Serving In Mission’s Sports Friends ministry is built around more than 12,000 godly coaches who pour their lives into the young people on their teams.
They love them, pray for them, get to know their families, share with them the truths of God’s word, and connect them to the local church.
More than 250,000 youngsters have discipled by countless coaches all around the world, since the ministry began 20 years ago.
Cat Tongkao started with SIM UK in 2010 and moved to Thailand, where the ministry had launched a couple of years earlier. Together, Cat and her husband, Somchai, served with Sports Friends for eight years in Thailand, before moving to the UK in 2018.
Today, Cat leads the communications team, while Somchai is pioneering the Sports Friends ministry in the UK.
“We’ve seen Sports Friends flourish globally, but when we first moved to Manchester, we weren’t sure whether this ministry was right for a UK context,” admits Cat.
“There are so many opportunities in the UK for young people to play sport with academies and after-school clubs, but we saw a niche here for non-competitive, inclusive, church-centred sport ministry.
“Somchai and our church pastor piloted a weekly football team, welcoming kids who may not be the greatest at sport and don’t play at school, or who may not have the financial means to join an academy team, but who want to have fun and build their confidence.
“We now have between 30-40 young people coming down to the park for training twice a week. We can’t keep them away! It’s become a safe place just to have a go, maybe score some goals for the first time in their life and, of course, hear about the life-changing love of Jesus.”
Encouraged by this success, Somchai ran the first UK Sports Friends training course to equip other Christian leaders who are interested in starting their own church-centred sport ministries. Since then, two more churches in Manchester have launched teams.
“It was encouraging to look together at what the Bible says about sport, how the church can use it to break down barriers, and how coaches can be intentional about opening the Scriptures and building authentic, loving relationships with their players,” he says.
The couple, who are sent by Holcombe Brook Methodist Church, Bury, and serve with Bridge Community Church, Radcliffe, are now praying God will continue to open doors for more UK churches to develop fruitful, church-centred sport ministries.
Sports Friends Deputy Global Leader and South East Asia Regional Co-ordinator, Jill Ireland, who is sent by St Andrew’s Church, Oxford, says: “Like music, sport is often spoken of as a universal language that can cross barriers of race, religion, culture, language, politics and socio-economic barriers.
“We’ve seen this to be true in the 18 countries in which Sports Friends is working and more recently, here in the UK.
“In the diverse community in which Somchai and Cat are working, their sports programme in the park welcomes young people and families from all backgrounds with a loving, welcoming, and inclusive embrace.
“It’s free, it’s in their local park, it doesn’t matter where they come from, what language they speak, how good they are at football, they make new friends as they play together and we hope have their hearts opened to the love of God.”
By Kerry Allan
Sports Friends snapshot:
18 COUNTRIES / 5 CONTINENTS
250,000+ YOUNG PEOPLE
1,000+ SHORT-TERM PARTICIPANTS
- Give thanks for the thousands of sports ministry leaders and coaches around the world with a passion to make disciples through sport.
- Praise God for the countless young people’s lives that have been transformed as they have heard about about Jesus and encountered the love of God through the faithful witness of their coach.
- That God would open doors for new partnerships in the UK so our workers can train even more churches in sports ministry.