Article for the church magazine:
The final whistle blew in the 2002 World Cup Final declaring Brazil to be the winners. Rivaldo, Ronaldo, Ronaldinho and colleagues had easily outclassed the German team which, it was widely agreed, was lucky to be in the final.
This moment is the pinnacle of any footballers career – the moment they all aspire to reach. At that moment, what would you do? Brazilian defender and captain Lucio gathered his colleagues around him where they knelt in a circle on the pitch and prayed. Before going to their fans, before lifting the trophy, before celebrating, Lucio and his team mates prayed. He then took off his yellow strip to reveal a T-shirt bearing a home-made slogan on the front scrawled in marker pen which read “I love Jesus”.
In an interview, Lucio said:
“Believing in Jesus has brought a total change to my life. Before I knew Jesus I did not have a disciplined life. I had low self-esteem. I did not have confidence in the things that I did day by day. Today I want to walk with the Lord and have a purpose for my life.”
Fast forward five years, to the 2007 Champions League final between AC Milan and Liverpool – whilst those on Merseyside were hanging their heads in despair, Brazilian midfielder Kaka celebrated his team’s 2-1 win by removing the red and black stripes of Milan, sinking to his knees, raising his hands to heaven. The world could see the slogan on his T-shirt too, which read “I belong to Jesus”.
These acts of witness are excellent examples of Christians using their God-given talents for His glory. They had been given the gift of being able to do extraordinary things with a football. In a culture of celebrity and money where they could have quite easily regarded themselves as gods, they choose to worship the one true God through his son, Jesus, and to stand up for him publicly.
Recently, FIFA has told the Brazilian football team that they are not allowed to make statements of faith, or T-shirts or otherwise, during the 2010 World Cup. FIFA’s implication is that faith should be a private thing. As Christians, we know that our faith impacts every aspect of who we are so that it can never be private. I hope the Brazilian players ignore this ruling.
In many ways, the public witness of Lucio and Kaka is not that far removed from the experience of many others. The Old Testament character Daniel was living in an alien culture and was doing very well in Babylon. He could have kept his faith private but he chose to acknowledge the Lord. At the time in that culture, worshipping God wasn’t allowed. Daniel was caught praying and thrown into a den of lions to be killed, but God was faithful and he rescued him. Our culture can often seem opposed to God too. We hear of nurses being suspended for offering to pray and teachers being warned not to talk about their faith. The temptation can be to keep our faith private. By doing so, however, we are only denying our identity ‘in Christ’. We may not have at worldwide TV audience of about billion watching us work, as Lucio did, but everyday we do have opportunities to share our faith by what we do, how we act, and what we say to friends, family and colleagues. Let’s pray for the courage of Daniel, Lucio, Kaka, the nurse and the teacher to live our lives wholeheartedly for Jesus and to stand up for Him when the opportunities arise.