It’s played across continents; it breaks down social barriers and challenges perceptions. People play it at the park, at school, in the car park; and to the annoyance of my parents it can be played inside. Millions of us watch it weekly and many of us can’t stop talking about it. It doesn’t take into account your social class or your mother tongue, where you live or where you are going. It’s called sport, and trust me; people are playing it, watching it and are completely crazy for it. The international language may be most associated with the green grass of Wembley or the sandy beach of Copacabana but unbeknownst to many; it is a constant in life in Thailand.
Below the tourist destinations of famous Thai islands we meet what I like to call ‘the real’ South Thailand. Away from inflated prices and yellow beach rings we hit the gold, we meet the real richness of travelling abroad and engaging with people from different cultures. We meet the people of South ‘South’ Thailand, the unreached people who play a crazy amount of football but who don’t know Jesus… yet.
This is the aim, for hundreds and thousands to come to Jesus! This is the world, sports mad. This is the hope, through the engagement of sport, Jesus becomes our supreme concern.
As I look across the football pitch I see everyone running too much, that seems to be the way here, not passing enough. As I look across the pitch I see plenty of talking and communication, but it seems to bear no fruit. I see unhelpful training plans and as I shout ‘let the ball do the work’ my words seem to fall on deaf ears, or perhaps they are just ignored. I see everyone facing the wrong direction, I see them all running but all towards the wrong goal. The sidelines are a difficult place to play, you never feel at the heart of the battle, you can go unnoticed and perhaps have no impact at all.
This is what it feels like sitting on the other side of the world knowing that so many unreached Thai people are all out playing the chaotic game of life without the truth, without direction towards the truth that Jesus brings life.
But in this, there becomes an exciting opportunity…
Back to the analogy; the second half comes, and the boys decide to change things up a little. Simon, who I am interning with, and I come on and start receiving the ball, we start to make things happen and most importantly, we start scoring goals. As Simon throws in his Brazilian step overs and I plant myself on the end of his crosses, we start to influence the game, the environment, the atmosphere, and it changes. As we continue to play, those around us start to seek after the ball, they run into the right places. The game changes, suddenly players are learning, they are playing with a new understanding that is bringing fruit.
The spiritual environment in South Thailand can be very similar to the story written above, a team playing a game but in the wrong direction, but the potential influence we can have is also very similar to that of above as well, huge.
Rising early wasn’t a choice;
it was natural inclination towards the light streaming through the window with the prospect of another day of football. Coaching in schools was our first step, and having passports from world cup winning countries, albeit Brazil more than England, our ticket in was more of a God send than a reference to our language skills. The football wasn’t just the day job either, an early dinner was a necessity to last a long evening of games with our local friends, and if we didn’t have that pleasure, the Premier League would just have to do. And so as we began to share life and to embrace new culture, the things most important to us were brought up, questions were asked, prayers were accepted, change began to happen and Jesus entered the conversation. What happened? We stepped onto the pitch, and began to play.
After a year of growth and doors opening, the hope is to open a Football Academy in the coming months, not for football’s sake, but for Jesus’ sake. The purpose is to continue to be involved in a culture where Jesus isn’t worshiped and to worship him, that as we step out onto the pitch, we would be people intentionally investing in those around us for Jesus today.
The hunger for life from the people of Thailand already exists. What can I do? Turn up and play.
‘For “everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.” How then will they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching? And how are they to preach unless they are sent? As it is written, “How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the good news!” Romans 10:14.
This is the aim, families upon families of Thai people coming to know Jesus. This is the hope, through the engagement of football, Jesus becomes our supreme concern. This is South Thailand, currently unreached.
George, Serve Asia Worker