Making an Impact for Christ: Football Missions Trips

Hitting someone with enough momentum to knock them into next week may not sound like a traditional method for spreading the gospel, but it has worked for Nate Spate and dozens of other Maranatha football players.

Spate (’98) was among a group of student-athletes who went to France in 1995 to assist missionaries while also playing an exhibition game against a local club football team. He was so intrigued with this form of ministry that Spate returned to France and spent two years helping coach a club team while working with a missionary. Another group of Crusaders took a similar trip to Ireland in 1998. A third football/missions trip took place this May, when a group of Maranatha players visited Israel.

“It helps that the people there can relate to Americans by relating to a common sport,” Spate said. “They want to learn so much about our sport, and you can make some quick bonds that way. But, I think these trips may do even more for the (Maranatha) football players. They get to see different ways that ministry can be applied, not just the static ways we approach things here in America. It’s the same playbook, so to speak, but a different application.”

Former head coach Terry Price has led all three trips. Price and 22 players boarded a plane May 5, the day after graduation, and flew to Israel. The team spent two weeks there touring the Holy Land, helping establish contacts for missionaries, conducting clinics, and winning an exhibition game against an all-star team from the Israel Football League (IFL).

“I really believe these trips help our young men become better Christians and better local church members because of the interest they have in missions,” Price said. “They certainly have a better understanding of missions and what a great challenge it is to start a church in a foreign land while facing all of the language and cultural differences.”

Maranatha’s players helped teach the American game to the IFL players as the league prepares to switch from 8-man to 11-man football. They assisted in church services and took part in Bible studies while visiting significant sites in Jerusalem as well as the Dead Sea and Sea of Galilee areas.

The earlier trips to France and Ireland followed similar formats. In Ireland, the team was able to sing hymns and discuss the Bible during its presentation of American football at school assemblies. In France, players were able to hand out Christian literature.

“The contacts we make through football help the missionaries expand the circle of people they know in their communities,” Price explained. “These trips are good for the missionaries—but they’re even better for our students.”