“Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for He who promised is faithful; and let us consider how to stimulate one another to love and good deeds, not forsaking our own assembling together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another; and all the more as you see the day drawing near.” Hebrews 10:19-25
The Global Gathering happens every four years. Around 60 Sports Friends leaders from 13 nationalities, ministering to 19 countries gathered in Chiang Mai, Thailand last week. We gather to pray, reflect, inform, encourage, equip, support and have fun within the global family of Sports Friends. This year God directed us through some difficult trials. The coronavirus caused havoc with travel plans. We had several people cancel the trip altogether because of it. The leadership prayed about postponing the event, but felt led to trust God with protection and move forward with the meeting.
I (Bob) arrived early in hope of getting over jet lag (12 hour difference) and explored the city, ate some delicious food, and enjoyed the awesome hospitality of the Thai people.
Sunday all the Sports Friends people started to roll in. All the people we have been working and praying for over the past three years. It was humbling to be there. These are people who put their very lives on the line for the sake of the gospel. It’s amazing that God would allow us to serve along side these brothers and sisters in Christ. Our conference days where filled with country reports, prayer, Bible study, break out sessions and team building activities.
One of the awesome aspects of using sports as a tool to reach people for Jesus is that it’s non-threatening. It crosses barriers that otherwise would not be crossed. We have 13,200 coaches ministering to 294,000 youth, and impacting over 1 million people as we hear the stories of entire families changed by God’s love. This ministry is being done in places known for their hostility toward the gospel. God is using Sports Friends in a mighty way. I believe the devil is aware of the impact and wants to stop the advancement of God’s kingdom.
“Be of sober spirit, be on the alert. Your adversary, the devil, prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour.” 1 Peter 5:8
Halfway into the conference we received the terrible news that John Kato (SF Nigeria leader, in the yellow jersey above) died while en route to the Global Gathering. John suffered some sort of sudden asthmatic attack / respiratory distress while waiting for his delayed flight in Lagos, and died at a local medical clinic. I had never met him, but I’ve been told he was the life of the party and all the kids loved being around him. We grieved, prayed, and worshipped Jesus together as a Sports Friends family. Please pray with us for his wife and two boys as they mourn their loss.
We also got news from our leaders of terrible persecution that was taking place back in their home countries of ministry. In west Africa, terrorists killed two pastors and kidnapped two other friends of our team leader in that country. Later we found out the two that were kidnapped had also been killed. One of our workers learned that new believers in a southeast Asian village where they had been serving had been told to deny their faith in Jesus or face the consequences. They stood firm and saw their homes destroyed and they were expelled from the community. Please pray for the persecuted church within the Sports Friends ministry.
One of the biggest things I got from this Global Gathering was that we are truly a family as the Body of Christ, and He calls us all to serve, support and pray for our brothers and sisters around the world. I believe our Nigerian brother said it best “Death or Expansion (of His ministry)”. Serious. Focused. Real. Life here is so short. Death is coming…we never know when. How are we living the life He’s given us? For ourselves or for His kingdom?
One of our Compassion sponsored children (really a young man) lives in Thailand, and when we realized he lived only 10 km from Chiang Mai, I wanted to see him. I asked one of our Thai SF leaders if he knew where he lived. “Nop” has written us on several occasions and talked about how he is growing in his walk with Jesus, and how much he likes going to church. Come to find out, our Thai SF leader is actually his pastor! I got to meet Nop in person and bless him with some new shoes. He thanked us and asked me when he would see the rest of our family! Pray for him as he finishes school and enters the workforce as a mechanic. Pray also that his family can find a new place to sell their goods. Pray that he will continue to be encouraged to have seen how BIG his God is, and how much He loves to bless His children in surprising and profound ways.