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MI Road Trip in a Word: Massive

Oct 30, 2019

As I sit and reflect on the recent road trip to Michigan for the 2nd Global Congress on Sport and Christianity, it feels a lot like one of the Apostle Paul’s missionary journeys that’s recorded in the book of Acts. Among the many, many highlights was seeing so many old faces and meeting many new faces. As the family (yes, all 6 of us) headed east, we made our first stop in Olathe, KS. A couple nights with my brother and his family let us get a feel for the road and also allowed us to see my nephew, Asher, in play for Toca FC and visit with one of our chaplain candidates in the area.

Asher Kenney, left, waits for a throw-in during the second half of his club match

It was a short stop in KC and then on to Nashville, TN. We pulled into town as the sun set, but the next day saw the family tour a couple of Civil War sites related to the Battle of Franklin. The still, blood-stained wood floors of the Confederate Field Hospital at Carnton and the on-site, private graveyard were sobering reminders of America’s difficult past.

The Union HQ for the Battle of Franklin, still riddled with bullet holes.

After the day’s events, I had a chance to sit with Nashville SC Chaplain Billy Cerveny and we discussed end-of-season and upcoming MLS transitions at Franklin’s Frothy Monkey. Later that night, after a BBQ dinner, we visited with coaching staff of Nashville SC and shared many reminders and memories of the 2010 Cup Final win for the Rapids and our time together during those years. All in all, too short of a time, but a joy to have even the briefest of reunions.

Martin’s BBQ was a nice shared moment for the family.

The hills of Tennessee gave way to Cincinnati as we visited with a former Rapids player and his family. After a quick stop to see my childhood home in MI, we headed across the state for the start of the congress at Calvin University.

Gary Thomas, with the opening keynote “Every Body Matters”

The Congress, in a word, was an amazing time. I especially enjoyed some of the challenges that were put forth by several of the keynote speakers and in the breakout sessions. One such idea that captured me was Miroslav Volf’s question to attendees,

Is the glory of being better than someone else (in sport) a genuine, human good?

Miroslav Volf, 2nd Global Congress on Sport and Christianity Keynote

Volf’s philosophical and moral grappling was one of the more weighty sessions and his ideas and language around competition were difficult for many of the practitioners in the room to swallow, let alone find a ground for agreement. But I find that the differing opinions help sharpen and shape my own theology and understanding of sport and ministry.

I felt that my breakout session was wonderfully paired with a presentation given by Will Whitmore, just prior, entitled, Towards a Theology of Sports Chaplaincy. Will focused on imago dei as a foundation for consideration and my own presentation called for using Genesis 3 as a more biblical foundation for sports chaplaincy. I was encouraged to share this more seminal text and also to introduce some folks to Saint Martin and his story as key to understanding chaplaincy.

In between sessions, Soccer Chaplains United had a table and we shared more about the ministry with potentially interested chaplains, counselors, and others at the Congress

Saturday morning, Brooke Ewert and myself, co-led a session discussing the partnership of Counseling and Chaplaincy. It followed on neatly from a presentation that was encouraging chaplaincy and social work partnerships. The exciting thing is to see a growing interest in creating interdisciplinary teams of care that can come around those in sport.

Brooke and myself, on Chaplaincy and Counseling: A Necessary Partnership

The Congress wasn’t all presentations and games, though. I took advantage of being in Grand Rapids to meet with some old friends — now coaches with Calvin and Cornerstone University Men’s Soccer. Ryan Souders and I caught up for a coffee and talked about how soccer chaplaincy might become part of the soccer program at Calvin. Ryan and I go back a number of years, to the time when Ryan was a player with the Charlotte Eagles and good friend to former Colorado Rapids midfielder and board member, Greg Dalby.

Ryan and I grab a selfie in the library/coffee shop on Calvin’s campus.

Ryan was kind to invite me to share an encouraging word to the men’s soccer team as they prepared for the last couple of regular season matches. I shared on how God was David in his battles and especially how He prepared and equipped David, for the battles that were right in front of him and the ones to come.

Standing on the touchline, I share about David’s 5 stones with the Calvin University Men’s Soccer team.

I also enjoyed reconnecting with former Rapids defender, Steve Herdsman. Steve was one of the first players I had the privilege of serving as volunteer chaplain for the Rapids. He has coached Cornerstone University Men’s Soccer for a long time now. We laughed as we shared our aging stories, though Steve’s managed to keep much of his good looks and fitness! During a lunch, we began some initial talks on what chaplaincy at Cornerstone might look like. Afterwards, Steve took me on a little tour of his club that he helps lead and he showed me the first ever Goalpher soccer system which has recently been on social media.

Steve and I pose in front of the first construction of Kyle Martino’s Goalpher soccer system.

Friends, if you’re still reading, I just can’t tell you how great the entire trip was. One last exciting opportunity to share with you — during the Congress, someone from India approached me and asked to speak with me. We shared a dinner time conversation together. He is starting a Bible school and would like for us to consider coming to India and teaching and training on soccer chaplaincy! He has a number of chaplains that are just beginning to work with soccer teams in a league that they run in the southern part of India. I don’t know if and how God might make this happen, but it is exciting to see how He is opening new doors and opportunities to grow and develop serving those in the soccer community.

Our trip ended with visiting friends in the Chicago area. A lunch at Portillo’s with our two families was followed by a impromptu tour of Moody Bible Institute. I was blessed to walk the grounds of the school that was so impactful in my life. I got to show my wife and daughters one of the places that is close to my heart. Good friend, Elias Ricks and his mom and two sons were with us as we explored the MBI museum and the campus.

The Kenney and Ricks families in front of Moody’s famous arch

Our last stop before the long drive home was with some friends who recently moved to Illinois. All in all, it was a wonderful trip and we are thankful to God for the traveling mercies and safety on the road and during this long trip.

We had a great reunion with the Salia’s

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