My Wrecked Plans: Building a Sports Ministry


Kelly McGugan (This post is a follow up to the previous post God’s Eye Opener.)

Ethiopia Sports Ministry

When I pitched the idea of a sports ministry program to the director of The Forsaken Children, Joe Bridges, he seemed interested but by his own admittance, he is not a sports guy. I could see the wheels were not completely turning concerning my proposal and needed some oiling up.

Here is how I presented my case… 

The Forsaken Children’s partner, Onesimus, has limited physical resources, as do most indigenous ministries. When you add this to the nature of its main outreach, street children, you can easily become overwhelmed as the resources fall far short of the need – some say 100,000 children live on Addis Ababa’s streets. My vision was to use sports to help alleviate this dichotomy.

The question I needed to answer was - how could I incorporate sports into the mission of Onesimus, providing an inexpensive resource that can reach large numbers? I believed sports could help Onesimus cast a larger net - so to speak - over the area it works in without costing a lot. Doing so would allow Onesimus to minister to more children by creating sports programs that involve street children.

Not every child can receive the same level of ministry due to limited resources, but using sports can include children who would otherwise receive nothing.

I also communicated how I wanted to use the sports ministry to let these kids know that they are loved by God and that He can recreate their DESTINY regardless of where or who they are coming from. 

That was the oil that got Joe’s wheels spinning. He presented my idea to the board and I received the endorsement to push ahead with plans. I began having bi-weekly phone meetings with Nega, the director of Onesimus, in September to prepare for a sports implementation trip to Addis Ababa in December.

My work with Nega was sometimes difficult (bad phone connections, language barriers, and cultural differences) but well worth the effort. As we worked together, our plans narrowed into two specific objectives for December:

  1. Host a soccer tournament for the area of the city where Onesimus ministers and
  2. Begin sports clinics for the current beneficiaries of Onesimus. 

My Time in Ethiopia

The soccer tournament began the week before my wife, Heather, and I arrived in December. We had two different age groups compete in a round robin style tournament and I was blessed to bring sports equipment (the main expense for a sports program apart from facilities) that was donated from the University of Memphis Soccer team, Collierville High School, and Dowdle Sports. 

The Lord also blessed us by allowing us to speak to two levels of government about our sports program, congealing the relationship between Onesimus and the officials. Also, Nega and I were able to visit a local university (a 5-minute walk from Onesimus), which secured their soccer field for Onesimus to use for sports ministry (there goes the highest expense for a sports program!).

The most rewarding part of my time, though, was focusing the majority of our clinics on the girls of Onesimus. In fact, I remember sitting in my room one night, thinking that no one back home cared about what I was doing in Ethiopia (the Enemy at work!). It was the smiles from those girls as they learned about and played soccer, something typically reserved for boys in Ethiopia, that reminded me that even though I was away from home and in an uncomfortable setting, God was near and He cared! The Lord WAS WORKING.

I’m reminded of the song “Family Tree” by Matthew West when I think of my new passion for Ethiopia’s children. Through the work of Onesimus, The Forsaken Children, and other faithful servants who listen to Christ’s commandment to GO, many children on the streets of Addis Ababa are recreating their DESTINIES. These children now know that with Christ in them, who or where they came from DOES NOT DEFINE THEM. 

My prayer is that I will continue to be an instrument for these children as the Lord leads.