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ARISE hosts thrilling football camp in Bethlehem

ICEJ Arise

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14 Jul 2014
ARISE hosts thrilling football camp in Bethlehem

In early June, ICEJ Arise joined with a local Arab Christian ministry to host a special football camp in Bethlehem for Arab youths, featuring professional soccer players and coaches from Brazil. During the two-day camp, more than 60 Christian and Muslim boys aged 9 to 14 participated in training sessions and matches with Marcos Tavares, a Brazilian striker who today leads the Slovenian national league in goal scoring with top squad NK Maribor.

Early in his career, Marcos was selected to play for the Brazilian national under-23 football team. Today, he is also pastor of a church and serves as national director of ICEJ-Slovenia.

He was accompanied by Rafael Rodrigues, a Brazilian fitness coach and brother of Roger Rodrigues da Silva, who in 2008 won the Brazilian Cup with his team, Sport Club do Recife.

As the camp kick-off neared, Baptist pastor Steven Khoury of the local partner Holy Land Missions was excited about what ICEJ Arise was bringing to Arab youngsters in his historic hometown.

"What Arise is doing is extremely important! You are building a relationship with these young kids and with the local church”, explained Khoury. "They have been talking about the camp for over two weeks and they did their homework by 'Googling' everything they could about Marcos Tavares."

"We could have had 3000 people at the camp, but we had to reduce it to only 60 in order to make it more effective and fun for the participants. But who knows, there might be a future Marcos Tavares among these kids", he added.

There were two training sessions each day, which started with warm-ups and then drills to teach a range of new techniques. These were all led by Marcos, Rafael and Arise director Jani Salokangas, who is also a competitive athlete. Each practice ended with the boys dividing into teams to play one another, and needless to say the team with Marcos was the most popular.

The youngsters were so thrilled with the camp, their faces looked like Christmas had come early to Bethlehem this year.

During a break, an enthusiastic boy named Haman said that thanks to Marcos, he had learned several important new lessons in the sport. Florentino, 12, said he woke up very early that morning in order to be on time for camp and even set out his play clothes the night before, just to be ready.

Many excited parents also stayed around when they dropped off their children to get a glimpse of their kids playing with a professional footballer. On the side-lines we met Doha, a father from a nearby Muslim village whose two boys were in the camp. He often attends practice to see his children play, because when he sees the joy in their eyes it makes him happy as well.

“I’m the only bread winner in my family, and with seven children it is sometimes hard making ends meet, buying new shoes, football clothes, and even paying for the transport in order to attend the training. Yet despite the expenses it is all worth it, as I want my children to be happy", he assured.

The camp ended with a closing ceremony when prizes were handed out to the best players and Marcos shared his testimony with all the participants.

Marcos spoke about his journey from a childhood filled with severe poverty in Brazil, to his love for football, marrying his wife Leticia, the start of his international career in Malaysia, and then his encounter with Jesus, which dramatically changed his life. Marcos added that he was happy to be in Bethlehem and that seeing the children reminded him of his own youth.

“My family was poor. I didn’t even have a bed to sleep in; I had to sleep on the floor", he said. "Some days all we ate was biscuits and bread. We could only afford one coke a week, which we drank on Sundays."

"I didn’t have any shoes and played football barefoot until my career took off at age 14, which finally started bringing in more money. But over the years, as the fame and money grew, so did the alcohol and women, which led to depression."

At one point, Marcos even considered abandoning football, but thanks to support from his wife he continued.

As he shared his testimony, over 60 young boys and their parents sat captivated by his story, especially the part about one day meeting a man who changed his life forever.

"My training got better! My relationship with my wife got better! I was transferred to Europe and the best club in Slovenia, where I started to score goals."

Today, Marcos is the number one scorer in the history of the club, with over 119 goals.

“My life was very bad, but I met someone who changed it. I dreamed about being a football player but I had no real power to do it. But this man gave me power and reassured me that I could do it. I could have been dead or in prison, but here I am today because of him. And his name is Jesus Christ! He gave me hope and a better life."

"You are looking on a professional football player not because I had a good agent, but because I have Jesus Christ,” he concluded.

Jani Salokangas and Steven Khoury then shared their thoughts on the weekend. Jani spoke about the importance of being a good person both on and off the field. He also noted the unifying power of football, where the colour of your skin or background does not matter.

Finally, Pastor Khoury thanked Marcos and ICEJ Arise for bringing such joy to the youngsters of Bethlehem. He said the football camp will go down as the first-of-its-kind for his town, and that photos of the sporting event had already gone viral all over Facebook.

Every participant returned home with a souvenir T-shirt adorned with the logo of the Arise Football Camp. The four best players also received a trophy, an official NK Maribor jersey, and a cap signed by Marcos.

The prize for Most Valuable Player went to 14-year old Mashdi, who said the best lesson he learned was the importance of fair play. Like so many of the youngsters, Mashdi said he dreams of becoming a professional footballer just like Marcos.

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