Peru’s Dream of a World Cup Becomes a Lesson for Missions

Tears streamed down the cheeks of thousands of Peruvians who traveled to Russia only to see their World Cup dream end with an 0-1 loss to France at the Ekaterinburg Arena in Yekaterinburg.

Yet, what mattered — what Peruvians savored — is that after 36 years on the outside, their national soccer team contended as a World Cup team. No longer watching from the sidelines, they got in the game. Arriba Perú!

During the World Cup or the Olympics, the world seems more fair. Countries of disparate political, social and economic power play as equals.

Likewise in the body of Christ, Jesus calls people of all backgrounds to participate as equals, and He gives all members spiritual gifts and power, equipping everyone to take the Gospel to others. Rich, poor, Jews, Greeks, men, women — all.

Despite the biblical call of equitable participation, self-perception of the church in many nations does not line up. But things are changing, as missiologist Paul Borthwick wrote in “Western Christians in Global Mission”: “More and more countries are owning the vision to be part of the global Christian missionary enterprise. We hear it in the phrase that the church is going from every nation to every nation” (p. 37).

Yet it remains easy for the U.S. church to see itself — even subconsciously — as the mission force and the rest of the world as the mission field. And why do so many believers in other nations seem to concur?

Peru’s World Cup experience helps answer the question. During 36 years on the sidelines, “We had a defeated spirit,” Eduardo Alfaro, a Peruvian in his 50s, explained. Social upheaval shrouded Peru’s football glory days in a war between the government and Neo-Maoist terrorists of the Shining Path Movement that lasted from 1980 to 2000.

As for football, “We were conditioned to lose. We didn’t have the spirit to win,” Alfaro said. No longer contenders, most Peruvians rooted instead for Brazil, which became Peru’s team by proxy. Peruvians came to believe they weren’t World Cup material. Peruvian football heroes were legends of the past.

In 2015, however, all that changed. Newly appointed manager Ricardo Gareca started to foster a team mentality, a winning mentality. Peruvians united behind their team as the World Cup dream appeared more and more attainable.

But the press began to focus on star player Paolo Guerrero. All the publicity made Peruvians believe “Guerrero would be our savior,” Alfaro said. “The coach did not put Guerrero in the first part of the first game because he wanted the team to see themselves as a team and not look to one individual.” But the press had already made the nation and the team believe their hope rested on the star player’s shoulders, Alfaro recounted.

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Source: Baptist Press