Scoring on both goalsPublished 10:01pm Tuesday, August 13, 2013
Brazil made quite an impact in Suffolk over the last couple of days.
A group of 27 Brazilian missionaries, some of whom were former professional and semi-pro soccer players, came to the city to teach local youths about soccer and to testify to what Jesus Christ has done in their lives.
In cooperation with West End Baptist Church, the Brazilians led soccer clinics on Monday and Tuesday at the Suffolk Youth Athletic Association soccer fields. About 35 to 40 young players attended each day, ranging in age from 6 to 17. Many were from Suffolk, while others were from outlying cities, like Franklin.
Additionally, the mission team agreed to play in an exhibition match against the Nansemond-Suffolk Academy varsity boys’ team on Monday after West End member Don Luzzatto made the suggestion to the school’s squad.
At each venue, the Christian missionaries shared their faith through song and testimonies.
One of the group, Anselmo Alves, the current chaplain of the Brazilian national soccer team, said the mission team has two main goals.
“The first is share our gift,” he said, referring to their soccer abilities, which the kids enjoy and can learn from.
Then, he said, “The main goal is to help the character of the people.” They endeavored to do this by highlighting the importance of each individual having a personal relationship with Jesus Christ.
Bob Pipkin, head pastor at West End Baptist Church, was excited about the mission team’s time here.
“I think it was very productive,” he said. “They had a wonderful opportunity to bring a new ministry to Suffolk.”
He was also pleased it gave “the church the opportunity to do some hands-on ministry to those outside of our doors.”
Alves echoed Pipkin’s perspective in seeing sports as a potential meeting point between the church and the community.
“Other people need to hear about Jesus, and this is a good way to do that,” Alves said, referring to the clinics.
Pipkin said what made the Brazilians’ ministry effective was “their experience in the past as soccer players and how they have used their faith to strengthen their abilities, and the way they interact with other people.”
“They were very good,” said Jena Cruz, a rising sophomore at Portsmouth Christian School, who was attending her first soccer clinic.
She noticed how they brought a different technique to exercising and kicking than her local coaches.
Jennifer Laffey of Suffolk brought her children both days and said her 6-year-old, Paige Starkey, learned a lot about ball control, “more than she would have normally learned.”
“We can see the development of the kids from one day to another,” Alves said.
In playing three 30-minute sessions against the Brazilians on Monday, the NSA varsity team got to see an in-game clinic.
“It was nothing but teachable moments yesterday,” Saints coach Patrick Whalen said Tuesday.
After two sessions, the missionaries led 11-0.
NSA senior Henry Luzzatto said playing against them was the “toughest thing I’ve done in a very, very long time.”
Many of the Brazilian players were older, but Luzzatto said their ability to space themselves out appropriately prevented any of their players from having to run full speed all the time.
Saints alumni even took the field, along with Whalen, trying to penetrate the opposing team’s defense. NSA finally got a goal at the very end off a penalty kick by senior Zach Ward.
Reflecting on the experience, Whalen said, “It will just make us better in the long run, without a doubt.”
NSA alumnus Nick Reid was struck by the conduct of the missionaries after the game as they graciously greeted the Saints players, saying “God bless.”
It gave Whalen another model to highlight for his players.
“Look at the class that these athletes show,” he told his team.
Alves complimented the hospitality and receptivity of Suffolk. Pipkin said the group would like to return and will try to schedule around next year’s Brazil-hosted World Cup.