Millions of people around the globe profess a love for two great unifiers — God and soccer.
Next month, a group of Kamloops youth is capitalizing on that cross-cultural commonality by combining spiritual faith with the beautiful game for a missionary trip.
Westsyde Fellowship Church members are travelling to Haiti to hold their “high power soccer camp,” now in its eighth year in Kamloops, and to spread faith and love to the children of the troubled country.
During a week-long trip beginning Aug. 3, 13 Kamloops youth aged 12 to 22 and four chaperones will travel to the southern part of the country loaded with balls from Westsyde secondary, jerseys from Kamloops Soccer Association, 50 pairs of cleats thanks to a buy-back program at Hansport retail store and boxes of hoodies and shirts.
There’s so much, in fact, that the group can’t take it all down, so the rest will be stored in a shipping container, which will be sent to Haiti this fall through the Kamloops Hope for Haiti charitable program.
It took 10 months for the Westsyde Fellowship Church youth group to prepare with endless pastry sales and pasta dinner fundraisers. They have now accumulated the $35,000 needed, and the young travellers believe it’ll all be worth it.
“It’s not something that you get to do every day even though we do work with people here,” said 16-year-old Bethany Stanyer, who is taking her first plane ride on the trip. “Just trying to reach these people and help them and see the change that we can make in their lives.”
Christine Clyde, also 16, looks forward to “eye-opening views” and spreading the Gospel. She also expects to learn a few things along the way.
“I think they’re going to be teaching us the soccer,” she laughed.
Youth pastor Jordy Orsetti said connecting Westsyde youth with Haitian youth through soccer just makes sense.
“Soccer is an equalizer. Everybody can carry a ball, everybody can run, we can all laugh and have fun together,” he said. “Really all we can do is show each other that we love each other and that we care about each other and the rest is up to God.”
Combining the most popular game in the world and spiritual faith is an increasingly popular idea.
The documentary Pelota follows recent college graduates as they travel the globe playing soccer to show how amidst diverse racial, socioeconomic and religious backgrounds, soccer could unite people under the friendly guise of brotherhood and community.
Even Muslims and Jews could peacefully play a scrimmage against one another on a public court in the middle of Jerusalem.
Kamloops youth will see firsthand how the game can improve relationships and break down barriers during their stay at Camp Manahaim near Les Cayes, a three-hour drive from the Haitian capital of Port-au-Prince.
Every day, children from the neighbouring slum of Renault will spend the day at the camp playing soccer and connecting with the Kamloops youth.
The six-hectare compound was built by the Wray family of Kamloops who, nine years ago, gave up Canadian luxuries to dedicate their lives to helping Haitians.
“They’ve built a beautiful camp that we’ll be staying at and they’ll be like our chaperones,” said Orsetti. “So they’ll be taking care of everything — transportation, safety. Our days will basically be told what to do by them so that helped with our safety concern because we won’t be going on our own.”
Camp Mahanaim is named for a passage in Genesis 32 when Jacob returns to own his land after years away. “Jacob went on his way, and the angels of God met him. When Jacob saw them, he said, ‘This is the camp of God!’ So he named that place Mahanaim.”
The camp began receiving children in September 2010 and is now the site of several buildings and areas dedicated to sport, learning and sheltering physically and mentally challenged orphans.
Students of the 400 schools throughout southern Haiti benefit from the camp as 200 children aged 11 and 12 attend each week to play and learn about health care, life skills, and how to live in a growing, changing world all from the biblical perspective.
“We hope to give these Haitian children an opportunity to learn and experience various sports such as swimming, canoeing, track and field, basketball, volleyball, table tennis, and numerous other activities which they would normally never have a chance to do,” stated Rod Wray in a blog.
Orsetti hopes lessons his young followers learn in Haiti can translate into action back home.
“It’s awesome that we get to help, but it’s really important what you do when you get back home. Can you help here? Can you build relationships here? Can you make a difference in Westsyde?” he said.
And he has every faith that this group will carry forward with charity and kindness.
“The young people in this community have stepped up to this challenge. We’ve been really blessed with the teenagers in this community and how they just love helping and want to be involved and it’s just grown and grown.”