As I drove away from the elementary school where we had our Sunday morning service in Bennington, NE several weeks ago, a small sign on the street corner caught my eye.
“Volunteers Needed. Bennington Soccer Club.”
WHAT?! How can I get involved in that?!
One of my goals in going to Bennington for a year-long church planting internship was to get involved in the community in as many ways as possible. Having played soccer, played in orchestra, and taken lots of pictures while at school, there were three specific ways I wanted to get involved in the community: soccer, music, and photography.
So I got online, found the Bennington Soccer website, and contacted the president. After email correspondence and a great discussion over the phone, he told me he would try to find a way for me to be involved, especially because of my background in soccer.
He sent an email to three other guys involved in the league, urging them to reach out to me if any of them thought I could be helpful to them.
Just a little background about the Bennington Soccer League. The U4-U8 division (for players 8 years old and younger) is only developmental, practicing twice a week but not competing in weekly matches. U9-U19 practice and play games each week. The U4-U8 season runs March 16 to May 16, and the U9-U19 season starts several weeks earlier (and I think it might end later).
Most if not all of the coaches are parents of players, and their understanding and experience of the game varies from person to person.
Because I still have to travel back to school for a couple modules in April and May, and because I’m not a parent, coaching didn’t seem like the best fit. But I wanted to be some kind of an assistant coach for one of the teams if that was possible and agreeable to those involved.
Anyway, one of those three men emailed me back several days ago and told me he would like me to help with the U5-U6 boys group. I was so excited to get his response! He is the U5-U6 division coordinator, and he told me he would like me to be an assistant coach somehow. Practices were Tuesday nights and Saturday mornings, perfect for my schedule.
Yay! I get to help with a group of 7-8 young boys and a parent! I get to make some connections with a handful of people in the community, right?
“A man’s heart plans his way, But the LORD directs his steps” (Proverbs 16:9).
No, that’s not what God had in mind. I thought, 7-8 kids and a parent-coach and possibly the parents of those kids? In my mind, that is a great start when it comes to building relationships!
But alas, I was a little narrow-minded. God was thinking big and I was thinking small.
Last Sunday afternoon I had a meeting with the other coaches for the U5-U6 group. I met the division coordinator who had contacted me, but only long enough for me to introduce myself to him in person.
He gathered all the parents and me together and told us about some changes that were going to take place this year. The big change was that the eight teams would be paired together into four “super-teams” so that each group would have about 15 boys and four coaches. In the event a parent has to work or miss practice for any other reason, there would hopefully still be three other people there to instruct the group.
He handed out a sheet with the proposed groupings, and my name was nowhere to be found. Each of the four groups had four parent-coaches, and I was not included in any of those groups.
As he further explained his model, he suddenly looked at me and said, “Sorry Josh. I’m going to ambush you here. I hope that’s okay.”
I had no idea what he meant, but I figured it was nothing I would be opposed to. So I assured him it was okay, whatever it was.
“I just met Joshua, but he’s here this year doing an internship at the Baptist church, and he would like to volunteer with us. He played soccer in college, so my plan for him is to kind of be a floater and help out wherever. So if any of you have to be gone for some reason, he can come fill in and help you out.”
AHHHHHHHHHHHH!!! Praise the Lord!
Narrow-minded me was excited about connecting with a dozen or so people on a single team. God’s plan is to have me help out at any given time with any of four different teams, potentially connecting with around 60 kids and over a dozen parents.
Does it get any better than that?
As I stood there and listened for the rest of the meeting, my mind was running wild. All I could think about was the fact that I had suddenly gained some kind of respect among this group because I had “played soccer in college.” Yeah, it was a small Bible college, but it’s still something!
Sports in a Bible College? Yep. Starting next Tuesday night, I get to spend two months teaching little kids how to play soccer, meanwhile building relationships that will hopefully result in the salvation of many and the growth of God’s church. Could I have done it without playing soccer at Faith? Yes, but the doors that God opened to me are much wider than they otherwise would be if I had not joined the team.
I could go on and on telling stories from my soccer days at Faith. I have so many good memories both as a player and last year as a manager for the team. I could also talk about how soccer taught me a great deal of discipline, how it taught me patience and humility, how it improved my leadership skills, and how it initiated many amazing ongoing relationships with other guys.
Perhaps I’ll write about those things another time. But the purpose of this three-part series was to give you a glimpse into the journey God gave me from an untalented wannabe soccer player to an amazing outreach opportunity in Bennington, Nebraska.
Yes, my main priority at college was getting a sound Bible education. However, I would be amiss to mention that the soccer field was literally a training ground for practical ministry as well. This is where God has me now, and who knows what He has planned for the future. I’m probably still narrow-minded, just waiting to be blown away by God.
“‘For My thoughts are not your thoughts, Nor are your ways My ways,’ says the LORD. ‘For as the heavens are higher than the earth, So are My ways higher than your ways, And My thoughts than your thoughts'” (Isaiah 55:8-9).