Alabama students use soccer symbol as witnessing tool at World Cupcomment (0)
July 3, 2014
Sixty-four soccer matches contested by 736 players on 32 teams in 12 cities. Without argument, the month-long 2014 FIFA World Cup in Brazil is the most watched sporting event in the world.
In addition to the 1 billion people tuning in around the globe, an estimated 600,000 visitors are converging in Rio de Janeiro and the 11 other host cities in Brazil to watch and cheer for their country’s team. Other visitors to Rio, however, have another goal in mind — sharing the message of Jesus Christ with those who have never heard.
A team of 11 Southern Baptist college students and two student ministry leaders traveled to Rio de Janeiro for the World Cup as part of the International Mission Board’s (IMB) student mobilization efforts to partner with Brazilian Baptists in outreach. The students, their Brazilian co-workers and IMB representatives are spending two weeks witnessing in communities around Rio and evangelizing near the city’s Maracanã stadium, where tens of thousands of fans attend World Cup matches twice a week during the June 12 to July 13 competition.
“The World Cup is where the nations come to one place,” said Lee Dymond, campus minister for Auburn University at Montgomery and leader of the collegiate group. “It’s our opportunity to share the gospel and hopefully impact not just Brazil but all the nations that are coming to Brazil for (the) World Cup.”
Dymond said the students “who are here on our team have a heart for evangelism and a heart for the gospel.”
After arriving in Rio, the student volunteers spent time learning about a specialized witnessing technique developed by the Brazilian Baptist Home Mission Board. Diogo da Cunha Carvalho, coordinator of evangelistic strategies for Brazilian Baptists’ domestic missions efforts, helped to develop the “Yellow Card Strategy” for Brazilian churches to use in 2013.
In soccer, Carvalho explained, a yellow card is displayed by a referee as a warning or caution to a player regarding conduct that could lead to expulsion from the match (signified by a red card).
Carvalho demonstrated the witnessing technique, which begins by approaching someone and raising a yellow card while blowing a whistle — just like a soccer referee. This warning, though, is a message from God, the Baptist volunteer tells the person.
After receiving permission to explain the message, the approach leads to a “goodness” test, Carvalho explained. Here the presenter shows, through a series of questions, how all are sinners according to the Bible and fall short of being “a good person.” Then the believer shares the reality of the good news.
In a country such as Brazil with a history of religiousness, “at this point some may connect the phrase ‘Jesus died for our sins,’ but there’s a disconnect between that phrase, their actual sinfulness and the ‘I’m a good person’ mentality,” Carvalho told the student volunteers. “They don’t connect the giant statue of Jesus that stands over Rio with what Jesus did for them on the cross — that He came to die and He rose again to defeat death for their freedom.”
On game days in Rio, the collegiate team divides into groups of two or three, along with a translator. The teams then fan out around the outside of Brazil’s national stadium.
Bekah Gordon, co-leader of the collegiate trip, said the atmosphere was exactly what she had hoped.
“It’s the World Cup,” said Gordon, who previously served with Dymond at Auburn as a semester missionary through the North American Mission Board. “I grew up playing soccer, and I’m now a soccer coach in Montgomery. To be able to combine two of my greatest loves — the gospel and soccer — is awesome.”
At the stadium one day, Gordon and her evangelism partner approached a young man sitting alone.
“Ricardo was sitting by himself [and we] walked over to him and threw up the yellow card and blew the whistle,” Gordon said. “He immediately threw up his hands and said ‘What did I do? What did I do?’
“That was the perfect reaction because we wanted him to have the idea that something was wrong,” she said. “We told him it’s not just what he has done, it’s what all of us have done.”
At first Ricardo said he was a good person but recognized after the examples Gordon gave that he was indeed guilty and deserving of penalty and hell. He admitted he had a faith background as a child but discarded it to enjoy his own lifestyle of fun and partying.
Freedom in Christ
Gordon and her evangelism partner explained to Ricardo “that giving our lives to God is not like going to prison; it’s not bondage, but freedom. We shared that we are not bound to sin anymore and life with God is better than the world.
“We continued to share but our translator interrupted us and said, ‘He’s ready to accept Christ,’” Gordon said. “We prayed with him and he said ‘I feel free now.’ The cool thing about this whole exchange is that Ricardo is from Lima, Peru. God blessed our [Portuguese-speaking] interpreter with enough Spanish to communicate the gospel clearly.”
James Dubuisson, a student at the University of North Alabama in Florence and youth minister of First Baptist Church, Lawrenceburg, Tenn., admitted he had some apprehension to the direct approach of witnessing.
“I was skeptical of the methods we’re using here because I’m more comfortable building a relationship with someone and then sharing the gospel,” he said. “But coming up to someone on the street and saying, ‘You need to know about Jesus’ is new to me. God has been challenging me a lot.”
Alison Myers, a senior at the University of Alabama at Birmingham (UAB), came to Rio with a personal objective to learn more about the Brazilian culture so she could better share the gospel contextually with Brazilian friends at UAB. More than that, Myers came with a special story to tell.
Myers was born with hip dysplasia. Doctors told her parents she would never walk.
“My parents prayed. ... They had faith in the Lord that He would provide and be the physical and spiritual healer in my life,” Myers said. After surgery and therapy, today Myers can walk.
“Every step I take is a daily reminder of what He can do through me,” she said. “When talking to people here, if they look depressed or discouraged or broken, I include my story. ... That really lights up their eyes when I tell them how the Lord has done so many great things in my life.”
Myers said she prayed before leaving for Rio “that the Lord would stretch me and allow me to be uncomfortable ... and be able to deal with it. ... To hear people say ‘no’ is hard, but the Lord has given me that boldness.”