Uncharted Territory

“There are three kinds of men. The ones that learn by reading.  The few who learn by observation.  The rest of them have to pee on the electric fence for themselves.”   ― Will Rogers

(In case you were wondering,  I’m the kind of woman who needs to pee on the electric fence to learn a proper lesson. Stubborn is my middle name.)

If you were to ask me about what I’ve learned so far while living in South Africa, I would tell you these two very important things:

  1. Be Flexible
  2. Fail

Fail?  Yep.  I said it.  Fail.  I am what some professionals like to call “an experiential learner.”  I like to learn by “trial and error.”  I take a step, I fail, I learn, I change, and then I try to do it better the next time.  The concept seems simple enough, but, in the moment of realization, it can be pretty heart wrenching.  Messing up isn’t fun.  It hurts.  It takes humility to admit a wrong, and it can leave scars and memories that seem to only fade with time.  Not to mention, our culture has an awful way of reinforcing the broken idea that we must constantly strive for perfection, and if we fail to reach it, we should just crawl into a hole and let someone else give it a shot.  It’s why we hide our weaknesses, it’s why we are ashamed of our flaws, and it’s why some of the most successful businessmen in the world are the greatest liars.

But hey, there’s good news.  Jesus gave me the freedom to fail.  In fact, I have the freedom to screw up BIG TIME over and over and over again.  My identity isn’t in my volunteer work, it isn’t in my soccer playing abilities, or in the number of bible verses I have memorized.  My worth and my value don’t come from my accomplishments.  God could take all of those things away from me, and I would still be deemed precious in His sight.  His love doesn’t change when I fail.  His love isn’t conditional or dependent on me.  His love and approval do not come with a disclaimer.

So when I go through a trial, how do I respond?  Do I sulk and give up?  Or do I learn and grow?  Do I beat myself up? Or do I choose to move forward and try again?

Quick example.  Today, I had to pull the plug on my high school futsal team.  I love those girls (and I also hate feeling like a quitter), so it wasn’t an easy task for me.  I had to humble myself enough to admit that the program wasn’t going in the direction that training4changeS needed it to go.  I had to swallow my pride and admit that it simply wasn’t working…. but that’s okay.

Now, I move forward. I learn from this experience, and I choose to become a better coach.  I adjust my strategy, I adapt to my environment, and I appreciate the trials and the challenges that I have walked through over these past few months.  As a training4changeS team, we went back to the drawing board and we decided to target a new age group.  We are hoping to develop a girl’s futsal program within the local primary schools instead of the high schools.  We’ve realized that the world is changing fast.  To make a lasting impact, we need to start teaching, loving, and coaching younger aged kids.  By the time these girls enter into high school, their habits and lifestyles are so deeply engrained into their minds and hearts that change just doesn’t stick.  The chance for long term impact decreases more and more with each birthday.

So, I am venturing down a new road that will lead me into uncharted territory.  I am going to start traveling down this “one of a kind” path that God has so graciously paved for me.  This path could very well be full of sharp turns, steep hills, and some potential thunderstorms, but I am willing and ready to face the elements.  I am willing and ready to have my roadmap torn to shreds, my travel plans tossed out the window, and my destination expectations rerouted.

I know that I’d much rather trek up a dangerous and scary mountain trail with my Creator, than sit in the comfort of a palm tree without Him.

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We can rejoice, too, when we run into problems and trials, for we know that they help us develop endurance. And endurance develops strength of character, and character strengthens our confident hope of salvation. And this hope will not lead to disappointment. For we know how dearly God loves us, because he has given us the Holy Spirit to fill our hearts with his love. 

Romans 5:3-5 (NLT)

Setting The Pace

If you have ever played a sport, the concept of “preseason training” should send a slight shiver of fear down your back.  When I think of it in soccer terms, I imagine running up and down the mountain side, too many suicide sprints, and lots of lactic acid build up in my lower body.  It’s the roughly two to three month period when I store away my soccer cleats and break out my running shoes (to my dismay).  My legs ache just thinking about it…

Preseason is the duration of time when an athlete makes the most significant strength and stamina gains.  The long hours of preparation for the season are intense and taxing, but those lengthy practice sessions equip those athletes to excel when the first game finally arrives.  The sprints, the lunges, and the squats serve their strength and conditioning purposes, and as much as I may hate them (and my coach for making me do them, sorry Coach), those exercises are meant to develop me. Each season, when I look back on the blood, sweat, and tears poured into each practice, I am exceedingly grateful.

