Of all the things demonstrated by the Olympics, what stands out is that sport speaks to all people, no matter their age, race or social background. Sport has undeniably great potential to bring people together and it is this potential that teams of volunteers from Youth With A Mission (YWAM) are taking advantage of in their work with London’s young people.
In Canning Town, East London, YWAM volunteers have teamed up with local youth workers to run a football project. In the context of a football game, they have seen very diverse groups of people – previously strangers – getting to know one another and supporting one another in positive ways.
Ann Hefflinger, a YWAM trainee, discusses the ways she has been able to build relationships through sports: “I have been able to hang out with the local kids, encourage them in a positive attitude, and affirm them in their identities. I also hope to share with them who Jesus is and the transformation He has brought to my life.”
Hefflinger hopes the bonds she makes through sport can ultimately become a platform for communicating God’s message of hope. “We want these sports clinics to encourage the kids to come and find that God is not stuck in a church. It’s great to be able to use sport as a way to reach people on their own territory, on their own terms, and in the places they are most comfortable — even if that’s on the football pitch.”
Hefflinger continues, “It’s interesting how well you can bond with someone over sport. Someone might be a complete stranger and after an hour of competing with them, you can call them friend.” She continues, “We just want to connect with kids through sport, and in turn connect them with Jesus.”
First-time outreach volunteer, John Servier, compares this to the British habit of sharing a pot of tea. “Just like many
Brits have a passion for tea and enjoy drinking tea as a way of bonding together, so it is with sport around the world. There is a passion that surrounds sport and a equal respect that people share for the love of the game. This can open up many doors to conversation and building trust.”
The YWAM team in Canning Town is working alongside youth workers from the local church. The church meets in Faith Christian Centre and has been hosting a café in their venue during the games. Over daytime arts and crafts, and evening screenings of the Olympic contests, they are hoping to develop their long-standing relationship with the community, and to attract local youth to the drop-in centre.
When asked about their primary desire for this period of outreach, the YWAM team and local church members all seemed to all say the same thing: “To see this area come ALIVE–not just to sport, but to Jesus.”