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Mozambiques Soccer Surprise

Mozambique's Soccer Surprise

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When AGWM missionary Joel Charest arrived in the Mozambican fishing village of Murrébuè on a Monday afternoon in May 2015, he was prepared to lead a day of soccer and ministry for around a dozen children. But a dozen children did not come.

Instead, more than 400 children came. Charest was floored.

A village fisherman, an Islamic village leader, and the area’s school director were responsible for the massive attendance. Upon hearing from the fisherman and the leader that an American man was coming to teach about the Bible, the school director became so excited that he called the entire school out of their classrooms and out to the soccer field.

Reeling from the unexpected influx of children, Charest quickly restructured the day to include a few soccer games, tug-of-war, and other activities the children could rotate between. A return visit was scheduled for later in the week for a more structured soccer game and Bible lesson. He made sure to invite every child to return.

Nets and Invitations  

That miraculous afternoon was the product of a string of previous miracles, Charest recounts.

“The whole thing began with our request to the fisherman for some nets to use in our ministry back in Pemba,” Charest says, referring to the city in northern Mozambique in which he and his wife, Adrienne, and three children are based.

Intending to begin a soccer ministry in Pemba (which they eventually did), the Charests built two soccer goals out of wood from the local market. As a finishing touch to the goals, they hoped to obtain nets.

“Nets just made our field so much more special for the kids here as virtually none of their other goals have nets,” Joel Charest explains.

After exhausting all other possibilities, the couple began looking into using fishing nets. Pemba is a coastal city with a thriving fishing industry, but nets still proved to be extremely expensive. So Charest bought string and went with Antonio, a Mozambican believer who was assisting him, to nearby Murrébuè where Antonio’s uncle is a fisherman and skilled net-maker.

Antonio’s uncle agreed to make the nets. Within one week he called to notify Charest that they were ready to be picked up. On the way to Murrébuè, Charest asked Antonio if it would be all right to ask his uncle — a respected man and devout Muslim — if he and his family would like to learn about the Bible. Antonio agreed.

“I knew it was a long shot,” Charest laughs.

Upon arriving, Charest and Antonio had to wait for the man to return from his time at the mosque. When the fisherman got home he proudly showed them the nets he had made.

“I was obedient to the Holy Spirit in asking him if he’d like to learn the Bible, but I didn’t have a lot of faith about it,” Charest says honestly. “To my surprise, he smiled and agreed.”

Charest imagined he would be teaching just a small group at the fisherman’s house, but that was not to be. The fisherman called his village leader and explained the situation to him. The leader eagerly welcomed the Charests to his village and asked that they teach the Bible village-wide.

Those who were not interested did not have to listen, he stated, but those who were interested deserved the opportunity to hear.

“God had something bigger in mind than I did,” Charest confesses. “It quickly became very obvious to me that only He could have opened this big wide door! These people are from the Makua group — the largest people group in Mozambique. Some pockets of them have been open to Christ, but others are very resistant.”

Moving Forward in Murrébuè

In the past, Murrébuè has been one of the resistant places. There is no church there, and most people mix their traditional beliefs with Islam. Teaching at the village school is fairly limited and everyone there still speaks their native Makua instead of Portuguese, Mozambique’s national language.

The Makua people are very poor and live simple lives — homes are constructed from bamboo, covered in mud and topped with grass roofs. They live only from day to day, Charest explains.

Three Saturdays a month, Charest and his family arrive in Murrébuè to continue reaching out to Makua children through soccer. More than 200 children participate in every event.

Each day begins with several soccer games through which children can rotate, making sure that everyone gets a turn to play. Games must conclude by mid-morning, however, as the African sun quickly heats the sand to the point of burning the children’s bare feet.

Once the sand is too hot, the meeting moves to the local school, where the Charests conduct object lessons illustrating a very simple biblical truth. One recent lesson — “Be careful of the words you speak because you cannot take them back” — featured the distribution of toothpaste that was donated by a pediatric dentist from Connecticut.

“These kinds of lessons are definitely not the norm for these kids,” Charest says. “So they are very curious and really soak it up. Then the following week we do a recap of the last week’s lesson, and they can almost always answer the review questions.”

After each lesson, the kids are given a corresponding memory verse and served juice.

A small group of adults also listens in to the Charests’ lessons and even interact or ask questions at times. Many parents report to Charest that their children’s behavior is changing for the better and credit it to the Bible lessons.

The Charests and Antonio marvel at the unexpected and enormous door God opened for them in Murrébuè. They are looking to the future, planning how to best steward this opportunity.

“We plan to expand,” Joel Charest enthuses. “We want to use this soccer ministry as a springboard for planting a church in Murrébuè. The soccer ministry has opened a door into the community and we believe it has given us the recognition and created the trust with the leaders that we need.

“We’d like to use that church as a model of how we can plant churches in other unreached areas,” Charest continues. “Soccer is a nonthreatening entry, and once the community sees that we have genuine love and concern for them they may grant us the privilege of opening a church.”

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