“I’m here in South Africa with Steve Morgan,” Jim Schmidtke speaks loudly above airport chatter and public announcements. Jim is on his way home from Johannesburg, South Africa. Steve will remain in Johannesburg until July 7.
Jim is the U.S. soccer director for Athletes in Action, Cru’s ministry to athletes. Steve Morgan is the associate director for U.S. soccer with AIA and chaplain for the Kansas City Wizards, one of the 16 teams which make up the Major League Soccer club. MLS is a professional soccer league based in the United States and Canada, representing top tier athletes.
Both men have been staff members with the ministry for over 30 years.
Since their arrival on June 4, Jim and Steve have seen God at work amid World Cup hysteria.
There are hundreds of volunteers in South Africa right now. “Our primary purpose was to do pre-game chapel with the U.S. Men’s Team,” Jim says. “Last week before the big game against England, we read Psalm 23 together, then the guys went out and scored a goal."
Then Tim Howard, goal keeper for the U.S. team, won the Man of the Match Award. The game tied 1:1.
“We arrived at this place [gaining access to the U.S. team] not because we are important or special, but because we developed relationships with people,” Steve says.
“The guys on the team know we are there to disciple and encourage them. They know who we are. Guys like Tim Howard are setting an example for Christ because of the way he lives his life. Tim takes his job as a player seriously, but our job as chaplains is to help the guys focus on the Lord.”
“We’re here for the team and the team knows us and the coaches know us, but other people -- even administration people -- in the area, like hotel employees, security, and police don’t know us and aren’t allowed to let anyone in restricted areas without credentials,” Steve says. “We don’t have credentials. But we’ve had relationships with the players for the past 3-5 years while they were playing on their professional leagues in the U.S.”
“When Jim and I arrive, the athletes help us in gaining access to areas where they are staying by telling local police, hotel staff, etc., that we are allowed in,” Steve says. “The only credentials we have are our passports and drivers license. Like any other fan, if we can find a ticket to the game, we do. If we can’t, we just find a TV and sit and watch the game like everybody else.”
“We’re having a blast here,” Jim says. “We’re [connecting] with other staff members from Canada and the U.S., and going out into slums and ghettos to conduct sports clinics and outreaches.
"Just yesterday we were at Diepsloot, one of South Africa’s poorest areas, located on the outskirts of Johannesburg. There were staff members and volunteers from Ethiopia and Zimbabwe reaching out to over 300 kids.
"After the fun and games a local pastor told them about Jesus, and many of these kids -- whose primary language is Zulu -- made a decision to follow Christ. There’s a ton of ministries here, and we are working with volunteers and partnering with local churches to accomplish a great goal: reaching people for Christ.”
“Every city in the country is having Fan Fests where thousands of people show up to watch the game on a big screen in local stadiums and parks around the country,” Steve says. “Parks are a sea of color as thousands of fans wear green and gold and blow colorful vuvuzelas (the loud horns fans blast during games). AIA is using this as an outreach opportunity. Last night they showed the video “The Prize” about the World Cup, in the city Pretoria, and saw a huge response.”
“I’m here until July 7,” Steve says. “USA plays [June 18] against Slovenia. One of the U.S. players, 28-year-old Clarence Goodson, just text messaged me and said we can meet at 10 a.m. at the hotel where the team is staying. It’s only 3 miles from where I stay. The meeting is totally voluntary.”
“Before the game against England we met and had Bible study/chapel with 8 of the USA team (Howard, Guzan, Clark, Goodson, Dempsey, Torres, Buddle, Findley), and one of the team doctors came as well,” Steve says. “This is the largest group ever with the Men's National Team. They were fully engaged and we had a wonderful time.”
“The U.S. plays again [June 23], and I will be in touch with the guys so they can tell me what time to meet,” Steve says. “I will also still be doing clinics in South African ghettos (shacks, lean-tos, etc.).
"Pray for all of us here to be bold and compassionate in bringing a clear message of hope to those in need of our Savior.”