Roughly one third of the world’s population identifies themselves as Christian. It should be noted that in many cases, that is a political and social affiliation rather than a spiritual one but nevertheless, Christianity remains the world’s largest religion. Lagging just behind Christianity and growing at a frenetic pace is Islam, which claims about a quarter of the world’s population. Research shows that globally, Christianity is flourishing in the South (Latin and South America, Sub-Saharan Africa and Asia-Pacific) despite declines in the West (Europe and North America). Meanwhile, Islam is growing in both numbers and influence throughout the Middle East and Central Asia. Geographically, it seems the two dominant spiritual forces of our day are destined to clash in Africa.
For years, Christianity has had an established presence in many sub-Saharan countries (there are more Protestants in Nigeria today than Germany, for example), while North Africa is still heavily influenced by its proximity to the overtly Muslim Middle East. Because of Africa’s vast natural resources and improving infrastructures, (it is now home to 6 of the 10 fastest growing economies in the world) the race for the soul of Africa has been fierce. There have been violent clashes as Muslims aggressively advance southward.
The only answer for the poverty, violence and oppression of this continent is the Gospel. But Muslim extremists won’t lay down their arms simply because that’s true; if anything, they will become more aggressive. The Gospel is foolishness to those who don’t know Jesus. Outside of a miracle (which by definition is rare), the Gospel will need time to be planted and peace to grow. The Gospel doesn’t exist in a void. It never has. The Gospel came down, wrapped itself in flesh and lived among us. In the same way, Africa will not be healed through Gospel proclamations alone, but rather, through missionaries who make their home right in the middle of the mess.
Uttermost Sports is positioned to do just that. Sports are not theoretical; they are, by definition, hands on, social events with an uncanny ability to stop wars. Recently, the Olympic Committee reinstituted the Olympic Truce; a program based on the 9th century story of warring kingdoms that called for peace so those participating in the Games could travel without fear. Centuries later, countries with major disagreements, fragile political alliances and violent histories still find a way to come together on a global scale and enjoy the fruits of world-class athletics.
Because of Africa’s long history of violence, corruption and neglect, it is natural to think that sports are not the right tool for this job. There needs to be urgent political and economic reforms, leadership development and so on. But before these needs can be met, there needs to be peace, space for relationships and trust to develop, a neutral playing field, quite literally.
Perhaps those days are gone. Perhaps the Olympic Truce is just a quaint story based on antiquated foreign policy. Perhaps sports-based missions are too weak to make any impact. But the truth of the matter is, we live in a world where there is an Argentine Pope, a black President and a Jamaican Bobsled team, and we serve a God who tells the lame to walk and makes the blind see. We are in good hands.