For individuals who play soccer their entire life, the dream of stepping out in front of thousands to play the beautiful game is one that lingers in the back of everyone's minds. It’s a intangible hope; one that rarely ever becomes a reality.
Yesterday, our team stood shoulder to shoulder, facing a stadium cut into the overgrown hillside completely overflowing with Ethiopian fans, clapping and chanting in a joyful anticipation that Canadians do not seem quite capable of. I feared that the fence surrounding the field would collapse with the weight of the additional supporters. Even the street behind the field had buses stopped on the road with hundreds more straining to catch a view of the game. It would not be fair to speak for all of my teammates, but the overwhelming numbers (estimates ranged from five to ten thousand while one audacious match official put the total close to fifteen thousand) initially made me a little worried. These people didn’t just come to see a bunch of white men play soccer. They came to see a competitive match and I really hoped that we had something to offer them.
This would be the fifth and most difficult game we had played in the last eleven days and throughout that time we had been plagued by sickness and injuries, affecting almost every team member. To put it bluntly, our bodies were beaten and burnt by the African sun. In all honesty, it was ridiculous to step out onto the pitch and pretend that we could compete with a team that was far fitter than us, backed by the thousands of fans, and accustomed to the uneven and unpredictable ground.
But we went in laughing, laughing at the sorry state of our team. Laughing at the ball as it bounced over our feet time and time again during warm up. Laughing at the ridiculous number of fans who came to watch a rag tag team of players from Canada, South Africa, Albania, Germany, and Ethiopia play a game of soccer. Many of whom had only met and started training together two weeks before. But mainly we laughed because we were filled with the joy of the Lord. We reminded one another of the incredible opportunity this was to show God’s love to thousands of His beloved children. This match was a chance to demonstrate love in the way we treated each other, the referees, the opponents, and the fans. As we prayed for the Spirit to fill us, I still felt physically exhausted but I looked up and saw the majestic mountains, lit up vividly by the slowly descending sun and I remembered that my strength comes from a source infinitely greater and more timeless than these.
Not only did we get through the game, but we actually competed! We created chances and had a number of exciting plays, hitting both the post and the crossbar in the first half. Players who had no business being on the field, experienced miraculous relief from injuries and were able to glorify God playing the game that he gave them the passion and skill to play. Although in the end we lost 3-0, we walked off the field with our heads held high and with hearts full to the brim with an astounding sense of joy and thankfulness. The crowd cheered us on and we were able to bring smiles to the other team as well. Over a faulty speaker system we were able to share our purpose for being in Ethiopia with thousands of eager ears. God moved in power and I pray that He continues this movement through the relationships that have been built and the people He has called to this ministry full time in Ethiopia.
As we left the field, we were able to hold hundreds of hands and meet even more excited smiles with our own. I believe that those people will not soon forget us and I can guarantee that none of us will forget that game and the ways in which God moved in His mighty power. There could not have been a more incredible way to bring our time on the soccer field to a close. God blew up our expectations all trip and that final game was one last reminder that He has greater plans than we could ever ask or imagine.
Psalm 121:1: I lift my eyes up to the mountains, where does my help come from? My help comes from the Lord, maker of heaven and earth.