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As a coach, I experience some of these same feelings of distress with my players.  We had our first league game this past Friday, and we had our rear end’s dished out to us on a silver platter (how’s that for eloquence). It was one of the most frustrating games I’ve ever coached, but I learned a great deal from the experience.  We have a lot of training to do, and I have a lot of coaching to do.  However, I realized that it’s more than just the futsal skills that need improving.  Most of my players have never been disciplined in their entire lives, and the concept of “respect your authority” is completely foreign to them.  Not to mention, I am completely foreign to them.

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I read a verse that fits this situation perfectly. Hebrews 12:11-13 says, “No discipline is enjoyable while it is happening—it’s painful! But afterward there will be a peaceful harvest of right living for those who are trained in this way.  So take a new grip with your tired hands and strengthen your weak knees. Mark out a straight path for your feet so that those who are weak and lame will not fall but become strong.”

When I look back on my childhood, it becomes so evident that my parents disciplined me, not because they were angry with me, but because they loved me.  Their discipline made me strong.  They protected me from danger and taught me life lessons that I will never forget.  The Lord does the same thing.  In fact, He is currently doing the same thing in my own life.  In the moment, it stings and aches.  Still, in the long run, it’s one of the sweetest things because it reminds me that He cares.

I am learning what it looks like to discipline my players in love.  I am learning what it means to show them grace while teaching them truth.  I am not going to be perfect in my delivery, but that’s alright because it’s through my failures that I will improve.  God tends to teach me some of my biggest lessons during my toughest trials (probably because I am too stubborn and thick headed to learn the easy way).  He has to throw me into the fire to refine me and He has to lovingly shove me out of the “comfort” nest to teach me how to fly. You think I’d be used to it by now, but… I’m not.

My playing season and my coaching season have just begun, and each day I will face a new challenge.  One of the most comforting things is that I will never have to face any of those challenges alone.  I am surrounded by a group of amazing people who love me for who I am (mishaps and all), and that truth spurs me on to take the next step forward.  Walking by faith means that my next step could easily lead me into an unforeseen ditch, but I needn’t worry because Psalm 40:2 says, “He lifted me out of the pit of despair, out of the mud and the mire.  He set my feet on solid ground and steadied me as I walked along.”

So I walk…

Our next futsal game is in two weeks, and I have a confident expectation that it will be better than the first.

Truths, Testimonies, and Tattoos

“Ek het jou lief selfs in jou donkerste tye” – Afrikaans

“I loved you even in your darkest times”

One of my favorite verses in the Bible is Romans 5:8 (NLT) which says, “But God showed His great love for us by sending Christ to die for us while we were still sinners.”

What an amazing testament of how loving and gracious our great God and Father is!  When I was still wallowing in my sin (acting a fool) with my back facing God, He loved me.  That’s just insane.  It’s amazing and beautiful, and it has absolutely nothing to do with how holy or righteous I am.  I thank God for that because I am a mess; perfection is not a word in my vocabulary… but Jesus is.

Yesterday I made the decision to get a new tattoo (see Afrikaans quote at top of page).  Tattoos can be a touchy subject, especially in the church.  They come with stereotypes and judgements and condemning stares, but in my opinion, they can be beautiful works of art that have the potential to start deep conversations and reveal hidden truths about a person.  In some cases, they can even be tools for sharing the Gospel. Some people don’t like tattoos and some people do.  So what does that mean?  It means Grace.  It means that we as Christians have the freedom to develop personal and intimate relationships with the Lord, and if it does not go against His Word, then any decision we make becomes a heart issue between us and Him.  We have the freedom by grace to be set free from the laws of old, and we get the opportunity to now live in a grace filled and loving relationship with God through Christ.  How awesome is that?

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1 Samuel 16:7 (NIV) says, “The LORD does not look at the things people look at. People look at the outward appearance, but the LORD looks at the heart.”

This past week I made the Stellenbosch Maties Professional Women’s Soccer Team in the SASOL league in South Africa.  When God says that He knows the desires of our hearts, He really means it.  I came to South Africa to coach, but my Heavenly Dad has also given me the chance to play for one of the best women’s teams in the country! Getting to join this team means so much more than using my God given gifts and talents to win games.  I have the chance to play in an environment that is full of racism, drugs and alcohol, sexual immorality, and discrimination.

2 Corinthians 4:6-7 says this: 

For God, who said, “Let there be light in the darkness,” has made this light shine in our hearts so we could know the glory of God that is seen in the face of Jesus Christ.  We now have this light shining in our hearts, but we ourselves are like fragile clay jars containing this great treasure. This makes it clear that our great power is from God, not from ourselves.

