The Nueva Esperanza Soccer Kids of Morristown UMC's bilingual Latino/Hispanic ministry is growing and changing the lives of the community's youth. Photo provided

From Running for Soccer to Running for Jesus Christ

May 1, 2018 | | GNJ News, Next Generation Ministries

MORRISTOWN – When you walk into the indoor gym on the third floor of the Morristown UMC building, you will find many young people playing their favorite sport – soccer; and they’re getting good at it. They are known as the “Nueva Esperanza Soccer Kids.”

Two years ago, Rev. Charles Perez was appointed to Morristown UMC to launch a new bilingual Latino/Hispanic Ministry called Nueva Esperanza (New Hope).  As the first step in developing an asset-based community development strategy in Morristown, Perez and Morristown UMC Pastor Brandan Cho decided to utilize Perez’s experience in sports ministry to begin a soccer ministry for young people in the church gym.

Perez began with just a few who showed up out of curiosity and then continued to build on those relationships. Soon, more young people joined in. Today, the church has a growing soccer ministry with 15 to 20 youth actively participating in three weekly gatherings and Sunday worship.

Perez used part of the soccer practice and games to engage these youth in conversations about their life experiences, hopes and dreams.  He tells them about God’s love for them in Jesus Christ, and even sings some Christian hip-hop songs which he wrote.

The two pastors began a new youth confirmation journey early this year. Perez shared his joy of personally shepherding the youth to grow as enthusiastic young disciples of Jesus Christ.

“To see a bunch of young people who know each other, play with each other and pray with each other is a powerful outcome for our church,” said Perez. “The trust through soccer and their personal friendship brings an extra dynamic when it comes to growing in Christ as individuals and as a body. There is a natural connection between the soccer ministry and the making disciples’ effort among them. These young people used to run just for soccer and now they are learning to run for Jesus Christ, too!”

Perez recounted a story of one youth stopping a time of devotions to say, “Pastor, I get it. God loves us so much that God gave us a place in God’s house to play what we love for the sake of us getting to know God.” The others reacted with nodded heads.  When it was time for dinner, another youth volunteered to pray and said, “Today I want to offer God my own ‘thank you prayer.’ I thank you, God, for our pastors who got these delicious pizzas for us, for being patient with us, for a good time we are having in playing soccer, for my friends here, for our church family, and for our study time. In Jesus’ name. Amen.”

District Superintendent Steve Bechtold noted, “Congregations often imagine a new future that more closely reflects the community they serve. The Morristown United Methodist Church not only imagined this but through their initial dreaming through the Team Vital process brought their dreams to reality. Under the leadership of the Rev. Brandon Cho and a team of highly creative and motivated laity, the congregation launched Nueva Esperanza as a new expression of what it means to be the church.”

On Sunday, May 27, the entire Morristown church family will come together to celebrate confirmation of youth from both English and Bilingual Latino/Hispanic Ministries and welcome them as full members of the church. According to Cho, “It will be a time to celebrate that we are one in the Spirit and one in the Lord, and that this church is the spiritual home for all God’s people.”

Perez and Cho have plans to grow this ministry beyond soccer.  The future includes getting these young people involved in camping as part of the Next Gen Ministries initiative and the IGNITE conference, reaching out to parents , continuing to build trust in the community and creating a friendly soccer league within GNJ.

Cho shared, “This vital Next Gen Ministry was possible because of the generous support of the early champions like District Superintendent Bechtold, our GNJ leadership, and our mission-minded congregation.” He added, “We are sharing this story to bear witness to what good things can happen when we let God unleash new possibilities through us. It only takes a little spark to get a fire going, grow and multiply God’s redemptive work in the world.”

“Nueva Esperanza, New Hope, is truly an amazing gift to the church as it provides a new model of how to bring the good news to our church communities,” Bechtold noted. “I celebrate that something that was simply a hope and dream several years ago has not only come to fruition, but is creating a vital new opportunity for bringing the Good News of Jesus Christ to the community of Morristown and beyond. My hope is that this kind of achievement will become contagious and we will see new possibilities emerging in the months and years ahead.”