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Influencing a Nation Through Soccer

Written by Jennifer Penner

June 9, 2014

Soccer camps in Canada

A GROWING SPORT

It may be considered Canada’s game, but in reality, there may be fewer Canadians choosing to actually play hockey. In fact, on average, almost twice as many Canadian children (under 14 years old) play soccer each year, which constitutes the fastest growing sport in the country.

With so many Canadians choosing to play one of the oldest and most popular sports in the world, it’s not surprising that Athletes in Action (AIA) has been leveraging a great opportunity, both locally and internationally, to use soccer as a widespread mission field for the past 20 years. When AIA Soccer began in 1993, the vision was simple: to create and maintain a training hub for soccer players based in Langley, B.C. Every summer, male and female players would come to receive training and participate in projects, including soccer tours.

REDEFINING THE VISION

What began as a simple vision has now grown and evolved, says Paul Ballard, National Director of Soccer. Since September 2012, Ballard has been overseeing church partnership soccer camps (50 across Canada), international tours and projects (2-4 per summer), and other local ministry initiatives.

Due to the growth of the sport, the ministry has seen a steady increase of more teams and more competitions every year. But with the increase, there is also a greater burden to bear. “Today, if we want to attract more players to our ‘club’, this requires a lot more funds, which we don’t currently have,” he says. “So, we’ve had to evolve our vision and start to decentralize to create smaller bases. Our goal would be to replicate what’s happening in our Langley base across other cities in Canada.” In particular, the ministry hopes to expand to Winnipeg, Toronto, and another city in Alberta in the near future.

Fuelling a growing movement of spiritual multiplication remains a high priority for AIA Soccer. The question remains: How to bring about this process on a local, national level?

CORNERSTONE – TRANSFORMING COMMUNITIES

AIA Soccer has created a ministry strategy that uses the sport of soccer to share the love of Jesus and ultimately build His Kingdom. The strategy is called Cornerstone because in its essence, AIA believes that the people who will be reached may one day make Jesus the cornerstone of their life. Based upon three pillars of ministry, teaching, gathering, and serving, the model promotes spiritual growth and discipleship through the Word, being in community, and loving people through action, respectfully.

“We’ve had to evolve our vision and start to decentralize to create smaller bases.”

For instance, through Cornerstone, local soccer players have a real, transformative opportunity to participate in an international tour, which provides the “training ground” for them to improve their skills, build relationships with others, and most importantly, share their faith and make a lasting spiritual impact.

“Cornerstone is essentially a local sustainable ministry model where anyone who participates (volunteers, coaches, players) in a soccer tour can be trained and then empowered to run their own Cornerstone groups back home,” Ballard says. “The ultimate goal is to build the Kingdom and advance AIA, but it is flexible enough for people to adapt for their own situations and contexts.” Cornerstone is integral not only to the original vision of AIA Soccer, but to the heartbeat of AIA’s vision to increase the number of spiritual multipliers for the Kingdom by building into today’s athletes with intentionality and purpose.

A TANGIBLE MODEL

So far, since Cornerstone launched in January 2013, the strategy has seen real results, with more players engaged in soccer as well as experiencing spiritual growth. While several players from the U.S. have already been trained with the model and launched their own groups within their communities as a result, AIA Soccer wants to see the same multiplication of Cornerstone happening in Canada. The potential is indeed great, but so is the need to train and inspire more athletes so that this can happen.

“I believe we are on the cusp of something great,” Ballard says. “As one of the oldest ministries of AIA, we’ve already been able to do more on the international level, but there are still more opportunities to organize more tours, get more interns and volunteers involved, and continue developing and advancing Cornerstone.” He also notes that with the Cornerstone model in place, there is the potential for other sports ministries to use it and see more growth and expansion for the Kingdom.

“Soccer is such an influential sport. We envision AIA Soccer giving an athlete the opportunity to make a difference in his world, even though it may not be at the professional level, but rather to influence his team for the gospel,” Ballard says. “This is what Cornerstone, at its heart, is all about.”

