The Soccer Coach’s Clinic in Nepal really started in Hong Kong. A month before we set out to Nepal we received a contact message from Merdad Koya coming from Hong Kong where he leads a soccer team composed predominantly of refugees. In his message Merdad shared his vision with All Blacks Football Club and how he wanted to use his team as a tool to help refugees to find hope, purpose and a way to be integrated into society. I loved Merdad’s vision, and we began communicating frequently. So I made a few changes to our itinerary. Instead of heading straight to Nepal, we set out a few days earlier and stop on the way in Hong Kong to meet Merdad, All Blacks Football Team, and connect with a few local church leaders. The experience connecting with Merdad was no short of what I like to call, “a divine appointment.” Everything in Hong Kong worked out so smoothly. We could sense God’s hand was in it.
Coach Thiago Pinto, head soccer coach at Bethel College, IN, and his assistant Jason Freedman, a licensed Athletic Trainer, were my companions on this journey. The combined expertise of Coach Pinto and Jason made the experience so much more beneficial to Merdad and his team. We set out to do a players clinic on a Thursday morning. Everything was ready! The equipment was prepped, and the players expectantly waited our arrival. But suddenly the rain came. It stormed so intensely that I honestly thought at some point we would have the local park authorities or the police come and tell us that we needed to stop and find cover, but thankfully this was not the case. The authorities didn’t come, the players didn’t leave, the rain intensified even more, lightning crossed the sky, and everyone got soaking wet! In spite of the what could have been an untimely setback, the interaction among everyone was great and the players had their hearts and minds open to receive whatever we had to say. Coach Pinto was leading the clinic, and I was invited to join the activities. Of course I was prompt for the call. I personally could not remember having so much fun like that in a while. Thank you Coach Pinto! You made my experience richer indeed.
During our time in Hong Kong we conducted two meetings. The first meeting was for church leaders where I was privileged to facilitate and share a few words regarding the importance of the local church and the power that believers have to impact society with God's love and power. I don't know if what I shared was beneficial to them, but I can surely say that I left the meeting encouraged by them. I heard the viewpoint of pastors struggling in the day to day tasks of ministry and family, finances and professional life. I heard about some of the challenges that pastors encounter in conducting ministry in one of the most expensive cities of the world where Christians compose only 10% of the population. I learned about the challenges of doing ministry in such a diverse and urbanized area. I hope to have encouraged them to keep believing God for their strength to keep serving and expanding the kingdom in Hong Kong. What a valuable and encouraging experience for me that I will remember for a lifetime.
The purpose of the second meeting was to serve the players and families of All Black Football team. The surrounding social circumstance of refugees in Hong Kong is very adverse and hostile. They are not allowed to work or travel and must live on a government allowance that is simply not enough to afford housing much less housing and food. Some of them haven't seen their families in over twelve years as they wait for their case to be sentenced by the government and asylum be granted. Only then will they have the rights of a citizen and finally the ability to legally work. These men aren't left with many options to try and do good. Most of them end up engaging in criminal activity, prostitution, drugs or even the mafia. I asked Coach Pinto to share from his heart. Coach Pinto shared important words of encouragement and faith. We also heard Merdad's passion toward his cause and his inspiring vision to use football to change the fate of refugees and help break the walls of social indifference. Football has this amazing ability to connect and unite people. Listening to Medard's heart help me envision possibilities of how ANS Ministries can help All Blacks Football team bring hope to refugees during this uncertain season in their lives. It was an inspiring moment. I could see why God had allowed us to connect with Merdad.
I've been to 20 different countries and in 15 of them I was doing some sort of ministry. The more I go and God allows me to learn, the more I realize that ministry really simply is loving on people. This love is so wide and diverse. God chooses a diversity of ways to express His love to people, and we are so privileged to play a small part in spreading His love. I am very thankful for our time in Hong Kong. We are thankful for Merdad and his first contact to ANS Ministries. We are thankful for the local pastors and All Blacks Football Club players, and most of all we are thankful for the new friends that we've made and are confident that we will see them again. Hong Kong see you later! - By Thiago Gonçalves, Th.M., ANS Ministries Founding President