“First fitness test (in preseason) was the beep test, and I crushed it! I did better than my last year score by 10 rounds!”
These are encouraging reports from Eagle’s Academy players from this past summer – consistent with the way we approach the soccer aspect of the Academy. But they really pale in comparison with the transformational growth that we see taking place in the hearts and lives of so many of our Chicago Eagles Academy players!
The Chicago Eagles Summer Academy (CESA) completed its 12th season in 2015. Designed as a two-month sports ministry experience for collegiate soccer players, CESA15 challenged players to raise their level, and pursue excellence – both in their sport and in their relationship with Christ! It also gave them a taste of what authentic community is like, and of the impact they can have when they seek to glorify God through the game of soccer.
Over 30 men and women from 19 different colleges and universities participated this past summer in CESA15. During that time, they spent two weeks in Brazil (playing matches, running clinics for kids, and working with churches), coached at ten soccer camps with close to 1,000 campers, trained and played in the Illinois State U23 league (with only one loss total for both teams), worked with under-resourced youth, served local churches in the Chicago area, met in small groups and studied our sports ministry curriculum – and seasoned everything with tons of laughter and fun! Two of our players also chose to be baptized this summer! And still another finally came to the point, during our time in Brazil, of giving her heart and life to Jesus Christ!
Several of our players, while serving as coaches at our Eagles soccer camps, had the chance to lead some of their campers to Christ! Twelve of our players participated in our student leadership program, leading the camps and various other events. Most of those student leaders, along with a few other players, have returned to serve as captains of their collegiate teams.
During the Academy, we also had the opportunity to train several players and coaches from various countries – Brazil, Turkey, Cuba, Barbados, the Dominican Republic, and Thailand.
Our hope and prayer is that as all of these players and coaches return to their colleges and countries, their love for Christ will continue to grow, and that God’s Kingdom will continue to grow through these influence of these young men and women!
Missionary Athletes International’s Urban Ministry is a relational ministry operating in Charlotte, Chicago, Los Angeles. The program teaches sports ministry to college graduates, using youth soccer team coaching and a 24/7 residential presence to build long-term, character-building, mentoring relationships with underserved inner city youth (ages 5-18). MAI does this by recruiting, training, supporting, and placing college graduates like Jessie Niemi into these at-risk neighborhoods.
Although Jessie recently finished her second season as a solid contributor playing with MAI’s Charlotte Lady Eagles, it is clear that her bestcontribution has been off the field, as a volunteer residential sports minister and a youth soccer team coach with MAI’s Charlotte Urban Eagles while living with two other Lady Eagles in East Charlotte’s Birchcroft Apartments alongside many recently arrived refugee families.
Jessie grew up in Swartz Creek, Michigan (pop. 5700), where she excelled in both soccer and basketball at Swartz Creek High School. Jessie knew she wanted to play soccer collegiately, and chose Marygrove College, a small Catholic liberal arts college in Detroit. Jessie was a star defender on the Marygrove Mustangs’ women’s soccer team, helping her team win the 2009 USCAA National Championship as a freshman. She went on to become the only four-time USCAA first-team All-American in conference history.
After graduating in the spring of 2013 with a degree in Social Work, Jessie attended MAI’s Chicago Eagles Summer Academy, an intense three-month program where collegiate soccer players from across the country train and compete in the U23 Division of the Illinois Metro Soccer League while gaining invaluable sports ministry training in Brazil and then applying that training coaching more than a thousand youths attending Chicago Eagles soccer camps throughout the summer. The Academy gave Jessie a much clearer idea of what sports ministry is and how she could become a sports minister.
“The Academy blew my mind,” Jessie says. “I went to college with idea this of playing soccer for the Lord. The Academy showed me how. I was just blown away that sports ministry training actually existed and that other people had the same idea that I did. I learned so much about sports ministry and it set a fire in my heart to experience a deeper walk with the Lord.”
Jessie found out about MAI’s Charlotte Lady Eagles while she was in Chicago and joined the team for the 2014 season.
