have not lost 1 game all year so you can imagine how much the boys tried to win this one. Blood, mud, sweat and tears were all present. I’ve never seen them so exhausted. The game finished 0-0 and we ended up losing in penalty kicks. I could see the agony in the boy’s faces. They were drained emotionally, physically, BUT NOT spiritually! Though we lost, this was our moment.
In every other tournament that I’ve seen in Malawi, the losing team always fights the ref or makes a huge scene to try to change the end result. But, our boys went out of the way to shake the hands of the other players. They realized that, more than we want to win games, we want to win souls. They shook the hands of the champions and then took the second place trophy with grace and heads held high. I cannot tell you how much I wanted to explode with joy as I watched their maturity and heard the things they were saying. So so much glory being directed away from themselves and onto Jesus. This is the goal of what we do. Though we lost, we won! And I’m actually thankful that we lost because this was a God-given opportunity for the boys to allow the Holy Spirit to work through them. After everything, their disappointment faded quickly and we got into the minibus and this is what happened…
Video: Yenda Yenda Yenda ndi Yesu (Walk, Walk, walk with Jesus!)
The whole way home we celebrated! God has a way of meeting us when we press into him in difficult times. It was the sweetest celebration I’ve ever experienced in sports and it was straight worship. Absolute Holy Spirit-given joy in the midst of loss. Such an amazing day that I wanted to share with you. I don’t think many of the boys saw me, but as they sang I wept with tears of joy to the Lord listening to their worship. Worship that did not align with their circumstances and the outcome of the tournament but worship that flowed out from hearts that are full of the love and joy of the Father. In Jesus Christ, even when we lose we can win because He has already won the battle for us on the cross. He shed his blood for these boys and I got the blessing of hearing their praises to the King who came to us in the manger.
There is 220 active church-centered sports ministry teams like Lyzee United all over Malawi who are intentionally and effectively preaching Christ and making disciples. We are praying that God would raise up more laborers for the harvest because the fields are ripe! Will you join us in this? Please let us know if you will commit to praying for Sports Friends Malawi ministry in 2017.
Here is the link to giving online if God leads you to support this ministry financially:
May the Lord continue to bless you with more of Himself over this Christmas holiday! May Jesus be central in your home!
Luke, Becca, Lyzee and Zeke Voight