Any Sunday morning, if you go to a soccer field, it will be packed,” said Director of Hispanic Ministries Rolando Rodriguez.
“I have families from my church who won’t come on Sundays if their kids have a soccer game. Soccer goes beyond culture. It’s part of their lives.”
Rodriguez said that for years he fought against the soccer craze, at least when it came up as a priority over spiritual growth. But he found another approach.
“Instead of trying to get soccer out of their lives, I want to take Jesus to them where they are,” he said. “La Mano De Dios gives me the opportunity to take the Gospel where people are. In Matthew 28:19 and 20, Jesus said, ‘Go and make disciples.’ He said go where they are. That’s what La Mano de Dios is about. It’s about going to the people who aren’t normally coming to church.”
La Mano de Dios (the Hand of God) is the name given to a group of soccer tournaments for children under 18, a ministry recipient of the Mary Hill Davis Offering®. The tournaments are held across the state of Texas and in two cities in Mexico during the summer.
The main goal is to introduce the Gospel and help soccer players and their families grow closer to God.
“God’s plan to change the world is to go and make disciples,” Rodriguez said.
“The problem of this world is not finances. If it was finances, God would have sent a financial expert. The problem is not education. If that was the case, God would have sent an educator. The problem of this world is sin, and God sent a Savior. That's what this is all about - taking the Gospel to these people and making disciples.”
Since its inception five years ago, La Mano De Dios has seen hundreds, if not more, make decisions to follow Christ. But a lot happens before the day of the big game.
Before the tournament, participating churches offer clinics, summer camps or trainings.
The clinics help the children grow in discipline and respect and the Christian faith is always incorporated into every training.
Rodriguez said that his job is to ensure that the Gospel is shared in all of the trainings. He asks that trainings begin in prayer and end in devotional. Devotionals almost always involve soccer illustrations.
“One of the things I do is use the soccer ball,” he said. “With the soccer ball, we ask questions: ‘What can you play with this ball besides soccer?’”
“They will answer baseball, basketball, dodgeball, and we’ll tell them, ‘You’re right. But the ball is a soccer ball and is made for soccer.’ Then we go into Psalm 139, where it says that we were fearfully and wonderfully made. He created us for one particular purpose. ‘It’s the same with the soccer ball. You might be able to force it into doing something else, but it might get damaged. It won’t reach its full potential. Neither will you outside of the will of God.’”
Another illustration describes the function of the red card.
“In soccer, when you get a red card, it means you’re out,” he explained. “We use this as an analogy for Romans 3:23. When we sin, we basically get handed a red card in life. But Jesus came and he took your red card and he said, ‘You are not out. You are in. I am giving my life for you.'”
All of the training time that is spent leading up to the tournament is not only train- ing the players to compete at optimum level, it is planting seeds to present the plan of salvation and guide them to Christ.
This year, tournaments will take place in Fort Worth, Texarkana, San Antonio and two in Mexico: San Luis Potosi and Guanajuato.
At the end of the tournament, either Rodriguez or a guest speaker presents the Gospel.
La Mano De Dios will also take place with- in two retreats for men and youth where 700 to 800 people will be present.
“I take advantage of camps happening in the summer and have a soccer tournament within the camp,” Rodriguez said, adding that another tournament will be held during a summer youth camp where at least 400 children will be present.
Rodriguez emphasized that none of this would be possible without the generous donations made to the Mary Hill Davis Offering. Funds from the offering cover the cost of honorariums for the speakers who share the Gospel during the tournament. The offering funds also cover the cost of Bibles, devotionals and “Jesus Saves” tracks with a soccer theme, in addition to promotional flyers.
“I have two soccer players who played professionally in the past and they are great speakers,” he said. “One of them is Pastor Fabio Jimenez from First Baptist Church in Longview. He played soccer for Bolivia and Argentina. Thanks to those funds, I can bring someone like Fabio. When you announce that an ex-player will be there, a lot of kids are going to come, so that’s part of what we do.”
The 2018 Week of Prayer for Texas Missions & The Mary Hill Davis Offering® is September 9-16, 2019 with a goal of $3.6 million. Visit wmu.org/give to learn more.
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Made possible by gifts through the Texas Baptists Cooperative Program.
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