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Cancha in Costa Rica

Driving through some of the towns and villages in Costa Rica, it was amazing to see some things which stood out. Namely, the cancha fields. Here in the midst of tin roof buildings on the side of a road would be a beautiful turf field with lights and netting. “Cancha” in Spanish means court. The small-sided field would host a 5 v. 5 match. Games were fast-paced. The ball, more like a futsal ball, had less bounce and a softer feel. (I know because one hit my face!)

After several hours at the work site, our Valor Discovery Team made up of members of the boys and girls soccer team at Valor Christian High School would play small-sided games against local teams from the surrounding towns. After the games, which would sometimes feature a mixing of the players in order to build relationships, the Valor team would hand out soccer cleats. Several of the Ticos only had tennis shoes to play in and no studs. They would gather around the bags and say which number or size they would like to try on.

With a beautiful Costa Rican sunset in the background, the team poses before starting to play a small-sided game in “La Cancha.”

On one night, the team leaders were invited to mix-in and play with the students before the local teams showed up. Reluctantly, I got situated in goal. Goalkeeper. Great. There was a slight fear and trepidation in me as I had seen how hard some of the student athletes had fired the ball on their local opponents. To be honest, I did better than I thought I would and it was fun to engage with the students in this way.

I did make a “Scott Sterling” type of save with my face and took some studs in the thigh, but tried to hold my own.

The redemptive nature to our time in the evenings was in the relationship building and the provision of soccer gear to those who had so very little. A goalkeeper with duct tape to hold his gloves together. A player with holes in his cleats. Another wearing shoes too small. Another with shoes too big for him.

We are not possessors. We are not consumers. We are stewards.

As Christian people, when we realize that everything we have has been given to us by God, we realize that we are called to steward what we have. We are not possessors. We are not consumers. We are stewards. The new and slightly used boots (cleats) that we would give away at the end of the night might be regarded as garbage or unusable in American culture, but here, they became prized possessions.

I met Josef the first night — a spry, goalkeeper he found a pair of boots (cleats) that fit him just right.

But more important than a new pair of boots or gloves, is showing the love of Jesus. Many of these young people come from homes broken. Many have little in this world to call their own. I heard one story of a flood last year. As the waters rose, a young man we were playing with put all of this prized possessions into his hammock some 5 feet off the ground — a pair of cleats, a ball, and a jersey out of the floodwaters. Everything else was ruined or washed away.

The Bible says,

Better is one day in your courts
    than a thousand elsewhere;
I would rather be a doorkeeper in the house of my God
    than dwell in the tents of the wicked.

The cancha fields of Costa Rica are not the reason why Valor went down to Costa Rica. Rather, it was to introduce those that we played with and against to a heavenly court, God’s court. And while many might appreciate the beauty of a nicely laid out, turf field there is a better place where we can run, and live, and breathe. An eternal place.

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