In the soccer-loving country of Lebanon, streets, coffee shops, restaurants and homes were all recently decorated with flags in support of the various countries competing in the FIFA world cup. Although many of the favorites were already out, the excitement in the streets was still high. Almost every conversation starter begins with a comment on who won the night before or who hasn’t been playing well. Even the least sport-enthusiastic person couldn’t help but keep up with the latest World Cup news.
That same excitement was in Syrian refugee camp settlements. Adults and children of all ages joined in the World Cup frenzy. They too have their favorite teams and love to have soccer related conversations with our Heart for Lebanon visiting teams. Their love to this sport is no less than any other nation. Despite their hardship, they found pleasure in following the month-long tournament and reminded everybody that the Syrian national team was one game away from being qualified to play in this year’s competition. Though their hopes were shattered when their national team was disqualified, they still took great pride in the fact that they had made it that far.
One recent inspiring story that emerged from this year’s World Cup is that of a Croatian player, Luka Modric, who was once a child refugee fleeing from his home after his grandfather was gunned down by militiamen during the Balkan wars. As a child-refugee, Modric’s success is an inspiration to many young Syrian refugee boys and girls here in Lebanon who think that their lives might amount to nothing.
At Heart for Lebanon we want to restore hope in the lives of all refugee children we serve so that they may strive for a better future for themselves. One of the ways we achieve this is through our sports ministry, where children learn discipline, develop good character skills and grow in their knowledge of Jesus. Every week our sports ministry trains four different teams in the Bekaa valley and South of Lebanon. Most of these refugee kids are not only learning how to be part of a team they are also learning how to play soccer, basketball and dodge ball for the first time in their lives. With every training, these children are also learning the word of God as they reflect on stories from the Bible. They are learning to love, forgive, and befriend others who are not like them.
As we work with at-risk children who are struggling with traumatic experiences of war, we are not only mending the scars of the present but we are also investing in their future. Although these children may never be famous soccer players like Modric, it is our prayer that they will be better professionals, citizens, fathers and mothers.