TIRUCHIRAPPALLI, INDIA -- Barriers.
Traveling halfway around the world. Interacting with an entirely different culture. Communicating in a different language. Reaching semi-secluded people.
These were just some of the barriers that Team India faced, but they saw God work through each one. Soccer brought them to the southeastern reaches of India, and the game allowed them to break down the barriers that otherwise could have been a hindrance to their primary purpose.
The team, comprised of 19 student-athletes and staff members from Maranatha Baptist University, spent 12 days over there, and they used soccer to connect with nearly 150 children from a combined four schools. But the game of soccer was just a tool. The primary goal was to share Jesus Christ with the kids that came to the clinics.
When the gospel was presented, the final barrier was posed that only the Lord can break down: convincing people of their need for a Savior.
GOALS and the GOSPEL
Roughly 70 kids and the team from Maranatha spent about three hours a day under the warm sun chasing soccer balls, the other team, and even the occasional teammate. After playing with the kids, the team from MBU shared Jesus Christ to close each session.
The team presented the gospel nine different times over the four days of clinics, holding as many as 300 people in a single audience. Over the four days, roughly 20 kids made professions of faith.
"It was incredible to share the gospel with them and see the recognition of hope on their faces," said Alyssa Wright, who presented the gospel story one of the days. "[It was] definitely the highlight of the trip knowing we will someday see those kids again in Heaven."
Distance, culture, language (via a translator), and seclusion ceased to be barriers in an all-encompassing scene: the scene of an American college soccer player telling Indian children about Jesus next to a dusty soccer field in southeast India.
One such scene was of Brendan Burckart sharing the good news of Jesus Christ with some 300 students and faculty at a local school in the town of Perambalur. An opportunity to present the gospel and lead a 45-minute worship service was something that came as an unplanned event for Burckart and the rest of the team.
"It was just God using me as a means to give the gospel," said Burckart of the opportunity. "And sure, there was an element of fear beforehand, but it was a chance for me to rely on [God] for an opportunity like that."
If it wasn't for soccer, the team wouldn't have been able to enter the school's campus. So in that one unique scene, the barriers to sharing the gospel at that place, in that context, and to those people were all bypassed.
LEARNING from the LOCALS
Tiruchirappalli (or "Trichy"), is home to 2.7 million people, many of whom are unfamiliar with the gospel. And to a large extent, the Trichy people are unfamiliar with Americans - a fact that allowed the team to bypass the potential barrier of rejection.
"They really want to know you," Wright said. "They wanted to talk to us and just be around us. And that really helped us in sharing the gospel."
The people's receptiveness to Americans was perhaps the most endearing thing about them. So too were their willingness to help, their respect of societal norms, and as Burckart noted, their passionate worship at the local Baptist church.
"We tend to fall under a performance-based [mindset], or we think, 'I can't sing'," Burckart said. "But [in Trichy], no matter what song it was or what it sounded like, it was sung with the same volume, with the same heart.
"The area where the church is is so poor, but then you came into that one-room church building and none of that mattered. It was just a house of worship for two hours."
The novelty of the Indian culture and the example of the Indian believers allowed the team members to learn lessons in new ways. Lessons that have daily implications for their activities at MBU.
"If we view our vocation as our end goal, our perspective is wrong," Wright said. "It put things in perspective to see their passion for ministry and to see what they have sacrificed for the gospel; seeing them made me realize that I should approach my ministries with the same passion that they showed."
"It made me recognize the need for the gospel," Burckart added. "I saw the success of the gospel over in India, and I look at life back at Maranatha and see the same need back here - the gospel needs to impact our lives on a daily basis. "