Tito Venegas affirmed his call to ministry by beginning a soccer day camp ministry in a dangerous part of his hometown of San Jose, Costa Rica. Now a student at Calvin Theological Seminary, he has begun a similar outreach ministry through Eastern Avenue Christian Reformed Church in Grand Rapids, Mich.
Venegas was leading worship at Eastern Avenue’s bilingual worship service and serving Spanish-speaking clients at the church’s food pantry when he saw a need. He wanted to engage Hispanic people who had no connection to the church. He walked into an indoor soccer gym near his apartment and started up a conversation with the owner, who allowed him to use the facility for the ministry free of charge.
Six people came the first week last September. They played for 30 minutes, and then Venegas delivered a short evangelistic message in both Spanish and English before resuming their game.
The group has multiplied to nearly 50 as people invited friends and brought their family, nephews, and nieces. The kids were going wild while the adults played, and Venegas recognized a missed opportunity. He recruited Calvin College student Josie Baar to lead other area college students in teaching soccer skills and Bible stories to the children.
What began as a ministry aimed at reaching Hispanic people has attracted people from the Congo, American high school and college students, and Korean seminarians. The diversity on the artificial turf has added to the soccer and teamwork analogies Venegas infuses into his messages.
“I don’t invite them to church,” said Venegas, though they do talk about the bilingual service regularly, “but when they do come, I know that they are interested. A lot of them just need someone to listen. That is a skill we Christians need, not to give quick answers. Some invite me into their homes to discuss issues.”
One such invitation led to the participant sharing his testimony of having been recently been released from jail. He is now attending church regularly, has landed a job, and recently asked Venegas, “How do I become a Christian?” A few days later this man called excitedly to declare, “I prayed the prayer!” Now he is preparing to be baptized.