SÃO PAULO -- Sports didn't bring the MBU missions team to South America, but that's one thing that Brendan Burckart ('19) and the rest of the team used to connect with the locals of São Paulo, Brazil.
Burckart, who lettered on the MBU Men's Soccer and Men's Volleyball teams during the 2017-18 season, joined a team of 10 from Maranatha on a two-week trip to Brazil, where the team used basketball and other activities (like silent drama, soccer, and volleyball) to connect with local elementary students.
Sports were simply a means to an end: sharing the saving news of Jesus Christ.
Using Sports to Connect
The group teamed up with Pastor Graham Foran and his wife, Rene, and were tasked with the PE hour at a local elementary school. Using a "stations" format, the team taught basketball and the gospel to some 400 students, who rotated through each station. One station was a clear gospel presentation. By the end of the week, three students made professions of faith and some 12-15 students attended the local church while the team was there. Aside from that, the team visited an orphanage for a day to do ministry there as well.
As Burckart recounts, spreading the gospel was the primary focus regardless of the setting or activity.
"At the end of the week, it had nothing to do with the game of basketball - it was about spreading the gospel, and that's what we did," Burckart said. "As we looked back on the week, we knew that none of us are stellar basketball players - we were just ordinary people using an ordinary means of teaching a sport to spread Christ. What's a better deal than that?"
Soccer in Brazil
In a country that is unrivaled in their passion for soccer, Burckart capitalized on his soccer ability and knowledge to connect with local kids. It also helped that he was in Brazil during the FIFA World Cup.
"Soccer is practically a religion and a lifestyle down there. When Brazil plays, everyone and everything pretty much shuts down to watch the game," Burckart said. "School is canceled, work is canceled. . . you name it. I could just say 'futbol', and [someone's] eyes would immediately brighten. I told the kids, 'I wanted to teach you soccer, but I realized that you are probably better than me, even at age seven', and that would get a laugh."
Burckart used soccer background to take his connection to the next level. Burckart met a 14-year-old boy who, like most Brazilian boys, is a fan of Neymar, Jr. - a star player for the Brazilian national team.
"He told me that he didn't have a Neymar jersey, so I ended up giving him one of mine," Burckart said. "It made total sense because he loves soccer, he loved hanging out with us, and his entire family was such a blessing to the team and to the church. They wanted to do anything to help us."
Beyond the Sports
Throughout the trip, Burckart and the rest of the team kept the eternal goals of the trip in focus. Dr. Steven Love, the team leader, helped set the tone for the team from day one.
"Dr. Love said, 'This trip is not about us teaching the kids basketball, it's about getting our foot in the door for spreading the gospel to help the church continue to spread the gospel and help people to know Christ'," noted Burckart.
Burckart quickly saw the impact the team had, and this brought satisfaction to the upperclassman.
"I told the team on Monday night - which was only our third day there - that I could go home then and be completely satisfied. And it got better and better every single day - that was just awesome.
"The church we were at was struggling, but once we showed up, they just wanted to interact with us. One of the biggest takeaways I had was the importance of the opportunity to fellowship with believers and to encourage one another. That goes so much further, and when that's taking place, that's one of the biggest steps of growth."