My first experience with futball (Soccer) outside the US was on a Mexico mission trip to build a house near Tiajuana. The kids in the neighborhood just wanted to play a light hearted pick up game in an open field. I was a senior in high school and this was my first mission trip. Through high school I was never afforded the time because every break was when I would see my Dad, which was important coming from a divorced family at the age of three. That was the norm in my life. However, my senior year I asked if i could go on this trip instead, and both my mom and dad agreed to change the visitation that week.
It changed my life, I didn’t know what it meant to serve another culture, not just visit another culture. Since then I’ve decided that every teenager needs to not simply visit another culture but serve another culture that is completely different from their own. Perspective can do wonders for your faith. Seeing the same God work in the lives of other people broadens one’s understanding of how big God is.
Back to futball, the universal sport that is lost on Americans for the sake of football, basketball and baseball. I think we don’t have the patience for it. Although baseball would prove me otherwise because it is so slow sometimes. All our rules are complicated and many in our sports. Futball is simple, long, technical, exhausting and only requires a ball. The world has access to futball, they just need to make a round object out of anything they can find.
My hardest time playing this game came in the summer of 2004 in Santiago, Chile. It was our summer and their winter. We were bundled up that day and were told we were going to go play the Chileans in a small court field. I remember thinking, “Okay, small court and kicking the ball, I got this.” What I was not told was that it meant the game would move a lot faster, there would be no breaks and we would play for three hours. This was normal for them. I knew I was in trouble when the adult men put on their jerseys.
I thought I was dying. At some point all I could do was a light jog ten feet in either direction as I “watched” my zone in the middle of the field. I don’t remember making contact with the ball at all. I didn’t feel right quitting because this was my first trip as a leader and not to Mexico. I had to set the example, if I stopped playing then it gave permission to my students to quit. So I pushed on, through the cold shivers of sweat running down my back, and sucked it up. I can say I survived a game of futball with a bunch of grown Chilean men for three hours and my only injury was my incredibly sore feet.
Fast forward to yesterday, I found myself on my umpteenth mission trip playing futball again and It was and always is the day I fear. Will I survive this game that is foreign to me? Am I getting old, although the Chileans proved me wrong fifteen years ago, you are never too old. Can I play the entire game to honor the culture I am in that loves this sport so much? This time it consists of children to young adults, both male and female in Cambodia while the adult women teachers sit and watch inside of our small court arena covered with netting.
My goal, pun intended, was to play the whole game and try to make contact with the ball and laugh without passing out from my asthma. I’ve been preparing my expectations for over fifteen years that I can share in their culture by playing this sacred game. I am not good or skilled but I am also happy to report I scored not once but twice.
With all these Khmer friends in their futball jerseys, three were intimidating, and the little boys able to beat any of us, I played my heart out. I’ve learned to pace myself and I’ve learned that showing Christ can be on the field as a foreign missionary not adept to their sport trying my best and having an attitude of humility and bravery.
To my friend Kreyseth, who has been my adversary the past two matches, I love our brotherhood and we clash, laugh, hug, sweat, step on toes and kick; we show love for the game and for our opponents and teammates. It is a game that breaks the language barrier and is essential to ministry in the world. To the Khmer women who play with us and show just as much tenacity for the sport. You are shining stars, beautiful to see and yet fierce to be next to. To the children that want to be the best and are learning how to share and watching the older boys with wonder, hoping to beat them at every turn. You all humble me and yet praise me for my feeble attempts to play this game I learned once when I was a boy for a season on club soccer, I have a picture to prove it.
I think Jesus would play this game if he were here, I think he would laugh and hug his brothers with each victory and defeat. I see him smiling as he messes with the children with his creative footwork and the children laughing trying to get the ball from him.
When you go to another culture, the chances that you will find yourself playing futball is probably 100% and you can hide from it or step out of your comfort zone and give it a shot.
You can brag and they will humble you, you can simply not give up and they will praise you for it. With every mission trip, I know how important it is to the children I have come to learn from to play this game and take it seriously enough to try to win but not too serious to get angry. Yesterday was 2.5 hours of fun and I think i have come a long way since that trip to Chile. I know what to expect now…hours of play so I pace myself. I keep my eye on the ball, not the feet and try to stick my foot in between their legs to kick the ball away. I take body shots to stop the ball and find someone to pass it to. You can’t win in 30 minutes, but you can after several hours. Scoring is about being at the right spot on the field at that right magical moment when you see a lucky opening and all you need is a little tap across the goal line and you can go running down the field with your arms flying a as if you just won the World Cup.
As Paul says to the church in Corinth:
“To the weak I became weak, that I might win the weak. I have become all things to all people, that by all means I might save some. I do it all for the sake of the gospel, that I may share with them in its blessings.”1 Corinthians 9:22-23
Even if it means destroying my feet in the process, I will play this sacred international sport to show the love of Jesus in a simple act of engaging another culture on their turf, pun intended.
In Truth & Love,
Matthew J. Diaz
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