Nigeria Trip (Part 2): About the West African Leadership Training

So, what did you do in Nigeria?

My recent stay in Nigeria was very different than the trip TJ and I took to Ethiopia last summer. When TJ and I were in Ethiopia, the purpose of the trip was to attend camp. We spent the week loving and serving kids, while also learning more about Sports Friends’ camping ministry and getting to know some of the staff in Ethiopia.

I traveled to Nigeria to attend the West African Leadership Training (WALT). The purpose of this trip was to gather Sports Friends’ leaders from several African countries for leadership development, sharing of best practices, fellowship, prayer, worship, and encouragement. We spent the majority of our two weeks in Nigeria at a guesthouse where we slept, ate, and conducted all of our training sessions.

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Guest House in Abuja

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The room Bryan and I shared

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Eating traditional Nigerian food… WAY too spicy for me! Back to rice and fried plantains for this girl!

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Conference room 

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Behind the guest house where we spent a lot of time reading, journaling, playing cards, and hanging out with giant lizards!

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We had a ton of fun playing cards, particularly spoons! 

I know on paper this may not sound like the most exciting trip, but for me it was very valuable and affirming! Getting to know our staff in West Africa was truly wonderful. I also gained a crucial understanding of exactly how this organization operates on the field and grows from nation to nation.

Throughout the training, one item we discussed is how to reverse the misunderstanding many people have that Sports Friends is primarily a camping ministry. Camp is a valuable part of Sports Friends’ programming in most countries, but it is definitely not the major focus of the ministry.

The major focus of the ministry is training and equipping the local church to use sport as an effective platform for building relationships with youth. Those relationships are built over many months, or even many years, of a coach meeting weekly with his or her team for sport practice.

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Out at a soccer field practicing coaching strategies (Photo by Jenn Brady)

This reminds me of a saying I used to keep in the back of my mind as I was teaching:
Nobody cares how much you know until they know how much you care.

Over time, youth grasp the truth that their coaches care about them because the coaches have stuck around and invested in their lives, week in and week out. Once that trust is built, coaches go from being just another voice in the crowd to a voice the youth are actually interested in hearing. Sometimes kids and their coaches have an opportunity to attend a Sports Friends camp together too, but sometimes they don’t.

Another item we discussed in depth at the training is Sports Friends’ ministry model.

As Sports Friends seeks to grow in different nations around the world, the major priority in expansion is utilization of the local church. At its heart, Sports Friends is a training and equipping ministry. The desire of the organization is to give the local church a tool to serve youth, and then to help them self-sufficiently use it.

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The whole WALT gang!

This ministry model is extremely effective from a cultural standpoint – who understands the challenges of the youth in any given country better than those who were once youth in that very place themselves? It also creates long-term employment opportunities, strengthens the local church, and, ultimately, avoids creating dependency by gradually releasing ownership of the ministry over time. I’m really proud to serve with an organization that operates under this model of empowerment.

If I had to use one word to describe my trip to Nigeria, it would definitely be thankful.

When I first sensed God leading me into international ministry a year and a half ago, I had no idea where or how He wanted to use me. Frankly, there were moments when I doubted whether He really had a plan. It seemed ridiculous that He would place a desire for international service in my heart and then close the door to moving overseas.

Well, what can I say?

In Nigeria, all I could say is thank you.

Thank you, God, for proving yourself faithful, for remaining steadfast through my doubt, and for being a lamp to my feet every step of the way. Thank you for choosing to include me in what YOU are doing around the world through Sports Friends – it’s an opportunity I never could have dreamed up myself!

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Final sunset on the way to the airport 

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Nigeria Trip (Part 1): A Video

Meet John (left) and Moses.

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These men are my co-workers, and I had the awesome privilege of hanging out with them for two weeks while visiting their home country of Nigeria.

In many ways, John and Moses are pretty similar to me:

Both are married and have hopes and dreams for their families. All three of us share a passion for sports and kids. We enjoy many of the same activities, and for 14 days we had a wonderful time playing games and sharing meals together. Each of us is trying to live a life that honors Christ.

And yet for all of our similarities, one of the more obvious differences between us is that I live in America, and they live in Africa.

More specifically, they live in West Africa, in Nigeria – the 14th most persecuted nation for Christians on the planet. (http://www.worldwatchlist.us/world-watch-list-countries/nigeria/)

You would never guess by spending time with any of the Sports Friends Nigeria staff that they live in a volatile place. While they certainly understand the challenges of violence and religious tension currently troubling their country, they’re not overly discouraged or afraid.

In fact, those challenges are why they do what they do.

During one of the final nights of our trip, my dear friend, Bryan, and I watched a video together. I had seen it before, but watching it in Nigeria with Moses and John just down the hall was like seeing it with a brand new set of eyes.

These aren’t just some random people on the screen, they’re my friends.

This isn’t just some random African village, this is a nation where I left a part of my heart.

This isn’t just a video, this is REAL.

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Bryan and me with other members of the SF Nigeria staff 

Better than I ever could, this video will tell the story of who Sports Friends Nigeria is:

Light in the darkness.

Peace in the destruction.

Unity in the discord.

It’s amazing what God can use a soccer ball to do.