We began with a simple plan, a few teams, 5 or 6 maximum, playing soccer for a couple of afternoons with a USA sports-focused mission team that was going to be with us in Belo Horizonte. Within two weeks of announcing the concept, double the number of responses came in and we were excited! 13 teams of 6 kids each, wanted to be involved in our "Copa da Unidade" - Unity Cup- at The Lighthouse base. Some of these teams came from other YWAM bases, two local community projects sent a team, local churches sent teams, players from our former soccer school, and kids from the neighborhood surrounding The Lighthouse came to join in the fun!
On the first day of the tournament there were people waiting outside the gates of The Lighthouse base, thirty minutes early!!! And they were not only players, but people of all ages wanting to be part of this community event. The second day, as word spread through the community, even more people showed up to watch the tournament.
Each team had a player from the USA mission team, Briarwood Soccer Club from Briarwood, Alabama, and a translator. During the game breaks and at other times, when they weren’t playing, the USA team member and the translator began sharing and relating with the local children through laughter, a testimony, an encouraging word, or a scripture. The children from the community were very receptive to and grateful for their team’s "Gringo" and his or her soccer skills. By the end of the first two qualifying days there were new friendships made and shirts exchanged.
Finals day showcased the best 6 teams vying the title of Champion of The Unity Cup. The last qualifying match came down to a penalty shoot-out. When the championship match came down to a penalty shot, there wasn’t a sound to be heard, all were holding their breath as the goalie and shooter faced off. Once the ball left the foot of the shooter, the crowd erupted! And when the "dust settled", undefeated Columbia took home the trophy. Other awards were also given for MVP, best goalie and most goals scored.
While there can only be one winner in a soccer match, in life it is different. During the tournament, each one of the children that participated were told and shown that they too can be a winner. This weekend they were given a chance to play competitive sports in a safe environment where they were loved, listened to and mentored. They were encouraged whether they were winning or losing, which is exactly what God does for us. We were able to reach many kids that normally wouldn’t come to the regular community activities sponsored throughout the year by The Lighthouse but what has happened is that because of this tournament. many children expressed a desire to come back to The Lighthouse and participate in other activities.
View the video here: