June 18, 2024 by

1 Peter 4:10 tells us to use the gifts we have received from God “to serve one another, as good stewards of God’s varied grace.” In Medellín, Colombia, the gift of soccer is being used by The Christian Union Sports Club as a vehicle to reach youth for Christ. Known more commonly as COSDECOL, the club began around 1990 as a ministry to reach young men at risk of being dragged into drug cartel violence.

The Cedarville men’s soccer team had the special opportunity to work with COSDECOL for our spring break mission trip this year. We also partnered with Missionary Athletes International, a U.S.-based missionary organization that uses soccer to share the Gospel both domestically and internationally.

Let the Journey Begin!

We flew from out of Cincinnati to Miami, then from Miami to Medellín, where we landed around 3 p.m. on Saturday, March 2. During the bus ride from the airport to COSDECOL, we admired the stunning mountain ranges from the bus windows as we descended into the valley where Medellín lies. We arrived at the COSDECOL facilities, which consisted of a stadium overlooking a grass field. On the other side of the stadium was a turf field where one could look up at the stadium wall and see a painted mural of Jesus playing soccer with two children.

That first night, we took the bus into the city and walked up a steep road to attend Saturday evening church. We participated in worship and listened to a sermon, both of which were in Spanish. While many of us could not closely follow the message, it was nevertheless incredible to see a small picture of the global Church. What made the service so amazing was the knowledge that we were all worshiping the same God and Savior.

Cedarville men's soccer team smiling with Colombian children in soccer uniforms.

On Sunday morning, we participated in a team parade for the 35th anniversary of COSDECOL. Although many of our guys did not know too much Spanish, we could relate to the kids through soccer. The common question the kids would ask was, “Messi or Cristiano?” in reference to Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo, the two greatest soccer players of our generation.

During the week, we played three games against Colombian teams. While we unfortunately did not come away with any wins, we engaged in a much more meaningful experience after every game — the opportunity for one of our players to share the Gospel and a testimony with the other team. Three of our guys who are fluent in Spanish — Kris, Gabi, and Ico — did much of the translating for us. Afterward, both teams would pray and fellowship together before departing.

Cedarville men's soccer players and Colombian soccer players praying on the field.

Several times throughout the week, we played small-sided soccer matches with local kids. We went to several different fields throughout the city and, just as we did at our official games, one of our players would share the Gospel and his testimony at the small-sided matches. Below is a picture of Kris sharing the Gospel during the Sunday parade.

Cedarville men's soccer player, standing on a podium, speaking to a large group of Colombian children in soccer uniforms.

On Wednesday morning, we took the Medellín Metrocable up into a displaced community in the mountains, where we helped build a soccer field that could in turn open the community to the name of Christ. For four hours, the guys worked hard to carry 300 heavy sandbags nearly half a mile to cover the field in sand. While we worked, several young kids from the neighborhood came out to help us. As we departed from the field, it brought us joy to see some of the kids already kicking a ball around the field.

Four Cedarville soccer players giving a thumbs up, and lugging bags of sand to a soccer field in Colombia.

Throughout the week, we worked closely with the COSDECOL coaches. On Monday, we had a bilingual worship session and prayer on the stadium steps with them. We also worked with the coaches to lead kids in some drills and games. Two of the coaches who had formerly been involved in gangs shared their testimonies with us, demonstrating to us the transformational power of Jesus Christ in their lives. On the last night before we departed, we all ate dinner and fellowshipped together.

The sense of community, friendliness, and joy of the Colombian people, and especially of the Christians we interacted with, touched us deeply. Our trip gave us a picture of the joy Christ can bring to people who are poor in worldly possessions but rich in Christ. It helped us recognize how blessed we are, but also made us aware of how our materialism can distort the true riches of the Gospel. We also learned what it meant throughout the week to give our bodies as a “living sacrifice” — that is, to put aside our own desires and feelings and to sacrificially serve God and others. Our time in Colombia was a blessing that we will not soon forget.

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