by Chris Karenbauer
It was the summer of 2018. Cedarville University’s women’s soccer team went on a mission trip to Costa Rica. Through Global Outreach, they connected with a mission organization called Thrive Vision, which organized games between Cedarville and professional soccer teams.
Lauren Lichty was a junior at the time. At the beginning of their mission trip, they played the University of Costa Rica, a professional women’s soccer team.
But as memorable as it was to play a professional team, what set them apart was the moments after the game. Both teams piled into the Costa Rican coach’s house. Lichty stood among the crowd to share her testimony to her new Costa Rican friends.
“Essentially, I just kind of shared with them, in my life, how God used soccer to show me that my identity is in him and not in soccer,” said Lichty.
Lichty’s testimony began a chain reaction. The Costa Rican head coach came forward. He shared his testimony to his girls. Then, the assistant coach stepped forward to share his testimony.
All three of their testimonies watered the seeds in eight girls, who gave their lives to Jesus. Lichty’s heart swelled with pride with these girls knowing that God used her team to share the Gospel message.
“You see a lot of people whose complete and utter identity is wrapped up in soccer,” said Lichty. “For them to see how much this sport still means to me, but how much it doesn’t have control over my life is one of the coolest bridges to the Gospel I have ever had the opportunity to see.”
How can a small, leather ball change so many people’s lives? For so many developing countries, soccer is the key out of poverty because it is one of the only means for making money. The people also form their identities in the sport.
“For us Christians, we love the game of soccer,” said Jonathan Meade, the head coach of Cedarville’s women’s soccer team. “We see it, though, as a gift.”
This gift God bestowed upon Christians is used in many ways. For Duerr, he used it to reach government officials who close themselves off to Christians.
“It’s funny,” said Duerr, “because mission organizations can go up to a government and say, ‘we want to do this, this and this.’ And they say, ‘well of course you cannot do that. You’re Christians.’ But you bring to them a small, leather ball filled with air. It opens all kinds of interesting doors. Doors that wouldn’t be open to me now as an academic.”
Soccer is also a gift that becomes a gateway to build a relationship between culturally diverse people. It has become a universally common language because almost every country is familiar with the game.
Even for people who know the Gospel, soccer is an open door for spiritual growth. Trent built friendships with the orphanage boys through their common love of soccer. He helped these boys understand the Gospel message.
On his last trip to Haiti in 2019, after a game of soccer, Trent explained to the kids he continues to return to Haiti, despite the political unrest.
“I was just sharing the Gospel with them and talking about what the Kingdom was,” said Trent, “and how the kingdom was this promise that everything that’s wrong with the world is going to be undone. And we wait for that. Jesus is coming back, and he’s going to make that a reality. At the same time, one of the reasons we’re here in Haiti is we believe that the Kingdom also exists now.”
Three years after her mission trip, Lichty signed to play professionally in Costa Rica. Many people ask why she decided to play in a country like Costa Rica because even though soccer is popular, players, especially women, do not get paid much, if at all.
Their identity is in soccer, but Lichty does not see it that way.
Lichty said, “It’s provided a really cool opportunity for me to be like, ‘yeah, soccer is awesome, but if this was my everything, I couldn’t be here. If this is what I’m living for, I couldn’t be here’.”
Besides playing professional soccer, Lichty does volunteer teaching at a local school. And she is also working to open a home for kids rescued from sex trafficking.
Soccer is a great sport. It brings people from all over the world together. It may bring temporary happiness to someone’s life, but it is not the key to joy.
For athletes or anyone who wants to go on a mission trip for sports, Trent said, “If you have these opportunities, don’t over-spiritualize it. Don’t sit here and be like, ‘Well, I just don’t know if I’m supposed to go here, or I’m supposed to go here.’
“Just go .”
Chris Karenbauer is a junior Journalism major and the Campus News Editor for Cedars. She enjoys reading and writing, hanging out with friends and jamming out to music.