Missionary Athletes International has been taking teams overseas on short-term soccer ministry tours for almost 40 years. I have been a part of the ministry for 15 years. But the group that went to Medellin, Colombia in January of 2020 was unique from almost any that we have taken before.
For starters, this was a group of four married couples. Then there was the fact that besides myself, the group had a combined one year of high school soccer as its competitive playing background. I was interested to see how beneficial this trip would be to either our ministry partner or our group. But as it turned out, rather than having to coax them out onto the field my friends were asking me when we would have our next chance to play with the kids. There is something intoxicating about the joy and camaraderie that this simple game can bring, and it had all of us hooked.
Our time in Medellin was spent with COSDECOL. Since the early 1990s, Mark Wittig has been using soccer and the Gospel of Jesus to help keep kids out of the drug gangs that at one time made the city the homicide capital of the world. After starting with one team, COSDECOL now has its own league with almost 2,000 participants from 20 low-income, at-risk neighborhoods across the city. They also have their own facility that hosts a soccer school and all-star teams who compete in a statewide league. The kids are coached by loving, Christian coaches who value them as people, not just players. It is always special to introduce teams and, in this case, our friends to this amazing ministry.
During our few short days serving COSDECOL we spent time interacting with the coaches and encouraging them in their worthy endeavor. We spent time doing some manual labor to help put in a basketball/futsal court at the facility. And we also were able to visit three different neighborhoods, meeting the kids and of course playing the beautiful game together. As is usually the case, we went down with the intention of giving something to our Colombian friends, but in the end we were the ones who were blessed and left feeling full in our hearts.
Finally, I want to say thank you to Jayla and Truth FC for providing us with some quality equipment to leave with the COSDECOL coaches. They offer their program to the youth of Medellin at little to no cost. As a result, they are dependent on the resourcefulness of partners like Truth FC to provide the best possible experience for their players. Soccer is not the end, but it is the vehicle that gets us where we want to go. The material we were able to deliver is like gasoline for that car, attracting kids with the ball. In the end, though, these kids will find that it is the friendships, life lessons and love of their coach that they ultimately take away from their team experience.