“Hand ball! Penalty!”
Players throw up their arms and look pleadingly to the referee.
The other team protests: “But she’s a girl, and the ball was heading for her face! Of course she put her hands up to stop it!”
The referee laughs as he jogs over and then points to the penalty-kick spot about 12 yards in front of the goal. Actually, there are no markings on this pitch. In fact, it isn’t really a soccer pitch at all. It’s a sandy area behind a primary school on the outskirts of Kandi where we meet at 5 p.m. each Sunday for a friendly game of soccer after our church’s youth program.
Initially, we missionaries (Michée, Etienne and I) decided to play as a means of keeping fit, and we invited church members and the youth to join us. Very quickly, we were joined by several other people, both Muslim and Christian, including my teacher, colleagues and other young men who saw us playing and couldn’t resist joining in. We now host two games—one for adults, and one for kids up to age fourteen. Most weeks, we end up with more than 22 adults, including several women, and almost the same number of children. There’s something about a soccer ball that just draws people together!
But we don’t want our new friends to only enjoy playing soccer with us. Our hope is that through their interactions with us, both on and off the soccer pitch, they will come to discover our greatest Friend and Savior, Jesus Christ, the One who draws all people to Himself and who guarantees victory against our greatest foe, Satan, in all aspects of our lives.
We begin and end each soccer game by gathering together for prayer, thanking God for the healthy bodies He has given us, thanking Him for the opportunity to have fun together, and inviting the Holy Spirit to guide our attitudes and actions. We give glory to God for the spirit of unity we enjoy and thank Him that there have been no twisted ankles or broken legs during the few months we have been playing.
In terms of equipment, we have two small goals that we transport to the pitch each week. Thanks to a few recent donations, we will now be able to purchase two sets of bibs so players can identify their teammates, and a high-quality imported ball. The balls available in Benin do not last more than three months on the rough, rocky ground. We pray that this soccer ministry will grow and continue for many years and that God will use it for His glory and renown in Kandi. How grateful we will be to play soccer together on the grassy, rock-free pitches of heaven, hopefully with many friends from Kandi!
Thank you for your faithful prayers and support of the Dendi Project.