Michigan Church Offers Soccer with a Curve

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Kelloggsville Christian Reformed Church in Kentwood, Mich., got the ball rolling in reaching out to its neighborhood with its “Soccer with a Curve” ministry.

Every week, the event draws young people for a game of soccer and a Bible study. Since the church is located in a multiethnic neighborhood, players hail from many countries, including Burundi, Costa Rica, El Salvador, England, Guatemala, Honduras, Hungary, Mexico, Nicaragua, the Philippines, and Russia.

Rev. Gilbert Varela, the teaching and diversity pastor at Kelloggsville, is originally from Costa Rica. He leads the Bible study and plays along with the young people in the soccer games.

“I know what I am talking about when I talk about soccer and the Bible,” said Varela. “God has given me those gifts—playing soccer and being a pastor.”

Varela said that his background has helped him reach out to those in the neighborhood with international roots.

“Most of these people are immigrants without people in the States. They are looking for friendship and a place to belong,” explained Varela. “They seem to find out that it’s a good place for them to be.”

Sergio Cira Reyes from Mexico has been playing soccer at the church for a year and a half. “What attracted me is that you play for two hours and it is very skill-based.”

After an hour of soccer, Varela leads the group in a short Bible study.

“Because of the younger crowd, [Varela] keeps it contemporary and interesting,” said Reyes.

The Bible study is conducted in English and Spanish because many of the participants’ first language is Spanish.

Through the ministry, the church has seen many of the players attend worship on Sundays. “It’s hard to bring them to worship, but when you invite them to play soccer, [they] are more open,” explained Varela.

About the Author

Ryan Struyk was a former Banner news correspondent for classes Grand Rapids South and Thornapple Valley.