Sharing Christ through Football
The bright Portuguese sun illuminated the makeshift football field. In the distance, Atlantic waves beat the shore. Players for the Lisbon Crusaders took the field for their pre-game routines, which include, among other things, marking the field’s yard lines with sand.
The football field was only a converted soccer pitch, and the crowd only consisted of a few friends and family members. But for Emanuel and his Crusader teammates, the excitement reached NFL proportions in the moments before kickoff against the Galiza Black Towers.
For Crusader player/coaches Brady Nurse and Grant Shields, the excitement was more than pre-game nerves. For them, the football team is both a competitive outlet and an incredible inroad for sharing the Gospel.
“Football has been a great way for us to get into the lives of the Portuguese people,” said Nurse, an International Mission Board missionary who has been in Portugal for four years and has played with the Crusaders for three years.
“It is a spiritually hard state here in Portugal,” Nurse said, noting that less than 2 percent of Portuguese have any kind of relationship with Christ. “There is a big spiritual dryness.”
In spite of this, Nurse and Shields — a volunteer with the IMB’s short-term Hands On program for college students — have seen nearly 30 football players in Portugal come to know Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior.
The Crusaders team has opened the door for Shields and Nurse to pour the Gospel message into these men, among whom competition and teamwork have forged a camaraderie that makes open and honest conversation possible.
“Football has had a big role in opening my eyes,” Emanuel said. “I don’t feel empty like I did a few years ago.”
American football is steadily gaining popularity in Europe. University and community teams are being formed in many larger Portuguese cities. Currently Portugal has six teams, and Nurse hopes four new teams will be added to the league in the next few seasons.
The Lisbon Crusaders team has been instrumental for Nurse and Shields to gain access into the lives of players who, otherwise, may have been closed to a friendship.
“Before practices , I spent a month here without being able to meet anybody,” Shields said. “If I could just get someone to say ‘hi’ to me, I would consider that day a success.”
Now success looks different — and not always a win on the football field, even when those come.
In the game against the Galiza Black Towers, the Crusaders quickly found themselves struggling to overcome a 14-0 deficit — a margin wider than any the Crusaders had come back from. But the Crusaders dug deep and fought back. They beat the Black Towers 38-34, keeping their hopes for the championship alive.
Nurse and Shields celebrated with the rest of the team after the game, but their hope — and now Emanuel’s too — is for something far greater than a gridiron championship.
Trent Parker is a writer for the IMB in Europe. To learn about outreach in Europe through the International Mission Board, visit imbeurope.org. This story was adapted from the story, "Sharing Christ through Football in Portugal - college guys share Jesus on and off the field" found on handsonstories.tumblr.com.