The 2013 Cup of Nations Football Tournament is churning up a lot of excitement in it’s host country, South Africa. There’s a surprisingly well-kept soccer field at the bottom of the Mariannhill township valley. To get there, you have to walk down a concrete drain pipe, or follow the local kids through the labyrinth of the neighborhood. The soccer field is like a Roman amphitheater, encircled by rows of informal houses (made from every material under the sun) rising up the surrounding slopes. Sam, Lauren, and myself went down to the soccer field this week to see if we could lure some of the local kids to hang out with us to try to combat the waning numbers of the Mariannhill ecclesia’s Sunday School. We passed 4 boys on the walk down who curiously, albeit at a distance, followed us (no “Emloongus”—white people—ever wonder through their neighborhoods).
After kicking the soccer ball around casually for 10 minutes, 40 other local kids poured onto the field. They seemed to come from everywhere! Judging by the pointing fingers of women hanging the laundry, we were stirring up a lot of interest from the locals. We even had a row of spectators watching the impromptu game unfold! Despite the language barrier, Sam whipped the boys and girls into passing and penalty kick drills. For the little ones not big enough to keep up, they quickly caught on that Lauren was setting up shop on the corner of the field hair braiding, making paper airplanes, and playing a revolutionary game called “Duck, duck, goose.” A full field football match and team huddle, complete with a group cheer, capped off the afternoon.
The amazing part of the whole venture was the size of the Sunday School at Mariannhill on Sunday. There were 6 times more kids than usual! Mariannhill’s Sunday Service was overflowing with warm smiles, uplifting song and dance, and beautiful people lining the crowded rows. It makes so much sense that Jesus was always where the people were at, and that the people wanted to go where he was. Tasting the Kingdom now is sometimes in the most unexpected places, even between the goal posts and soccer pitch.