Portugal (MNN) — What do Portugal, American football, and the Gospel have in common? It's pretty simple, really.
International Mission Board missionary Brady Nurse has played for the Lisbon Crusaders football team for three out of the four years that he's been in Portugal. He's both the quarterback and coach of the team. IMB volunteer Grant Shields coaches alongside him.
"It is a spiritually hard state here in Portugal. There is a big spiritual dryness," Nurse told IMB. "Football has been a great way for us to get into the lives of the Portuguese people."
Nurse says less than 2% of Portuguese have any kind of relationship with Christ, and that football is only just starting to take off in Europe. Nevertheless, he and Shields have seen nearly 30 football players in Portugal come to know Jesus Christ as their Savior.
One player, Emanuel, has played for the Crusaders for three years. He grew up in the Catholic church, but he grew bitter toward religion when his mother struggled through cancer and then his girlfriend left him.
Emanuel says he was depressed and alone when he saw a flier for tryouts with the Lisbon Crusaders. He had enjoyed watching NFL games on TV, so he decided to try out. He made the team and fell in love with the sport.
As Emanuel got closer and closer with the team, Grant asked him to be a part of his Bible study.
"It was really different [from my Catholic upbringing]," Emanuel told IMB. "The Catholics prayed to many different saints. The saints are not God, but in those [cathedrals] they were. One thing I realized with Grant was that it's all about God and He is the only one who matters."
Emanuel accepted Christ as his Savior and continues to meet with Shields and other members of the team for weekly Bible studies.
The Crusaders team has opened the door for Shields and Nurse to pour the Gospel message into these men. The competition and teamwork builds a camaraderie that makes open and honest conversation possible.
"Football has had a big role in opening my eyes," Emanuel said. "I don't feel empty like I did a few years ago."
Pray for Nurse and Shields as they continue to reach out to lost people in such a unique fashion. To find out how you can get involved with the growing football ministry in Portugal, visit imbeurope.org.