Building the Kingdom Through Soccer
“Eye-opening” and transformational is how Daniel Jeong describes his experience with Athletes in Action (AIA) Soccer. The 28-year-old Trinity Western University student from South Korea spent his summer as an intern with AIA’s Soccer Division, one of the many opportunities offered to young athletes who want to make a difference in their lives, and in the lives of others through sport. Every summer, AIA provides a variety of programs, including missions projects and coaching opportunities at camps and retreats to help students grow professionally and spiritually in sports – from basketball to football to soccer and much more. “At AIA, we want athletes to see and realize the value in their sport, and then enable them to leverage their passion and skills to advance the Kingdom, both locally and internationally,” National Director of AIA Soccer Paul Ballard states. Soccer is one of the most recognized and popular sports in the world. For many years, the AIA Soccer Division has organized and sent varsity-level teams on tours around the world to experience the reality of blending faith and sport, while exploring a different culture. Daniel was one of those students. In June 2013, he was one of 40 varsity soccer players that traveled to Zambia and Swaziland. On this Southeast Africa soccer tour, Daniel and his teammates played against youth academy teams and conducted ministry among the communities visited. “Our main purpose was playing against the teams and building relationships, sharing testimonies, and through that, doing ministry,” he says. In addition, they also set up daily soccer training camps for local kids, and helped out with landscaping as part of practical service to the community. Every night, an AIA staff member led the team in Bible study, providing fellowship, unity, and encouragement. Daniel is likely to remember his AIA experience in Africa for years to come. “The environment is so different than in Canada… here we have overflowing soccer equipment, but over there they are so desperate. They make their own soccer balls by melting plastic bags together.” Seeing others in such great need has made the biggest impact, giving Daniel a greater passion and focus on serving and helping others. These missions trips also make a great impact, not only through the realm of sport, but through students sharing their stories – as Daniel did to some younger children in Swaziland. In a very honest and authentic way, he opened up about how he met God and what God had done in his life. Upon hearing Daniel’s testimony, one staff member was so moved that he considered it to be the highlight of his whole trip. Daniel also saw a change in others too. One of his roommates during the trip was a spiritually and mentally broken athlete struggling in his soccer career. But being part of the trip caused him to gradually open up, until he began to discover God’s calling in his life. He has since moved on to do ministry work in Indonesia and use his soccer skills to glorify God. When Daniel returned to Canada, AIA gave him an opportunity to coach weekly soccer camps in Ontario. Partnering with churches there, he was involved in training and reaching out to kids (aged 6-12) for the rest of the summer. This past summer alone, AIA partnered with 45 churches across the country to host camps for over 1800 kids. “The mission of Athletes in Action Church Soccer Camps is to help local churches reach their community through sport,” Church Soccer Camp Director Clarke Glover says. “Every year we hire 24 coaches who go on nine week faith adventures where they share the gospel all across Canada. We were excited to see Daniel grow in his faith and to help various churches throughout Ontario.” “The highlight [of my summer with AIA] was being involved with a successful ministry organization and seeing what that looks like…Going from an intern to missions trip to being a soccer coach,” Daniel says. University students have a vital opportunity to actively participate in what God is doing here and around the world with AIA’s summer programs. As Daniel describes it, the experience is for those who want a “change of heart.” Students of all stripes can come and be a part of building spiritual movements through the universal language and power of sport.