Best Laid Plans: How a rained-out soccer camp led to a mission trip highlight
There are a lot of famous quotes about making plans, but the gist of them all appears to be this: they’re important to make, you need to have them, and they can fall apart at a moment’s notice.
When a group of women from the Trinity Western University soccer team went to Paraguay with SportAid, their best-laid plans went awry on the very first day. Instead of a big soccer camp and tournament, God had something else in store.
“It was pouring rain on our first day there,” says Seina Kashima, a second-year forward for the Spartans. “There were supposed to be over 100 kids coming, but they weren’t allowed out in the rain, so there were no kids when we showed up.”
The morning instead turned into a time of quiet conversation with the pastor and his wife who were hosting the team.
“Things didn’t quite go as planned,” says Rachel Bedek, a former TWU goalkeeper who helped lead the team. “But we got to sit down with the pastor and his wife in the morning and that turned out to be so cool. They were able to explain to us, in the minds of the kids when they see us coming, their first thought is, ‘I can’t believe someone from Canada would come all this way to see me, they must love me so much.’”
“It was really cool to hear what their visions were and what they want to do for the community,” adds Seina. “It was very inspiring to hear the passion in their voices and the love they have for this community.”
After the rain stopped, the team went for a hike up a nearby hill and walked back to the church through one of the poorer villages around Asunción, Paraguay. With the weather improving, they began gathering a group of kids to play soccer, even if the camp itself had been rained out.
“Soon we had this huge train of kids behind us,” laughs Amy Gartke, a second-year defender with the Spartans. “It started being sunny too.”
“A whole ton of kids,” agreed Seina. “They came out of everywhere. We went to their community soccer field and we ended up playing a game. It was a very official game, we had a referee.”
“We didn’t speak the same language,” she continued, “but it didn’t matter, because we were able to interact with these kids just by playing soccer. You’d pick up a few words that you needed to get by in the game. They were just loving it.
“Then at the end of the game, probably at least an hour later, a real full game, we brought all the kids to the middle and the pastor invited them all to come to church the next morning.”
At church the next day, the SportAid team didn’t see any of the kids they had played soccer with until the referee himself walked around the corner. “He had at least twenty kids behind him,” said Seina. “All the kids went into the church and the referee stayed outside talking with a few of us and Graham.”
That would be Graham Roxburgh, head coach of the TWU women’s soccer team and founder of SportAid. He spoke with the referee about their shared passion for soccer.
“[The referee] explained that he was the coach of most of the kids in the community,” said Seina. “He coaches three or four teams. Graham is sharing about why he’s so passionate about what he does and what drives him and shares his faith.
“Next thing you know, the referee is accepting Christ.”
It turned out that this conversion was a long time coming. “After the service,” Seina said, “his wife came up to a few of our players and she was just crying, saying, ‘Thank you, I became a Christian ten years ago, I was baptized, but my husband was just so against it.’”
“She thought she couldn’t go to church,” said Seina, “so she’d just been praying for the last ten years that he would come to know Christ.”
“We went to his house,” said Amy, “and ended up blessing his family and praying for them. My coach said, ‘Amy, do you want to pray?’ And I said, ‘Sure,’ but it’s not something I do often. It was good to be pushed in that way.”
“On Monday, when we ended up switching the tournament,” said Seina, “[the referee] brought all his teams out to play. And then we held a sports ministry conference the weekend after [about] integrating faith and sport. He ended up coming so he could learn how to impact his players and his team and his community.”
“It was so incredible to see how God just so strongly pursued this one man,” she added, “and what an impact he’s going to have on his community because he’s so connected in it and all the kids love him.”
“I was challenged with trusting in God,” said Amy. “All the events that led to [the referee] becoming a Christian, that would have never happened it it wasn’t raining the first day and our tournament got cancelled. We never would have taken that hike, never would have walked through that village. It made me realize that God has this plan and sometimes it’s just about trusting him.”