It took a bit of fancy footwork, but the volunteers of Soccer Camp 4 Christ agree that they scored big.
The three Christian Reformed churches of Chatham, Ontario (Grace, First, and Calvary), decided to take a new approach to summer children’s outreach this year by hosting a week-long soccer camp rather than their usual vacation Bible school. Organizers Melissa Deelstra and Suzanne VanEijkern both had experience coaching sports, and Deelstra had worked with Athletes in Action.
“Soccer camp,” suggested VanEijkern, “requires fewer volunteers and keeps kids active but with the same opportunity to share the gospel [as vacation Bible school].” Their hope, said Deelstra, was to “share the gospel message and build relationships while teaching soccer skills and modeling good sportsmanship.”
Reactions were mixed initially, though enthusiasm grew as the week approached. “We had people say, ‘You’re not going to do VBS? You’re just going to play soccer?’ But that’s not what soccer camp is. It’s VBS, but with more active presentation,” said VanEijkern. The camp was capped at 60 participants--but in the end, there were 78 kids and a long waiting list. That is an increase from previous years when traditional VBS was drawing 40 to 50 kids, with volunteers sometimes outnumbering kids.
Participants were matched with prayer partners from the churches. Each camp day opened with prayer, followed by warm-up and drills. Skills covered included dribbling, passing, shooting, and ball control. Before lunch, campers and leaders joined in a “Halftime Huddle,” where coaches shared stories from the Bible and their own lives to illustrate messages focused on themes like God’s love, prayer, and Christ as Savior. After lunch kids had a chance to use their new skills in games, followed by a post-game review.
Each church provided volunteers, said VanEijkern. “All churches contribute in different ways depending on abilities and dynamics. [The First CRC bakers, for example,] are super proud of those cookies they bake, and it’s such a treat for the kids to have homemade cookies.”
Friday closed with one last set of games and a barbecue, bringing together participants, leaders, coaches, parents, and prayer partners. Each participant received a soccer ball, and Bibles were given to children who did not have a Bible at home already. A highlight, Deelstra said, was that “one little girl that I invited to camp told her leader that she had prayed on her own at home for the first time!”