Well, this isn’t exactly from the 2014 Fifa World Cup, but it is related to soccer and, more importantly, to our persecuted family.
Before the game, our team took note of the size of the goalie. He was at least 6’3” and weighed in at a solid 280. He was a big guy—like a mountain with a t-shirt. We thought (or hoped) his size would limit his agility, but then we realized he wouldn’t need agility because he filled the goal simply by standing in front of it.
Unfortunately, this young man broke his leg on a freak play shortly after the game began. We never got an opportunity to see what kind of goalie he would be. Though we didn’t get to learn much about his goal-keeping skills, we did get a chance to learn a couple of important lessons from him. At least, I learned from watching this accident unfold. From watching this injury drama play out, I realized two important lessons about the church in relation to persecution.
Lesson One: Suffering as One
First, this young man broke his leg, but his entire—uncommonly large—body had to be hoisted onto a gurney. His entire body was taken to the hospital—not just his leg. The reason is obvious. Bodies are a single unity of several parts. Paul talks about this in 1 Corinthians 12, describing how the church is a body of many parts, each doing its own job, but all being unified as one. In the same sense, each congregation belongs to every other congregation as one, universal reality called the body of Christ.
In Hebrews 13:3, the writer states plainly that all Christians (in all churches around the world) should remember the persecuted church “since you yourselves are in the body.” There is one body, and all Christians are a part of it. The body suffers and triumphs as one. The idea that a Christian could live unaware of the persecuted church is as unthinkable in the New Testament as the idea that this king-sized goalkeeper could play a soccer game without his left leg. Bodies are very much aware when even the smallest parts are hurt, injured, or diseased. The whole body suffers as one. I saw this lesson plainly as the ambulance took this player away.
Lesson Two: Healing as One
Second, just as the body suffers as one, so, too, the body heals together as one. There is energy expended by one part of the body (the healthy part) in order to speed aid and healing to the other part. Again, this goalkeeper helped me to see profound reality.
The game we played against his team was part of a high school soccer tournament. So, later in the evening—after he was discharged from the hospital, this goalie came back to the field to support his team. Obviously, his leg was in a cast, and he was using crutches. The crutches were the key for me to unlock this second lesson.
This young man is using greater energy and strength from his upper body in order to minister to the needs of his lower, injured body. In the same way, as we minister to the persecuted church, we will both speed her healing and strengthen ourselves. This keeper is going to get stronger in his arms and his shoulders from lugging a 280 lb. frame around the schoolyard over the next two months. Just as you’ve heard that blind people often have more highly developed hearing, so, too, this lower body weakness will lead this goalkeeper to upper body strength.
We in America who suffer lighter persecution than our brothers and sisters abroad, should remember that we are one body with them. We ought to suffer with them (as though in prison with them). As we do this, we, too, should get stronger in our faith. God has designed bodies to work as one, the stronger parts ministering to the weaker, while both are being made stronger.
Who knew that a soccer tournament with a terrible injury would serve as such a great reminder of our responsibility as Christians to remember those who are persecuted for the sake of Christ? What is your understanding of Christian responsibility to the persecuted?