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Mission fields of AstroTurf


WORLD Radio - Mission fields of AstroTurf

A soccer coach in Alabama takes the gospel to the playing fields in his home country of Zimbabwe

Soccer 4 Life Club in Zimbabwe Photo by Zenzo Ndlovu

NICK EICHER, HOST: Today is Wednesday, July 26th. Thank you for turning to WORLD Radio to help start your day.

Good morning. I’m Nick Eicher.

MARY REICHARD, HOST: And I’m Mary Reichard.

Coming next on The World And Everything in It: Soccer 4 Life.

Whether it happens in your neighbor’s backyard, or across an open field on a corner lot, the spontaneity and simplicity of soccer makes it the world’s most popular sport.

EICHER: It’s growing in the U.S., beloved by an estimated 265 million people around the world.

WORLD’s Myrna Brown introduces us to a pro soccer player, who’s turning soccer fields into mission fields.


MYRNA BROWN CORRESPONDENT: It’s a sweltering summer evening on the neighborhood soccer field. Players are busy lacing up cleats, strapping on shin guards and keeping water bottles on ice.


But in a tiny corner of the astroturf, a group of 10 and 11 year olds in bright orange jerseys sit criss-cross, suiting up with another kind of gear.

COACH Z: Alright, so we talked about the whole armor God and we said how many pieces? Six, yes ok…

That’s their coach, Zenzo Ndlovu, “Coach Z” for short.

COACH Z: Today we’re talking about the breastplate of what? Righteousness. Which organ do I protect? Chest? No. The heart? The heart.

Coach Z is slender and bald with a salt and pepper goatee. This is how he begins every soccer practice. His players and their parents say they look forward to the sideline devotions.

TONI AJAYI: We’re learning about the armor God’s giving to us to protect us from all evil.

MARTREEM YACOUV: I love the idea of him telling them about the Bible, starting with the Bible verse.

COACH Z: We let parents know this is who we are. We don’t apologize for that. But we just try to stay true to who we are.

50 years ago, Coach Z was born in Zimbabwe, a country in southern Africa. He lived with his father, mother, and his nine siblings in a village 200 miles away from the nearest city.

COACH Z: You’re talking about a place that does not have running water, electricity. You had to walk 50 miles to school. The first time I slept on a bed, I was probably 14.

Soccer, commonly known as football, is Zimbabwe’s national sport. For Coach Z it was also his way out of poverty.

COACH Z: I played bare feet. I walked miles to the nearest dirt field to play.

A soccer scholarship eventually brought him to the University of Mobile, a private Baptist university in Alabama.

COACH Z: It was kind of rigid, you know.. Rigid structure. Whatever I had in mind about American college was not what I saw there.

What stuck out to Coach Z was his college roommate’s lifestyle. How he consistently read his Bible and handled conflict on the soccer field.

COACH Z: He would take it well and that was real intriguing to me. I thought how can someone just take it like that without yelling back. And he never forced Jesus on me. He never pushed it down my throat.

In 2002, Coach Z not only began following Jesus, he also accepted an invitation to spend his summer vacation serving as a coach at a Christian camp in Ohio. It was his first time sharing the gospel.

COACH Z: And so I just broke down and cried. That whole week was just a blessing because at the end of the week I was named coach of the week out of 100 coaches.

Coach Z was then dispatched to another Christian camp in Philadelphia. As he was packing up and heading back to the University of Mobile, God gave him another assignment.

COACH Z: Right then when we were breaking down the equipment that I heard the Lord say, go back to Zimbabwe and show people what I’ve done in your life.

CHANT FROM ZIMBABWE CAMP: Soccer 4 Life! Say it again, Soccer 4 Life!

Every year since 2002, Coach Z has returned to his homeland to host Soccer 4 Life camps.


While in Zimbabwe, he records and documents what he hears and sees. In this video, there are no green soccer fields, only dusty dirt roads filled with young soccer players dribbling and passing balls. But Coach Z says the gospel always comes first.

COACH Z: [Speaking in Zulu language]

From the dingy streets of Zimbabwe…

COACH Z: [Speaking in Zulu language]

… to the green astroturf in Alabama…

AMERICAN GIRL READING SCRIPTURE: Ephesians 6:14 Having on the breastplate of righteousness…

Coach Z says the fields are white for harvest. But sports mission work can be challenging. When he first started his Soccer 4 Life Club, still a student in Alabama, he ran into parents who didn’t always want his help.

COACH Z: And so I went to his house. He didn’t want to come out. Called him again, he told me not to call him again because he didn’t want his kid to do nothing and he hung up in my face.

Coach Z says he also works hard to accommodate players with special needs.

COACH Z: If a kid is autistic, parents know that. They know that 99 percent of the kids are not, but they still sign up. They have hope. So, you have to be the hope for that parent. You have to partner with that parent.

And the burden is even heavier for children whose parents can’t afford soccer club fees. Coach Z collects donations for scholarships.

COACH Z: I’m reminded of Luke 18 of the widow who kept going to the judge and then the judge said give it to her. Not because I want to but she annoys me. So I’m the guy like that. I knock on doors. I don’t give up.

He says he can’t give up because there’s too much at stake.

COACH Z: Today I’m heading to South Africa. I’ll be there for seven days doing Soccer 4 LIfe clinics there. And after a week, I’m heading to Zimbabwe for three weeks just going to the villages. We’ve got three villages we’re going to be doing this at. And I’m excited. Really it’s just an introduction of Christ. It’s a seed I’m trying to plant.

Reporting for WORLD, I’m Myrna Brown in Mobile, Alabama.


EICHER: What a great story! You know, Myrna also did a companion piece for TV. And if you’d like to see it, you can.

For free, even if you don’t subscribe.

We’ve posted a link in today’s transcript at wng.org. Check it out.

WORLD Radio transcripts are created on a rush deadline. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of WORLD Radio programming is the audio record.


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