Last night I received a bunch of those hugs. We have had an American football team for two years now. We have developed so much as a team as far as structure, knowledge and attitudes, yet we had not won any of the four games we had played so far. It is hard to gain confidence and trust in our community without victories. Last night was our biggest game we have had as a team so far as we started the national league in a conference of eight teams. The winner of our conference will have a spot in the big league (Brazilian footballs equivalent of the NFL....except not that high level of play) for next year. We played our first league game against the Natal Scorpions who have been around for eight years.
It was an away game and the trek turned out to be way longer than the long trip we had planned. We left at a little before 5 in the afternoon on Saturday and didn't arrive until almost 5 in the morning. Needless to say; in a huge room full of guys with the little time we had left to sleep, we didn't get quality rest. On our way to the stadium we went to the wrong place and ended up on a long walk to the stadium where the home team didn't have our changing room ready for us. After waiting in the hot sun for a while, they finally found a place for us. The level of the competition calls for lots of registration and they informed us that two of our main players would not be playing. Thankfully, after a few phone calls and conversations we straightened that out, but all that led to a talk with the team about overcoming adversity.
On Thursday of last week we had picked up Tyler Rust from the airport. Tyler came to both play football and help with the church plant. He played at the University of Northwestern in Minnesota (not the D1 team). He had one official practice with the team and we put him in a few plays. He ended up scoring our two touchdowns in the game.
On our first offensive drive our quarterback called a great audible and threaded a pass between two defenders to Tyler who turned and ran untouched 40 yards to the touchdown. We then ended up getting scored on and on our next drive threw a pick six putting us down 13-6. It stayed that way through half time even though our offense did well in its drives.
In the second half our defense held strong while our offense continued hammering away. One drive started at our one yard line and we drove steadily all the way to the six on the other end where a miscommunication led to an interception. They got the ball on the 1 yard line and we stuffed their first play and an initial safety call was overturned.We drove the ball down the field and Rodrigo found Tyler in the back of the end zone. We then ran it for the two point conversion and went up 14-13. Our defense held strong once again and the offense was able to run out the clock. We kneeled a couple of times and then they dumped a bunch of ice water on me. I hate cold water, but it had never felt better.
Then the hugs came. There is something spiritual about football and it felt very strong as we celebrated our hard fought victory. Getting to know these guys has had its share of frustrations and joys, but this is a big step as we get involved in each other's lives. When I pray, I pray for fruit with the team. As I talked to a Pastor and his wife who had a son playing on the other team, they said they thought our team would have more prayers going up for the win. I told them that the prayers may actually be working against us as we may need more humiliation before we recognize our need for a Savior! Since yesterday the team has certainly recognized the role losing has played in the team's development.
My mind still reeled as we arrived home this morning at 5 AM; what a rough couple of nights, but a good outcome. Besides the game I was able to have several great conversations including being able to share the gospel again. Praise the Lord and to Him be the glory for this ministry that has opened so many doors. Next month our mission ABWE's The Message magazine will run a story on this ministry. In it I say that we could put hundreds of missionary football players in Brazil to be on teams, be examples, teach football, but best of all, share the gospel!