By Maggie Caldwell
Most coaches have visions for their team. For Bethel College men's soccer coach, Thiago Pinto, one of his main visions was accomplished before the 2011 season even began with a team mission trip to Brazil. "My goal was to get a group together that not only wants to win, but plays to glorify God," said Pinto, a native of Brazil. "The trip really got us together and on the same page." While Pinto has done several mission trips before, this one was unique because he got to bring his team to his home country.
The team traveled to Rio de Janeiro and Belo Horizonte, Brazil. The purpose of the trip was twofold. The first priority was outreach, the second soccer preseason training. But that wasn't all. They played outreach games, ministered with clinics, and they invited non-believers to church, where Pinto preached one Sunday. If that wasn't enough, the team traveled to the slums, giving food and clothes to families, sharing the gospel, and praying with them. Coach Pinto passionately called soccer, "a unique and universal language that can make an impact for Christ and his kingdom." With an outlook like that, it's no surprise that the Pilots' trip is continuing to impact them in the months following their return.
"The trip was probably more than I expected it to be," said junior goalkeeper Cody Troyer. "I expected Rio to look like paradise, but it didn't exactly look like that." When asked what he missed most about the country, he said, "I miss the open love that the people had for us even though they hardly knew us and we had limited communication." Troyer looks back on the trip, like many other players, with eyes opened to see how blessed the U.S. is in terms of soccer and more. "Our country is still working on becoming a world power in the sport, but we already have much better facilities to train and play on. It opened my eyes to that and taught me to be grateful."
It's amazing how a combined love for the game of soccer and a love for the Almighty God can bring people together from all different walks of life. Junior Joao Couto understands the universal language of soccer. He too is a Brazilian native and got to head back to his home country to play with and preach to Brazilian kids and athletes just like him. "To see their passion for soccer was such a connection, but I could share with them that it's not all about soccer," Couto said of the pickup matches. He shared that there is a great disparity between the upper and lower classes in Brazil, "but both want the same thing—to be great at soccer. It's what drives both of them."
Junior Bernardo Sant'Anna also returned home to Brazil in August, this time bringing his teammates along and seeing his origin in a different light. "I am from Brazil. I have friends that live in the slums. But when we went there to play soccer with them, it was a really different experience. We could see some kids doing drugs by the field." It is both the sport of soccer and the redeeming power of Christ that can turn those Brazilian kids from the sidelines of a drug life to a life of clean fortitude on the field. And the Bethel men's soccer team was there to show them just that.
"My favorite memory is when we were giving clothes and shoes to all the kids who were at the church," recalls Sant'Anna. "They were so happy and I also saw that they were crying." As humans in this greedy world, we often find things to complain about. Sometimes it takes a long look at the joy that can be found even in poverty for us to see our many blessings. For Sant'Anna, this trip back to a familiar place was just the beginning. "This trip changed the way I think about food, about clothes, about life. The kids sometimes did not have food to eat or clothes to wear, but with a simple soccer ball, they were happy, smiling, and living the life."