JOHANNESBURG, South Africa (ABP) — For most of the globe outside the United States, it’s like the Super Bowl plus the NCAA Basketball Tournament plus the World Series plus the Olympics, all in one event.
And Baptists in South Africa and elsewhere are preparing for ministry opportunities surrounding the FIFA World Cup, which begins June 11 in South Africa. The 32-team tourney is scheduled to last a month, with a championship match July 11 in Johannesburg.
South African Baptists have planned a host of ministry opportunities around the quadrennial international soccer tournament — from screenings of matches in local churches to sponsorship of children’s soccer tournaments to the publication of a special outreach-oriented newspaper at World Cup events, according to the Baptist World Alliance.
Eastside Community Church in Pretoria, South Africa, sponsors a year-long internship program for young Christian leaders called Ignite the Flame. The program focuses on developing the outreach of smaller and under-resourced congregations through the interns, and in 2010 it has had a special focus on developing ministries and partnerships around the World Cup events.
According to the church’s website, they include developing a soccer academy, ministry to local schools and helping churches around South Africa implement a soccer-themed Holiday Club (the term often used for Vacation Bible School-like ministries in countries that were formerly part of the British Empire) program.
“With the prospect of hundreds of thousands of international visitors arriving for the FIFA Soccer World Cup in June 2010, the South African church is uniquely placed to impact many for Christ,” according to a statement from the church. “Not only can the lives of international visitors be touched, but also locals, particularly those who love ‘the beautiful game.’“
Among the Ignite interns are a group of Virginia Baptists who will help lead soccer clinics and direct other children’s-ministry events with a soccer theme.
Brazilian Baptists have sent a team of approximately 180 volunteers, led by Marcos Grava, the Brazilian Baptist Convention’s sports-ministry coordinator. They’ll work as part of the Africa Connection 2010 program — a partnership between the Brazilian Baptist Convention’s World Missions Board and the Brazilian Coalition of Sports Ministry, in cooperation with the Baptist Seminary of Theology in Sao Paulo.
Members of the Brazilian team will serve in several ministry roles near many of the stadiums around the country hosting World Cup matches. They include leading sporting events, personal evangelism, directing Vacation Bible Schools, seminars and evangelistic meetings in local churches and providing medical and dental care.
BMS World Mission, the missions arm of the Baptist Union of Great Britain, already sponsored a Nicaraguan team in a soccer tournament, held in March in South Africa, for street children. The Deloitte Street Child World Cup was designed to call attention to the plight of the world’s poverty-stricken children, often forced to fend for themselves when they lose their parents or guardians.
During the World Cup festivities, BMS is offering a series of soccer-related video resources — including testimonies from Christian soccer stars — to churches to use as outreach devices. Called Onside 2010, the stars interviewed include famous footballers Kaka, Marcos Senna, Cyrille Dormoraud and legendary British soccer broadcast commentator John Motson.
–Robert Marus is managing editor and Washington bureau chief for Associated Baptist Press.