By Cat Edwards
Carved into a South East Asian mountainside, away from the hustle and bustle of the city below sits what has to be one of the most picturesque soccer fields in the world. To the right of the verdant pitch are rows upon rows of strawberry plantations, vineyards, and vegetable patches, planted to provide financial support for the sports ministry based in this place. Its vision? To make people who shine with God’s love in society. It’s perfect. Almost. The air is fresh and cool, the kids are warming up to practice. Only one thing is missing:
Coach Ben started Jesus Football Training Academy after attending one of the early Basic Trainings provided by Sports Friends Asia in 2008. The story goes that someone planted drugs among Ben’s vegetables as he was preparing them for market to punish him for past “disagreements” with local police. The police were “tipped off” and he was sentenced to six years imprisonment. His three children, wife, friends, church, soccer team and assistant coaches, protesting his innocence, appealed for his release. But corruption runs deep and wide within the system, and they were unsuccessful. He was placed in a cell, in poor conditions, together with 200 inmates. All he could do was pray.
He talked with the prison management about starting up a soccer team for the inmates. Discovering he was a qualified coach, they agreed and 10 people signed up the first week. He was strict. He had to be. But the players warmed to his discipline combined with humility and a genuine care for their lives. More signed on.
Coach Ben took his team to play in a prison league, and they became national champions. Following this he was made Head Coach of the prison’s sports club and upgraded to a cell with 50 people, and then again to a ‘VIP’ cell of just 20 people. In three months he read the whole Bible from cover to cover so that he could share the Gospel with his team.
And so he began using the sports ministry model he had been trained to use with young people… but with adult prisoners instead. He prayed for them. He encouraged them. He loved them. One of his team members wanted to see if the God that Coach Ben
talked about was real. The man prayed that, if he existed,
God would deliver a Bible to him in prison. The next morning,
some missionaries arrived to ask if anybody needed a Bible. He
raised his hand and believed.
Another man had given up hope because his wife had not been to visit him for two months. Coach Ben offered to pray with him, and the next day his wife showed up. She had been in the hospital for two months, unable to get a message out to her husband. He, too, believed.
Inmate after inmate began to accept Jesus Christ; people with pasts and records; people who had done unspeakable things. More than 50 prisoners have come to faith because of Coach Ben’s ministry. One new believer wrote to him, “You have given me hope – I thought that the purpose of my life was just to wake up, eat, sleep, and die. But you have given me hope in Jesus Christ, and now I know why I was born.”
One of the prisoners on his team gave Coach Ben a child-like drawing that depicts Coach Ben pulling a line of struggling men up a rugged mountain towards a cross labeled ‘Jesus Christ.’ A speech bubble from the coach’s mouth says, “fight, fight!”
Underneath, is simply written:
“May you be our coach forever.”
Coach Ben is still in prison. But, when he is released, he has promised to return regularly to the prison to keep this new ministry model going.
And to coach his team.
“You meant to harm me, but God intended it for a good purpose, so he could preserve the lives of many people.” Genesis 50:20