Soccer is the world’s most popular sport. Not only is it played and celebrated globally, but it also has the capability to bring healing and hope to a community. In Eswatini, the Sports Ministry Program is impacting individuals and communities both, as compassion for one’s teammates is cultivating unity and healing.
“People everywhere in the world, they love sports. So, in Swaziland, we’re using that as a tool to reach out to them.” Bheki Motsa, Senior Manager of Programs in Eswatini
On an individual-level, the Sports Ministry Program is incredibly effective in establishing mentorship and leadership for children who otherwise have lost their parents or don’t have healthy adult role models in their lives. In these sports groups, children gain someone who spends time getting to know them and praying with them. The children also learn the skills of teamwork and have the opportunity to build healthy relationships with other children their age who have grown up with similar life experiences.
On a community-level, the program breaks barriers between communities and helps the community experience healing and deepening relationships. As the Sports Ministry program has grown, we have seen incredible healing occur at the Mabantaneni CarePoint.
For many generations, the community of Mabantaneni in Eswatini has been divided into two rival groups. Boys on each side of the community would fight, and many of them still bear scars from the violence. Every man of every generation has his story to share. Many have been hospitalized and one boy almost lost an ear, while another almost lost his life after being beaten. It was often necessary for these boys to walk in groups for protection.
The leader of our Eswatini Sports Ministry Program began coaching the juniors of Mabantaneni 1 and felt God leading him to reach out to the boys of Mabantaneni 2. He created one team with both sides of the community, which competed together against other local teams. Through competition, God began reconciling these communities.
They have become a powerful team, and meet with each other outside of practice. Their new friendships are beginning to affect older generations of rivals as their parents and grandparents come to watch them play other teams, which is bringing them together. Some members of Mabantaneni 2 are beginning to go to church in the Mabantaneni 1 half of the community, and there’s also a growing Bible study group with members of both halves of the community.
What can make God happier than when former enemies are able to approach Him together and in unity? Father Gregory Boyle, founder of gang member-rehabilitation organization Homeboy Industries, explains, “Compassion isn’t just about feeling the pain of others; it’s about bringing them in toward yourself. If we love what God loves, then, in compassion, margins get erased. ‘Be compassionate as God is compassionate,’ means the dismantling of barriers that exclude.”
We are indeed seeing the members of Mabantaneni 1 and Mabantaneni 2 becoming compassionate as God is compassionate and embracing each other as brothers and sisters.
If you would like to learn more about HopeChest Eswatini’s transformative programs, you can listen to our personal “Build Relationships. Break Poverty.” interview with Bheki Motsa, Senior Manager of Programs, here.