FOR THE LOVE OF SOCCER:
SERVING A GREATER PURPOSE

Growing up in Ipatinga, Brazil, Andre started playing soccer at a young age and tried to be a professional player up until his teens. But the pressure of studying compelled him to quit his dream for seven years. His path to Canada in 2010 brought him to Trinity Western University where he enrolled in a Masters of Theology and started playing soccer again on the men’s Spartan team after a friend convinced him to join.

It wasn’t until he went on an AIA soccer tour to Benin, Africa, where Andre met Ballard and he started to get involved in Cornerstone. “I had this idea to do a trip to Brazil for the World Cup, but it never happened for a while,” Andre says. “Incidentally, it was during a flight back to my hometown where I happened to meet a guy who runs an inner city soccer ministry in Brazil, which also inspired me.”

Then one day, sometime in 2013, Ballard wanted to know more about doing a trip to Brazil, and he and Andre began to talk about it. What began as a far-fetched idea several years ago has become a reality: this summer, AIA Soccer will organize its first tour to Andre’s hometown where around 50 players (men and women) will participate.

This summer, AIA Soccer will organize its first World Cup tour to Ipatinga, Brazil.

Not only will the tour involve the team playing several games, running camps/clinics, and doing a variety of other outreaches, but the Brazil trip is unique because of the partnerships and connections that have already been made with local churches and the mayor of Ipatinga. “This kind of cooperation is unprecedented,” Ballard notes, “But it’s because of Andre and his family’s connection and influence in the town that this is even possible.”

“Andre’s journey to go back to his hometown and bring back 50 players with him so they can grow and be inspired is pretty significant,” he continues. “God’s hand was clearly in this. He opened the doors to make this happen.”

With young men and women embarking on an international tour to Brazil, the soccer capital of the world, this summer is sure to be a life-changer for many of these athletes. Through the combined experience of sport and missions, it is hoped that they will be inspired and equipped to make a difference for the Kingdom by starting their own Cornerstone groups when they return home.

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You can help more stories like Andre’s become a reality through the ministry of AIA Soccer. Please consider partnering with us through financial or prayer support to expand Cornerstone and fuel the momentum for evangelism and multiplication today!


2 Responses to “Influencing a Nation Through Soccer”

  • Elkay says:

    Pastor Benmark, we are always encouraged in this online ministry when we learn that it has encouraged others to pray for it to draw others to the Gospel. So thank you for taking the time to reply. There is always a need for out-reach ministries like yours and church of my membership has “adopted” an orphanage named Tamani for homeless children in Nairobi, Kenya, working in cooperation with the local New Hope church. Many members have gone to Nairobi to serve and help in building a “summer camp site” for the orphans and return blessed and re-dedicated to helping them with clothes, educational materials, etc. We personally support a 10-year old boy named Geoffrey and enjoy letters back from him and seeing him grow up in a Christian environment. So we join with your prayers for Kenya, your evangelism, helping the sick and orphaned, and growing God’s Kingdom in Kenya!! May God bless you and your continuing service to Him!!

  • Benmark says:

    Dear Servant of God ,
    Receive much greetings from kisii Kenya in the might name of Jesus christ.I take this opportunity to thank My God who has given me this life to day,in Him i move,Live and have my being.I pray that may the Lord God bless your website,anoint it with the heavenly anointing to attract people to you,who come to visit your website .Brethren,i request for your prayers,friendship and affiliation with your ministry.I feel in my heart that you are men of God who He has chosen to preach the Gospel let us join hands and do the work of God,Our ministry here in kenya,we reach the lost souls by the Gospel,through evangelism,seminars,praying to help the needy like orphans,sick people in hospital and those who are in their homes.We have the vision next to reach street children by the gospel and we are praying God to provide ways for us to buy them food,medications, clothes, school them and shelter them.Our ministry’s vision is to plant churches here in our country Kenya and the neighboring countries ,we pray God to bring us like minded brothers and sisters to partner with us,so that we can achieve the goal Jesus commissioned us .God bless you continually proclaim the Gospel of the Kingdom,
    Yours in christ Pastor Benmark

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