Game for whatever: Ministry experience holds lessons in using sports as connection, leveraging unexpected moments

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Milling about on the streets of Rio de Janiero, Tucker Schwier and his outreach teammates wanted to connect with local residents.

Schwier spied a soccer field nearby.

So the group decided to spend its time there. They shared some songs and played games with the children and teens who gathered. Schwier, with a translator, shared the story of his own Christian faith journey.

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The 2020 New Palestine High School graduate recently returned from a Discipleship Training School with Youth With a Mission. He attended classes from October to December at YWAM’s base in Los Angeles. Then he took part in outreach trips to Brazil and Mexico during January and February.

It was a stretching experience, he says, particularly amid COVID concerns and wondering if they’d even get to make the outreach trip. But he found glimpses of God at work in his travels and insights into his own personality and ministry bent.

YWAM operates Discipleship Training Schools all over the world. Students choose an area of concentration for their studies, such as combating human trafficking or leading worship music. Schwier, who played tennis during high school, had a chosen focus of sports ministry.

“I was kind of learning things through the lens of sports and focusing on that as a ministry,” he said. “How to be competitive in a God-honoring way, how to show our faith through sports and what that looks like.”

Students attend Christian training, with some seminars for the whole group and some by area of focus, during the early phase. Classes are in the morning; in the afternoon, group members do cooking and other tasks at the YWAM location.

In the next phase, the group of 20 or so students split into two groups for outreach trips to put concepts into practice. Schwier’s group traveled to Brazil and Mexico.

Coronavirus not only made them wonder if the trip would happen; it made it harder to make plans for what they would do when they got there.

“We kind of had to be creative and really spontaneous with our ministry. Most of our ministry looked like kids’ ministry, doing Vacation Bible School-type things with kids,” he said. “In Brazil they play a lot of soccer. We’ve played games like capture the flag. They have kind of their own version of dodgeball, which is fun to learn.”

In Brazil, sharing his testimony with the youths at the soccer field was a new experience for him. But he felt like they listened, especially the older ones.

Paul Romoser, a pastor at Brookville Road Community Church who remembers Schwier’s days in the youth group, said he’s a person who can step up amid the unexpected.

“Tucker is very adventurous and a risk taker,” Romoser wrote in an email. “He loves new experiences and enjoys serving others. He is very solid in his faith and lives his life to honor God. He is hoping to use his DTS training and experience to bring others to Christ.”

The group spent four weeks in Rio, staying in local churches, before boarding a bus for the YWAM base in Sao Paulo, where they stayed for two weeks before going to Guadalahara, Mexico, for about 2½ weeks.

In Sao Paulo, the group partnered with a church there that gives out boxes of food, and has clothing available, on Wednesdays.

There weren’t as many translators available on this part of the trip. Schwier and the others would ask, “Posso orar por você?” — Portuguese for “Can I pray for you?” — and if received, would pray in English for the person.

It was a powerful time, he recalls, a time when a more timid person in the group prayed with a woman who sought (and found) relief from pain, a time when another person prayed for a particular man and the man made a spiritual recommitment.

“It was really cool to see God move and work through that,” he said.

They were a mix of people, he said: some good at conversing, others passionate in prayer, and still others like him more hands-on.

With the box of food in his hands, held out to a family passing by, Schwier felt most in his element.

It was, oddly, not so different from times he’d handed a plastic bag of sweet corn or peppers across the table to a waiting customer in New Palestine. Schwier is the fourth sibling in his family to go through the YWAM program, and older sister Daisy is on staff at the Los Angeles base. For several years the family has operated a summer produce stand that helped pay for those trips.

“It just dawned on me, that I was doing that sort of thing to get to be there. It’s kind of like a parallel or something,” he said. “There’s something really cool that God does when you hand someone a box of food that’s basically going to feed their family for the next month or weeks. It’s hard to describe. You can just tell that the people who come and pick up food are really in need for it. …

“We believe that they need physical nourishment as well as spiritual. We got to be part of that thing, and it was awesome.”