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Upper Room part of World Cup evangelism


3:00 P.M. EST June 14, 2010

Children in Lekki, Nigeria, play an exhibition soccer match in 2006. A UMNS file photo by Mike DuBose.
Children in Lekki, Nigeria, play an exhibition soccer match in 2006.
A UMNS file photo by Mike DuBose.
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When South Africa tied Mexico in a 1-1 draw during the opening World Cup game, some young spectators watched at big-screen viewings sponsored by churches and faith-based organizations.

The events were part of an effort led by an informal network called TUG – The Ultimate Goal – to “score” with soccer-mad youth.

United Methodists are using the network to distribute daily devotional guides and other resources from The Upper Room during the month-long event, taking place in Africa for the first time.

The United Methodist Church cannot stand on the sidelines, said Roland Rink, managing director of Africa Upper Room Ministries since 2000.

“The majority of soccer fans are going to be younger people. We’re going to be out there where they are,” he said.

The Ultimate Goal members are offering World Cup coverage, accompanied by youth programs, in a variety of locations around South Africa. In the Durban area, for example, Westville Baptist Church is showing all 64 games live and sponsoring a holiday camp and sports program at a Durban school.

In the Western Cape, Monte Christo Ministries in Paarl is running a mini-World Cup, with 32 kids and 32 teen soccer teams competing over a 30-day period. Stellenbosch High School offered a June 10-15 football camp for youngsters from around South Africa, hosted by Brazilian Football.

Opportunity for ministry

Sarah Wilke, Upper Room’s publisher, called the World Cup distribution a “perfect opportunity” to reach new readers and celebrate the 75th anniversary of the ministry.

A jet flyover marks the opening of the 2010 FIFA World Cup at Soccer City in Johannesburg. Photo by www.shine2010.co.za, Flickr.
A jet flyover marks the opening of the 2010 FIFA World Cup at Soccer City in Johannesburg.
Photo by www.shine2010.co.za, Flickr.

The devotional guide — which reaches 2.6 million readers in 40 languages — will be distributed along with “Prayers for Encouragement,” a special edition written especially for persons living with serious diseases, said Dale Rust Waymack, director of Upper Room International Ministries for the United Methodist Board of Discipleship,

“The newest language edition, in German, was produced with the World Cup audience in mind, especially since we no longer have a German language translation of The Upper Room daily devotional guide,” Waymack said.  “The German edition of ‘Prayers for Encouragement’ will live on long after the games have concluded.”

For the World Cup, Upper Room resources also are being distributed in English, French, Portuguese and Spanish. Upper Room editors from Greece, Korea, Japan, Holland and Italy are sending their own language editions to South Africa to reach visiting soccer fans.

Rink reported further demand for copies in local languages such as IsiZulu, IsiXhosa, Setswana, Sesotho and Afrikaans.

Encouraging prayers

The publication of “Prayers for Encouragement,” which specifically touches on HIV/AIDS, malaria and tuberculosis, was funded through the United Methodist Committee on Relief with a grant from the United Methodist Global AIDS Fund. Such an offering of hope is important in South Africa, which has 5.7 million citizens who are HIV-positive.

South African churches and other faith-based organizations already have shared several thousand copies of the May/June issue of Devozine, the Upper Room’s youth publication, which features an article about Kaka, the internationally recognized Brazilian soccer player.

Since its debut in Africa in 2002, the Upper Room print run has jumped from 6,000 copies to more than 178,000 copies last year. The ministry also records short daily devotionals in several languages for use by Christian radio stations.

Rink believes Africans are hungry for good quality Christian resources. “We feel called to help each African spend time with God,” he said. “Behind spirituality is the daily ‘discipline’ – keeping that appointment with God every day.”

So, as Bafana Bafana, as the South African team is known, prepares for its match against Uruguay on June 16, Rink and the The Ultimate Goal network will offer the God of all nations to the fans of all nations.

*Bloom is a United Methodist News Service news writer based in New York. Steve Horswill-Johnston and Erik Alsgaard contributed to this report on behalf of the Board of Discipleship.

News media contact: Linda Bloom, New York, (646) 369-3759 or newsdesk@umcom.org.

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