ST. KITTS AND NEVIS -- For Caleb and Josh Hockema and Jonathan Leslie, Christmas vacation wasn't exactly restful.
In December, the trio of student-athletes from the Sabercats Men's Soccer Team spent eight days in St. Kitts, where they used soccer as a vehicle for sharing the gospel on the Caribbean island. The group spent their time exerting themselves on the soccer field and serving with some local Baptist churches in any way possible.
Restful? Not exactly. But was it worth the time and effort? Without a doubt.
The "Main Event"
Here's what these three student-athletes did:
They partnered with a group called Search & Rescue, which exists as an ad-hoc soccer team that travels to St. Kitts every two years to take on some local club teams. After each scrimmage, an S&R member will share the good news of Jesus Christ with the opposing team. The post-scrimmage gospel session really was the "Main Event".
Besides playing in the scrimmages, the S&R team hosted a 7v7 tournament for kids. After the tournament, the team preached the gospel before giving out soccer balls, cleats, and shirts to the kids. Through these soccer outreaches, the team saw God work - over 20 local soccer players professed Christ.
For Caleb Hockema, all of these activities were a reminder to keep the gospel as his primary focus.
"I thought, 'I can't come out here just to play [soccer],'" Caleb said. "'I have to come out with the right perspective and maintain a testimony.'"
Leslie and the Hockema brothers helped two different churches while in St. Kitts: Good News Baptist Church and Lighthouse Baptist Church. The S&R team conducted the preaching and musical part of the worship services, and members of the two churches sang Christmas carols together in local neighborhoods.
Since they were in another country, the unity of the Church was emphasized to these MBU student-athletes.
"There is no language barrier with God," Josh said. "And that's really powerful if you think about it. When you are serving and praising God with these people, there is no barrier there."
"It was amazing to see the unity of believers," said Caleb. "We knew we were a long ways from home, in another country, and we were all worshipping the same God. Singing the same songs that we would sing in the States and hearing the same message from God's Word was amazing."
For these three, giving the gospel was the main goal, and as the men found, the St. Kitts people were generally laid back and very friendly - what you might expect from an Island culture. This laid-back attitude made the people open to the gospel and easy to talk to.
"When you gave them a gospel tract, they would usually open it right there and read it," Josh noted. "They were just really easy to talk to."
"People were willing to just listen to what you wanted to say," Leslie said. "You could have that conversation anytime that you wanted to."
On an Island where word travels quickly, these men and the rest of the team were able to spread the news of Jesus Christ, and soccer was the point of connection.
"The message is the same," said Leslie. "It was reassuring to me that Christ died for everybody. There were people on the island that needed the gospel, and this was convicting to me missions-wise. I knew about St. Kitts, but actually seeing the people and the need was convicting."
Caleb will be entering his fourth year of competition this fall, while Josh will be lacing it up for his second season in MBU colors. Leslie will be finishing an associates degree in May, so his stint as a Sabercat will be limited to the 2018-19 season.
As far as the S&R team goes, they are planning to expand their horizons and travel to Brazil in December of 2020 as a break from their biennial trip to St. Kitts.
In terms of applying the lessons he learned while in St. Kitts, Caleb was reminded to apply the "mission-trip mindset" to his career as a student-athlete at MBU.
"When we play other colleges, [it's easy] to lose our testimony," Caleb said. "It's easy to forget that our games here [at Maranatha] are mission fields. This trip expanded my understanding of ministry. You don't have to leave the country to find a mission field - you can find a mission field anywhere if you have a heart for people."