July 23, 2015 - Thailand
“I’ll give you 50 baht to eat this,” I say to my teammate, Steven, as I wag a crusty slice of foot skin, freshly picked from my new calluses. The amount of calluses and punctured skin on my soles has taken an extraordinary spike thanks to our nightly barefoot football matches with the community children.
These same nightly football matches, though painful, have proved to be a wonderful blessing that God has given our team. First of all, our Thai is absolutely dreadful, consisting of a solid four or five phrases. However, when playing football, there is very little need for spoken language. In fact, grunts and obscure yells will simply do. The occasional broken Thai phrase finds itself rather unnecessary.
Next, football allows both male and female members of our team to connect with the children. Football is equally enjoyed by both genders, and when running around and sliding on the pitch, there is less of a distinction between men and women, boys and girls - there are merely players on a team. This allows for special bonds to be formed, whereas in a typical classroom or house setting, that could not even be imagined.
Lastly, football has revealed to me some of the subtle joys of this city. Whether it is scoring a beautiful goal, threading a pinpoint pass, or even clumsily tripping over your own aching feet because you haven’t played football for a quick minute, the result is the same: joy. Even in the most intense matches, there is always room for a bit of laughter and innocent banter. While tempers may flare, in the end, we all just have a laugh over the dramas of the match. And in a town that is plagued by so much obvious brokenness and tragedy, God has strategically and sneakily blessed us with every barefoot football match.
Though it comes with some sore and dirty feet, God has used the beautiful game to show me a sometimes hidden, but truly beautiful reality - joy.
Written by Jesse