When I showed up to soccer practice yesterday with my new tattoo, I got to talk about Jesus (in the funny Miami accent that I apparently have).  My tattoo is written in Afrikaans, and most of the girls on my team speak Afrikaans, so when three of the girls saw my tattoo and read it…I was able to share the meaning behind it.  Working and living in a non-Christian environment can make it hard to share the Gospel, especially if you’re not allowed to speak about religious things.  The tattoo on my arm opened a door that God could use to reveal Himself.  I think it’s amazing how the Lord can find His way into any and every situation He pleases, it says a lot about His sovereignty.

I tend to put God in a box, but He is constantly showing me every day that He doesn’t belong in a box.  God isn’t limited to just Sunday morning services or slow organ worship music.  He is bigger than that.  He can use anyone and anything to get the word out about His love, and I think that is so cool.  He can use Christian Tattoo shops like Disciple Ink in Stellenbosch, He can use sports (even ones like the MMA that Calvary Chapel Ft. Lauderdale partnered with to put on an outreach last year), and He can use breweries like J Wakefield Brewing in Miami (run by an loving and awesome Christian family) to reach out to the lost and hurting.

I love that our God is so creative… In fact, He is the Creator which makes Him the source of any and all creativity within us.  Our abilities, talents, skills, passions, and gifts all come from our Heavenly Father, and He has assigned them to us for a purpose. Our job is just to use them, and that in a sense makes us into mini “creators” just like Dad (we were made in His image and likeness.)

So, I get to use my athletic ability to glorify God on and off the field through my playing, though my coaching, and through the relationships I build with my coaches and teammates.  I get the privilege of being a light in a really dark place.  Will I be a perfect Christian? Nope, that term “Perfect Christian” doesn’t actually exist (it’s an oxymoron…like jumbo shrimp)… but Jesus is perfect enough for me.  He continually chooses to use broken and weak people for His plans and purposes.  This way, there will be no question that God should be the one to get the praise and honor.

This week I’ve had a realization.  The breath in my lungs that I speak, run, sing, pray, and laugh with is a gift from my Father, so I will fight hard to glorify Him with every single ounce of it.

Striving For Excellence

10 Coaches.  4 Days.  1 Purpose.

As I lay on my bed with cramps in my calves and dark circles under my eyes… my heart is full.

These past few days came and went, but the lessons I learned and the friends I made will last a lifetime.

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The training4changeS coaches training camp kicked off with team building challenges that pushed our limits and broke down our trust barriers.  We led, we served, we opened up, we followed, we supported, and we bonded.  As coaches from multiple cultures and walks of life, we learned how to love each other and how to simultaneously grant each other the grace and freedom to be themselves.  We strengthened our teammate’s weaknesses and we took advantage of their strengths.  We shared our stories and our passions, and we connected on a deeper level.

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Then we took it up notch (more like 50 notches, actually).  The National Futsal Coach of South Africa and the training4changeS Director of Coaching, Quinton Allies, taught us the fundamentals of playing and coaching futsal.  Using the sole of the foot, proper body positioning, and communication were just three of the tools we learned to implement while playing this fast paced and intense sport.  About eleven hours of futsal sessions later, I can’t walk or feel my legs…. but more importantly, I have gained significant insight into the game of futsal and I have developed the skills necessary to be a successful coach.

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Next comes the theory.  Sylvester and Quinton taught us about child protection, the history and rules of futsal, and the power and influence that a coach has on and off the futsal court.  Children will “follow the leader,” and they are not biased to whether the one leading them is a good or bad influence.  Our goal as training4changeS coaches is to stand out as positive role models for the kids we coach.  We want to provide a safe place for them to grow and learn by teaching them core values and life skills that will lead to their success and well-being like: discipline, encouragement, forgiveness, teamwork, love, communication, sharing, acceptance, and determination.

training4changeS has taught me that futsal is so much more than a sport.  It’s an incredible tool for impacting the lives of the next generation.  If we can make a difference in one life, then that one life can impact even more lives down the road.

As we, the futsal coaches, reach out to these young and talented athletes, our hope is that one day those athletes will become the coaches (and players) of the next generation.  Their example and lifestyle will set the new standard for the South African culture, and change will happen.

But one step at a time…  

SCAS (Sport For Christ Action South Africa) Director Hein Reyneke shared some wisdom with us when he said that we should, “Strive for Excellence, Not For Perfection.”  I am bound to make mistakes along the way, and there’s nothing shameful about that because my mistakes will become the stepping stones for my improvement.  This will be a long journey, but I am ready and willing to do whatever it takes, mistakes included.

