At that point in my life, I said, “Lord, what do you want me to do? I’ll do anything. I’ll go anywhere.” He had me take the University soccer team to Mexicali. We played soccer in the men's and the boy's prison. In the boy's prison, I asked why they were there. We were told the boys were there because most of them, no one cares about. That broke my heart, and there in that boy's prison in Mexicali, Mexico, I said, “Maybe I can use soccer for ministry.” People in America weren’t playing much soccer then. That’s how God works.
I wanted to step out more in faith, so I put out a fleece about taking a soccer team to the Middle East and Europe. I literally helped pioneer the soccer ministry movement out of a garage in Long Beach, California. We had a desk, three chairs, and no money. So those initial trips I’ve been all over the world using soccer to minister, whether it’s been in little jungle villages infested with AIDS or an invitation to play a soccer match in an Amazon village you can only get to by boat or plane. People came by river barge to the Amazon match, and the stadium was packed with 20,000 people. It was a holiday, and thousands were coming to get drunk, but on the way there, they stopped at the soccer stadium and heard the gospel of Jesus Christ for the first time. Half the crowd, 10,000, came forward and accepted Christ. That was amazing, but the most memorable experience for me was the workers at the deaf orphanage. They heard that a soccer team was coming from America. They pleaded, “Please come because no one cares about these kids.” We sat and hung out with those kids, gave them some soccer balls, prayed with them, and encouraged them.
The more I’ve realized how much Christ loves me, the more I’m excited to share that love. We can do it through the sport of soccer, whether it’s at a national soccer stadium in Sudan during the civil war, in Uganda where the civil war is ending, in an orphanage, in the parks of Vienna, Austria where the foreigners that are ostracized by society gather, or in Mongolia.
When our point man went to Uganda as the civil war was ending, he gathered the pastors telling them, “We want to help you rebuild your country now that the civil war is ending.” They said, “Great. What do you want to do?” He said, “We want to bring in an American soccer team to play soccer.” The pastors literally fell on the floor laughing. They couldn’t believe it. When they got up off the floor they said, “Well, the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and God uses the foolish things of the world. We have no idea what you’re talking about or that you can even play soccer, but we’ll trust you.” We were able to preach the gospel there at a national stadium after they had given up hope of it ever happening.