Concordia native uses soccer to open doors for the good news
When we think of missionaries, we many times think of preachers holding large evangelistic meetings in stadiums or larger churches in foreign lands. We might also think about those who run clinics in underdeveloped areas of far away nations, where those who come to the clinic for care also have a chance to hear the good news of the gospel of Christ. Still others may think of outreach ministries that supply food, clothing and/or temporary housing for those who have been impacted by severe weather, war, or some other catastrophic event.
Not many of us, however, would think about the impact of sports and how playing a game common among many nations would open doors when it comes to mission work.
After completing his senior year of high school at Saint Paul Lutheran High School, in Concordia, Jacob Rodewald made his way to Concordia University in Irvine, Calif., to continue his education. During those years, he found that one of his loves, the game of soccer, seemed to open doors of communication wherever he was. These days, Rodewald, now 23, has combined his love for soccer with another desire – the desire to see the love of Christ proclaimed around the world. He made that connection through a mission organization known as Surge International.
“I serve in a soccer ministry,” Rodewald said. “We work primarily with refugees in the Salzburg area of Austria. These are refugees that come from many different countries including Iraq, Syria, Iran, Afghanistan and Ethiopia. What we have done is set up a soccer league called Nations Soccer League in the city of Salzburg. It’s a league where primarily refugees are invited to join. Through this we create relationships with the players.”
Rodewald said many refugees are not allowed to work because they do not have the papers to do so. This causes them to feel stagnated, as though they do not have meaning in their lives, so the ministry provides an outlet through the soccer league.
“One of my friends that came from Iran to escape from terrorists that were trying to kill him told me that all he wants is something to do; he wants to work but he can’t,” Rodewald explained. “He doesn’t feel like he has a purpose to life. That is the feeling for many refugees in the area and why we provide soccer. Many of the players ask us why we have made this league for them. It gives us a great opportunity to witness to them about Christ and what he did on the cross for all of us.”
Since working in the ministry, Rodewald has seen how just a few conversations with people can really impact their lives. A few of the players in the league have become Christians, and some are now captains of the teams.
“God is really working in cool ways in Austria,” he said. “Most recently, through generous donations, we have also been able to provide winter coats and scarfs to the players and provide them with a Christmas meal. We have held Bible studies with small groups of refugees who are interested about learning more about the Bible and who God is and what he has done.”
The ministry also has partnered with a Bible School in the area, called Tauernhof. This Bible School is mostly sports-orientated. They specialize in how to witness Christ to people through sports. Rodewald said the ministry he is involved with helps train the students in soccer and how it can be used in ministry. They also take part in classes that the school provides and are working with the school to expand their ministry to include refugees as well.
Another interesting part of being involved with Surge is that they give Rodewald the chance to play on a semi-professional soccer team in Austria. He currently plays for a team called BSK1933 in the Austrian 4th division with another missionary for Surge named Cameron Barksdale.
“This is another side of the ministry,” he said. “We get to interact and be around the community, which mostly consists of Austrians. They know the main purpose of why we are here, and that is to share Christ with others. This gives us the chance to have some really good conversations with our teammates about God and what we believe. The community that supports the soccer team also now knows our purpose for being in Austria and they know that we are Christians. We show our faith on and off the soccer field, and the fans have come up to us after games and told us they can see the difference.”