Missionaries Left Gospel Message on the Field at World Cup

Religious liberty raised its head in Russia, and the results could be dynamic.

In this July 15, 2018, file photo, French players celebrate winning the final match against Croatia at the 2018 soccer World Cup in the Luzhniki Stadium in Moscow, Russia.

By Allegra Thatcher Published on July 22, 2018

Perseverance in the face of the impossible is a message preached both in church and on the soccer field. But how often do the two meet on that field?

Consider the World Cup frenzy of the past month. Soccer found its way into the hearts of the most passionate fans alongside those who haven’t kicked a ball in years.

And perhaps that camaraderie is just what Christianity in Russia needed to kick start a revival that rises above oppression. Christianity in Russia currently faces repression. The 2016 Yarovaya Law bans Christians from evangelizing outside of government-approved churches. Current regulations means arrest, criminal prosecution and even deportment. 

Yet something incredible occurred during the FIFA World Cup 2018. Something which Russia hasn’t seen in years.

Evangelization in the Heart of the Motherland

Mission Eurasia used the World Cup as a method of evangelization, reported FaithWire. Throughout the four weeks of the tournament, missionaries went out into the cities and spread the Gospel.

The Illinois-based organization paired with local churches to screen the matches in nearly 400 locations across 50 cities in Russia. At the viewing parties, they also hosted youth soccer competitions and passed out literature promoting the Gospel. An estimated 10,000 people attended these screenings. Yet close to 500,000 felt the impact.

Mission Eurasia passed out half a million items during World Cup. These varied from full Bibles to “specially designed Scripture resources,” says Mission Eurasia’s president Sergey Rakhuba.

Opportunities and Seeds Planted

Similarly, the missionaries in Russia during the World Cup brought a message of unity and love. This led to many unforeseen opportunities. A flash mob of preaching touched many in Red Square. Missionaries from South Africa led an altar call. Others shared the Gospel with locals after games.

The Mission Eurasia teams met very little resistance, reported Christian Today. A few local authorities gave warnings, but took no real action. One team was briefly detained and their literature confiscated, but they experienced no personal harm.

“Many Christians have found a new courage and boldness for sharing their faith,” said Pavel Tokarchuk, director of Mission Eurasia’s Russia office.“We are praying they will continue to be encouraged to spread the good news.”

God is using the perseverance and fearlessness of teams like these to open doors and change lives. Russia will see the fruit of their efforts long after the World Cup cheers fall silent.

Meanwhile Over in Egypt

While soccer has proven to be the ignition driving community in many places, it can also be a cause for division.

Christian discrimination and persecution is a very real threat in many of the countries represented at the World Cup, according to OpenDoors. Sports, which should bring people together, sometimes serve as a UV light to illuminate ugly stains beneath the surface.

Take Egypt. Soccer dreams there are easily thwarted by prejudice. One former player is working to change that. Twenty-two-year-old Mena El Bendary, a Coptic Christian in the Muslim nation faced prejudice in the sport because of his faith. The Cairo Scene reported how he was asked to change his name, which reflects his Coptic background. Like many young Coptic players, Bendary left his team shortly after.

But he hasn’t quit the sport. Instead Bendary has stepped up to the challenge of using soccer to beat discrimination. He left his playing ambitions behind and started his own soccer academy in Alexandria. There, he trains over 300 younger players.

Though Bendary formed the academy for rejected Copts, it now fosters community between Copts and Muslims. The academy emphasizes unity and shared experiences above differences.

You can say that is a noble “goal.”

 

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