“The loving relational community I found in both Chicago and Charlotte is what I think really drew me to MAI as a whole,” Jessie says. “MAI understood what I experienced in Chicago so it was really engaging going to Charlotte knowing that MAI’s Charlotte Lady Eagles are on fire to do sports ministry too.”
During Jessie’s first season with the Lady Eagles she improved as a player, but Jessie says: “My real growth came spiritually through my relationships with my teammates and the further sports ministry training MAI provides through its excellent Lady Eagles’ coaching staff.”
“It’s like a family,” Jessie says. “You spend so much time training, and then off the field, between team dinners, Sport Ministry Training, traveling for game and everything in between, you really bond with the team and with the girls. I’m able to pour into my teammates’ lives and they’re able to pour into mine and we’re just walking and growing together in Christ.”
After a successful first season with the Lady Eagles, Jessie decided to stay in Charlotte to work withUrban Eagles as a volunteer in Birchcroft, where she has lived and served as a sports minister and coach for the U13 Urban Eagles girls’ team for the last ten months.
“It’s been the coolest thing ever,” Jessie says. “I think probably the most unique thing is just learning how to be a neighbor. Kids from refugee families are always knocking on our apartment door to learn something or we’re outside playing. By just being present living here, I’ve learned the importance and value of actually being neighbor getting to know my neighbors by serving their children almost every day.”
“I’m not just their coach” Jessie explains. “I’m their friend, their neighbor, their tutor, and kind of a mentor as well. It’s cool because you’re just kind of walking through life with them. As things happen in the neighborhood, we experience the same things as they do and can help them deal with stuff as things arise. So it’s not like I’m coming in once a week or a couple times a week and then leaving. Thankfully I’m integral part of the community. All of us at MAI like it that way!”
Jean DeSouza grew up in Brazil, until moving to the US at age 22 for missions training. His first introduction to Sports Ministry came in 2005 when he participated with a Grace College Men’s Soccer Team missions trip to Japan with MAI’s Southern California Seahorse team. The Seahorse’s led the trip as an outreach at an American base in Iwakuni. Jean was so impacted by the experience that he returned to Japan for two weeks in 2006 to help with soccer clinics and eventually moved there in 2010 to help establish a soccer school.
After returning to the US from Japan a few years later, Jean and his wife Tasha were seeking the Lord as to whether or not to continue in Sports Ministry . What solidified Jean’s call to doing so was his trip to back to Brazil in 2013 with MAI’s Chicago Eagles. “Watching the Eagles in action while in Brazil was very encouraging and was the place where God made it clear to me that He was calling me to continue my journey into sports ministry and to join the Chicago Eagles as a full time staff member.”
One experience on this trip was especially impactful to Jean when he and the Summer Academy members were dropped off at a dirty, weed-filled neighborhood soccer field during their trip to Brazil. Upon arriving, the Academy players began clearing the lot to prepare it for their clinic that afternoon. Within 45 minutes, the area was clear. The clinic ran smoothly, and one of the players started to give his testimony afterward. While he was speaking, Jean noticed that a man was standing fairly far away from the clinic, trying to listen to the testimony. He had been observing the soccer clinic for a few hours while muttering something under his breath. When Jean asked him what he was saying, he replied, “I am a failure.” Led by the spirit, Jean responded by telling him that he wasn’t a failure and that God made him and sent His Son to die for his sins. Then he asked if the man wanted to pray with them, and if he believed that Jesus was His Savior. Tears filled the man’s eyes as he nodded his head and said yes. All of the American players surrounded him and prayed for him as the night ended.
As Jean enters his second year of living out his passion for telling the world about Jesus through the sport of soccer, he has had to sacrifice in order to provide for his family in a way that opened up more opportunities for him to share the gospel. Jean works for UPS Monday through Friday in the morning from 3:45 to 8:00 am before the day even begins for most.
“Working for UPS has been a way to provide a little bit of income and health insurance to my family since we aren’t fully funded yet. But the amazing thing is that through my job I’ve experienced God’s grace and love for the lost. God has challenged me to care and pray for my co-workers and supervisors every day. The cost may be large, and the sacrifice required may be painful, but God blesses us as we invest ourselves into His work.”
Cheers heard from the Charlotte Eagles are usually reserved for scoring goals. But this past Wednesday, the Men’s and Women’s Eagles teams were nowhere near a soccer pitch. Instead, the cheers were for the completion of construction work. The team spent seven hours cutting boards & plywood, nailing drywall, and building a roof.
Both Eagle squads joined forces to do something more than just train for their upcoming weekend matches: they focused their efforts into helping Habitat for Humanity construct two homes near the Lakewood neighborhood in northwestern Charlotte.
“We wanted to make sure we had a few service opportunities during the season;” said Dave Dixon, head coach of the men’s team, “a chance to give back.”
Midfielder Scout Monteith appreciated the opportunity to participate in something bigger than himself. “When you’re around the team, you’re focused on soccer,” he said, “but that’s what’s great about this organization – is that you get to give back.”
“Soccer’s pretty serious for us,” agreed defenseman Josh Kremers, “but it’s fun to take on a project that affects other people’s lives.”
There were some, including Kremers, who were familiar with the materials and tools required for construction prior to their day of service. He was involved in constructing the attic of one of the homes, particularly in the preparation and cutting of boards prior to installation. Due to his experience helping his father construct a deck, he was able to impart wisdom into some of his teammates. “I naturally like to take charge in stuff like that,” he said, “and then let the others give it a try.”
One of his apprentices was Lady Eagle goalkeeper Chloe Buehler who has never used a hammer, much less a power tool. She was prone to saying “so cool” after using the chop saw, but was quick to recognize that there was more going on than her learning how to cut and nail a 2×6. “I think it’s good to be out here sacrificing our day to help others,” she said. “It puts things in perspective to realize how fortunate we are.”
Midfielder Alex Brandt, another home building rookie, spent her day cutting and nailing drywall. At first, she and some of her Lady Eagle teammates were worried they would not be able to carry the pieces of sheetrock and thought they would need some help from the men’s team. After being taught the proper way to carry the materials however, she and her crew were able to overcome this obstacle and were able to complete the living room walls without any help.
Although it was not the focus of the outing, both teams were able to learn more about their teammates through the experience. “Any time you can do something together off the field,” said Coach Dixon, “the better for chemistry and communication.”
“It was a good way to get to know each other in a different environment, where personality traits come out in different ways” agreed Brandt.
Both Eagle squads strive to achieve more for their city than just winning a soccer championship, hopefully with a few more cheers along the way.
The best way to start is prayer.
This past week, players from both the Charlotte Lady Eagles and the Charlotte Eagles Men’s team started to arrive in Charlotte to begin training for their season. The Lady Eagles started practicing this past Monday, and the men will begin in just a few days. Yesterday, some players from both teams, as well as the Eagles office staff, participated in the National Day of Prayer sponsored by Coca Cola where many representatives took turns praying for different facets of everyday life.
As the Eagles, we would like to thank Coke for being our team sponsor, and for all that they’re doing to stand up for the fact that faith doesn’t stop at the church door but proceeds into business and into sports. Here is a concluding prayer…
We come to You in the Name that is above every name- Jesus Christ our Lord and Savior. Our hearts cry out to You. Knowing that You are a prayer-answering, faithful God- the One we trust in times like these- we ask that You renew our spirits, revive our churches, and heal our land.
We repent of our sings and ask for Your grace and power to save us. Hear our cry, oh God, and pour out Your Spirit upon us that we may walk in obedience to Your Word. We are desperate for Your tender mercies. We are broken and humbled before You. Forgive us, and in the power of Your great love, lift us up to live in Your righteousness. We pray for our beloved nation. May we repent and return to You and be a light to the nations. And we pray for our leaders and ask that You give them wisdom and faith to follow You.
Preserve and protect us, for You are our refuge and only hope. Deliver us from all fears except to fear You, and may we courageously stand in the Truth that sets us free. We pray with expectant faith and grateful hearts.
In Jesus’ name, our Savior- Amen.
Lady Eagles Tickets: http://www.charlotteeagles.com/LEschedule/index_E.html
Mens Team Tickets: http://www.charlotteeagles.com/EaglesSchedule/index_E.html
“How are you going to go to the world to preach the Gospel, but are leaving your dad at home, who doesn’t have Christ?”
The question hit Leandro hard. Deeply impacted by the child’s question, Leo struggled but remained faithful to a deep peace inside himself which could only have been placed there by Christ. He knew the Lord was calling him away from Brazil.
Leandro Medieros, now entering his 8th year as an MAI missionary serving in the Chicago Eagles office, recounts his struggle with the idea of leaving his home country of Brazil with the knowledge that his dad was not a Christian.
“Since 2009, my dad has joined our group (Chicago Eagles) during our time in Brazil. I guess he just wanted to be with me, and see what I do. I got to share the gospel with my dad, little by little. Every year, at the end of our time in Brazil, I left Brazil not knowing if I would ever see my dad again, literally.” Despite the sadness that he felt, Leo continued to share the gospel with his dad every year until one night after a church service in Brazil. Leo says that he felt called with authority to ask his father what was holding him back from accepting Christ, after seeing so many other people do the same. His reply was, “nothing.” Nothing was holding him back. That night, he accepted Christ as his Savior. Everybody on the tour circled around him, and Leo got to pray and cry tears of joy alongside his father, as God watched over them all. Leo says that as he prayed for his dad, God spoke to him saying, “Son, remember when you first left Brazil and your student asked about your dad? I had it the whole time. Then I felt that big warm hug from God again, but this time my dad was in it too.”
Of this experience, Leo says, “when you obey God, He will do so much more than you can imagine. I could never imagine that not only my dad was going to be saved, but that I would lead him to Christ. God is so amazing!”
Leo was born and spent his childhood in Goiânia, Brazil with his mom, dad, and two older siblings. Growing up, he attended a church called Igreja de Cristo do Novo Horizonte (Novo Horizonte Church of Christ), planted by an American missionary, Earl Haubner.
After teaching English in Brazil, Leo moved to Bookham, England to serve a local church as an assistant youth leader. While there, he came into contact with the Chicago Eagles and started becoming involved in Missionary Athletes International in 2007. While translating on missions trips, Leo was able to see how effective sports ministry is, and realized that he “loved the idea of using soccer as a strategy to preach the Gospel. He considers himself blessed to be able to travel back to the place where he grew up and to share the gospel there. “There is nothing like going back to your home country to share the gospel! It is not that I didn’t at first, when I lived there, but I feel like the impact is bigger now, because I have a team with me, an organization behind me, and many people praying through the process.”
He met his wife, Nicole, while on a missions trip to the Amazon with the Chicago Eagles. In 2010, he then attended Moody Bible Institute and recieved his masters degree there.
In recent times, Leo has been appointed as the Chicago Eagles office director.
Of his new position in Chicago, Leo says..
“The Chicago Eagles office has changed a lot in the last four years. Not only am I the new office director, but our staff and our ministry overseas, mainly in Brazil, have also grown. We have started an urban outreach program at a local low-income neighborhood (Urban Eagles). As we grow, we face challenges and have to deal with things we didn’t have to in the past; I call these “growing pains.” Our senior director Rick McKinley (he was the office director for over 18 years) says “the Chicago Eagles has never been in such good shape,” and I agree. I feel very blessed to be part of such God-centered organization, being led by such Godly men. Our hope and prayer and that we continue to serve God with our best and that more and more people will be transformed by the love of Jesus Christ. ”
Leandro and Nicole were married in the summer of 2014 and are looking forward to their 8th year in ministry!
If you would like to support Leo you can do so by going to: http://www.bit.ly/supportleo
“May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in Him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.” (Romans 15:13)