One of the highlights of our church calendar happens on a football pitch in the middle of the school holidays. For five days in July, 50 volunteers from International Christian Fellowship in Oberursel and from our local community came together to put on a football camp for 85+ children between the ages of 8 and 15. The camp, “Champions in Life,” exists to display God’s goodness to the community by ministering to and building relationships with local children and their families.
The camp originated in 2017 at the height of the European refugee crisis. Our hope was (and remains) to give immigrant children in our community a chance to feel like a champion and to learn some life skills that will help them integrate into German culture. It was completely free of charge, and football techniques were taught progressively throughout the week, so common barriers like nationality, wealth, and skill could not stop anyone from taking part. The only thing needed was a willingness to join in, have fun, and learn. ICF’s Laura Meller, the mastermind behind the camp, works hard all year long to network and nurture relationships built over the years.
This is the fifth year ICF was able to organize this community outreach. There were several ways in which ICF members were able to participate in Champions in Life. Some were physically present at the camp; others interceded for the team in prayer; our youth group packed 500 bags of snacks; some baked cakes and prepared prizes; and many were involved in other ways such as food shopping and transportation. Those that signed up to help physically were in one of two groups: “coaches” and “volunteers.” The coaches spent each day with the campers on the pitch, training them in football skills and preparing them for a tournament on the last day. Many of these coaches were young men who had previously participated in the camp as children and have since stepped up to take on leadership responsibilities.
The group of volunteers, too, was made up of both ICF members and individuals from the local immigrant community. Some families that had been served in previous years by Champions in Life and by ICF’s outreach/integration ministry now took on serving roles themselves. A refugee who has been attending German lessons at our church could be found teaching the rest of the volunteers how to slice watermelon. Although we might have predicted communication difficulties between internationals with limited German and refugees with limited English, the Lord showed His grace by allowing conversation to flow and new friendships to be formed.
The Lord has also used Champions in Life to forge and foster a very good relationship with local businesses and authorities. The city of Oberursel and football club SC Eintracht Oberursel both partner with ICF to organise and fund the camp, and this partnership has strengthened the relationship that we as a church have with those in local government. Nearby businesses – including a pizzeria, an ice cream café, and a Turkish supermarket – supplied the food, and a number of shops and schools hung posters up in their windows. All glory to God for doing His work and blessing us in this way. We pray that these relationships will continue to flourish and that, through them, many from our community will come to know Jesus.
As well as being trained in football skills, children were also taught how to be “champions” in their daily lives. Each day one of the football coaches gave a short talk to all the children on how to grow in areas such as helping others, not giving up, setting goals, using encouraging words, and learning to listen, in order that they might be team players both on and off the pitch. The children were visibly engaged and some could even recall talks from previous years.
The volunteers, too, had morning and afternoon devotions. These were prepared by a different person each day who also facilitated a time of open prayer. Among the leaders were a 13-year-old girl, the grandfather of one of the children at the football training, and a mother of five. Among the attendees were at least a handful of Christians, a number of Muslims, and some others of undetermined faith. At the end of the camp a Muslim friend commented, “We don’t pray together like that. The way you are with each other is like a family.” Our prayer is that these Muslim friends and others in attendance who don’t yet know the Lord will have had a hunger for truth awakened in them through the love of God tangibly displayed during Champions in Life and that the Holy Spirit will use this to lead them on to saving faith in Christ.