Lastly, I have to give a shout out to you all: my family, friends and supporters who have been following my adventures and encouraging me every step of the way.  There’s no way I would be here without your help.  Thank you all for believing in me, thank you all for motivating me, and thank you all for having enough trust in my vision to support me financially.  I am BEYOND grateful.

The Lord has used you guys in a big way to strength my faith, and He has proved His faithfulness to me through all of the support and provision that I have received.  I don’t deserve any of it, but He is so good.  I am simply an imperfect girl in desperate need of a perfect God who has overwhelmed me with His perfect grace.

And for some CRAZY reason, He chose me to be an ambassador to share His truth all over the world, and my hope is that a tiny bit of Sam and a whole lot of Jesus will rub off on the wonderful kids I coach.

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Let’s keep making things happen! The season has just begun!

#againstALLodds – Girls Futsal Initiative

According to FIFA, roughly 500 x more girls have the opportunity to play soccer in America than in South Africa.

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So practically, what does this mean for girls in the city of Cloetesville, South Africa?

In my personal experience, soccer has taught me some incredibly valuable lessons: discipline, leadership, teamwork, communication skills, and trust.  Soccer has shaped my character and it has built my confidence.  It kept me out of trouble as a kid, it opened doors to new opportunities and experiences, and it helped me to build relationships with mentors and leaders who were willing to pour into my life in a variety of ways.

Okay, so to sum it up:

The number of opportunities and positive outcomes that these South African girls can have with soccer are limited.  So limited in fact, that South Africa has stereotyped soccer (and futsal) to be predominantly a man’s sport.  Girls don’t play futsal.  They are intimidated by the boys, they are mistreated and disrespected, and they lack the encouragement from female leaders to step out onto the pitch (field).

Instead, these girls end up dropping out of school, they develop addictions to alcohol and drugs, or in some cases, they get pregnant and are forced to stay home and take care of their children (usually without the help of the father).

The nonprofit I am partnering with, training4changeS, made it a goal to redefine futsal for girls.  We want to show them that they can have better futures.  They can have hope. We want to use soccer to bring these 14-18 year old girls into an environment where they can learn, grow, develop, and shine.   It will be a safe place after school where they can be transparent and experience love, support, and encouragement. This girls futsal initiative will help to counter those cultural norms that plague the colored communities. Empowering, equipping, and establishing these high schoolers through futsal is the main focus of the training4changeS initiative.  This is a ground breaking concept, so it will look more like a marathon than a sprint, but we are willing and ready to give it our all.

We have (so far) partnered alongside Coaches Across Continents, SAIFA (South African Indoor Football Association), Cape Town Titans, Futsal Worldwide, and the Stellenbosch Municipality to accomplish these goals.  People are joining our team, things are getting done, and visions are being put into action.

Practically, my role within the training4changeS nonprofit will be to coach and mentor the girls who play futsal under our initiative.  I will be working alongside Ashulita and Rencia, two other coaches with a passion for impacting girls, to develop the high schoolers in life skills and in technical futsal skills.  We will also tutor them since academics will be a huge priority (no school, no futsal).  The more time we get to spend investing in these girls, the greater our impact will be. We chose Friday nights to be our “league game night” which will help keep the girls off the streets and away from those dangerous “night life” environments.  We are also planning multiple training camps and tournaments to give the girls more exposure into the sport.

Offering them practical lessons and training will be far more beneficial than just offering them kind and motivating words (though we plan on doing that too!).  We will do our best to lead by example and make a difference practically.  These young women will be fighting a tough battle, and they need all the armor and all the tools they can get to fight back against the oppressing and depressing situations they face each day.

If you’d like to support the training4changeS initiative visit their website at: training4changes.org

Also, help us spread the word by using our hashtag:    #againstALLodds

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Together we can accomplish much.   Thank you for being a part of our team, and I can’t wait to share updates on the girls and the growth of this program.

Part of A Team

Cloetesville, South Africa

It’s an area full of colored, afrikaans speaking South Africans.  It’s an area that is saturated with alcohol abuse, poverty, school dropouts, and pregnant teenagers.  The average person doesn’t have much of a job or an education, let alone a loving and supportive family.

But you know what, the kids LOVE futsal.

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Walk into an open field with a ball and some cones… and kids will show up out of nowhere.  It’s a beautiful sight.

Within this country, well-known for its history with segregation and racism, you’ll find training4changeS.  A nonprofit organization made up of: some radical americans desiring to impact the lives of kids through sport, a white south african girl with a heart for discipleship, a black xhosa speaking man who can preach and lead the youth with zeal, a colored afrikaans speaking man who just so happens to be the former head coach of the Futsal National team in South Africa, and a colored afrikaans girl who has a passion for changing the world around her in a big way.

