There is a good chance that before the next edition of this newsletter is published my son will be born! My wife is 36 weeks along, which means that most of my evenings and weekends have been spent accumulating baby stuff – an unceasing, boundless, infinite amount of baby stuff. Clothes, bottles, diapers, car seats, cribs... the list of things this kid needs is endless. He already has a small library of books and a stash of toys!
My little dude can’t see, much less read, and he certainly can’t play with anything yet. So what’s the deal with all these toys? Well, apparently, this is how humans learn. Now, he won't be building Lego towers or shooting Nerf hoops for a while, but he will learn to grasp, cling, squeeze and chew on stuff. Infants are constantly learning the basics of dexterity and movement. Essentially, they learn through play, however clumsy and messy it may be. And in our sport development work we have seen communities built the same way - through play. How do opposing parties, tribes, and races learn to live together? They play, however clumsy and messy it may be.
Nelson Mandela once famously said, "Sport has the power to change the world…it has the power to inspire. It has the power to unite people in a way that little else does. It speaks to youth in a language they understand. Sport can create hope where once there was only despair. It is more powerful than government in breaking down racial barriers."
We are seemingly wired from birth to operate this way. So it makes sense that sport has historically (and literally) been the level playing field where on a small scale, people see how leadership, teamwork, sacrifice and effort can work in the real world. Sport development capitalizes on the relational nature of sport as well as each country's national zeal for athletic achievement in order to provide the optimal avenue for missional access to unreached peoples. Playing sports (everything from Olympic level basketball to recreational Frisbee) unites people and does so uniquely because it simultaneously carries a high market value and is still considered low risk. And in a restricted context, you cannot ask for a better platform than an industry that is both high visibility and low scrutiny.
Sport has, time and time again, proven to be effective in building relationships and fostering peace - the two essential prerequisites of gospel conversations. Many of the countries where we serve have infant churches, infant governments, and infant structures. The list of things these countries need is endless, but just like my little boy... they need to play.
Director of Communications