We are all very different.  We come from different cultures and we speak different languages.  We are different ages, we are different genders, and we have different opinions and perspectives.

But… we all have the same passion and we all have the same heart.  Our heart is to break the stereotypes within South Africa and to impact the lives of young boys and girls through sport (futsal).  Our overall goals are to love, to teach, to mentor, and to lead.

It’s a beautiful example of the “body of Christ” aka the church in action.  Many parts combining with different strengths and weaknesses to accomplish something amazing!  1 Corinthians 12:18, 21, and 22 say this: “But our bodies have many parts, and God has put each part just where He wants it…The eye can never say to the hand, ‘I don’t need you,’ and the head can’t say to the feet, ‘I don’t need you’…In fact, some parts of the body that seem the weakest and least important are actually the most necessary.”

If we were all armpits or feet…we wouldn’t get very far (some parts of South Africa smell bad enough as it is so we really wouldn’t want that).  Luckily for us, we are a variety of “parts” that are working in unison, striving to create a movement.  Our hope is that this movement will shatter the existing expectations of what “life” is supposed to look like for these young South African kids.

The weather in Stellenbosch is hot, the apartment is finally decorated, the coaching meetings have begun, there are mountains outside my window (take THAT Miami), my Afrikaans is improving (hallelujah), and my best friend enjoys making fun of my strange American habits (like precutting my meat so I can put my knife down and how I put “too much” ice in my drinks).  I love it all.

School starts for the kids next Wednesday, and that’s when the real fun will begin, so pray for loving and honest relationships to be developed between the coaches and the players.  Pray for opportunities, growth, patience, grace, and for language barriers to be conquered.  Pray for no injuries and no expectations!  Finally, pray for the training4changeS team, that we will be united on this journey.

The Team.

Ecclesiastes 12:4 says: A person standing alone can be attacked and defeated, but two can stand back-to-back and conquer. Three are even better, for a triple-braided cord is not easily broken.

Ready, Set, Wait?

Waiting.

It’s a tough thing to do.  Like for example, waiting in line at the grocery store, waiting for the work day to end, or even waiting for your favorite TV show to start it’s next season.

But what about waiting to leave the country to begin an adventure of a lifetime?  Yeah. That’s really hard.

About a year ago, the Lord used close friends, scripture, and prayer to reveal to me a new and radical mission for my life.  It was a mission that I never would have dreamed up on my own.  To be honest, I was scared to death.  God was calling me to become a missionary.

I have aways had a passion for soccer, and I loved being able to play it as a kid and coach it as an adult.  In college, majoring in Sports and Fitness, I was given the opportunity to partner with the FCA (Fellowship of Christian Athletes) on a summer missions trip called IMPACT.  The first time that I attended the trip I was a student, but I knew God was calling me back so I returned the following summer as a co-leader.  This was the first time the thought had crossed my mind that maybe the Lord was calling me to become a full-time missionary.  We learned about using sport to share the gospel and how it can be used to impact the lives of people around the globe.  Daniel Thomae, a current missionary in South Africa and partner with IMPACT, approached me about joining his nonprofit “training4changeS,” and he invited me to come alongside him and his wife Kendra as a coach for the young girls.  Daniel’s mission has been to open a futsal academy for the local primary school kids in the Western Cape of South Africa.  He has wanted to raise up young leaders and coaches to impact the nation, which he hopes will help to prevent the cycles of poverty, fatherlessness, and violence from reoccurring amongst the people.

My heart felt right at home.

I have this dream to help young girls all over the globe realize their worth and value.  I want them to know that they are loved beyond measure by a Heavenly Father who will never let them down or disown them.  I want them to develop life skills and values that will change their lives and their families lives forever.  I want to share the grace and love of Jesus Christ by teaching them about the Bible and using the sport of futsal to do it. (By the way, futsal is a 5-a-side version of soccer that is played on a hard court without walls, using a smaller ball than regular soccer and a standard match consists of two 20-minute halves.)

The crazy part?  The Lord has blessed me by giving me an opportunity to do it.

The journey begins now, by spreading the word of this mission, by raising support, by prayer, and by letting the Lord lead the way.

The wait is almost over, but there’s still a lot of work to do. Join me on this adventure.

Donate to the cause at: http://ssmfi.org/missionary/samantha-stokesberry/

Learn more about training4changeS and their mission at: http://www.training4changes.org/

Psalm 27:14 “Wait for the Lord; be strong, and let your heart take courage; wait for the Lord!”

Habakkuk 1:5 “Look at the nations and watch – and be utterly amazed.  For I am going to do something in your days that you would not believe, even if you were told.”

 

– Sam