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Ballers in God
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Ballers in God

Meet the network of Christian footballers coming together for prayer, fellowship and Bible study

by Marcus Jones

On the face of it, the world of football may seem a pretty godless place.

The life of a footballer is often portrayed as one of money, money, money. Fast cars, big houses, model wags.

But there's always two sides to a story.

What you often see is players acknowledging God when they score a goal, or the substitute making the sign of the cross as he enters the pitch. Then there's those who take it one step further by wearing clothing which shows their faith and those who show videos of their baptism on Instagram to their millions of followers.

"We are out there," John Bostock tells me when we discuss the idea of Christians who play football. "There are many using their gifts to glorify God and want to just grow in their faith."

Bostock currently plays for Nottingham Forest in the Championship, one step down from the Premier League.

He was described as a 'wonderkid' back in 2007 when he broke into the first team of Crystal Palace at the age of just 15. At the time some of the biggest teams in the world, including Barcelona, were fighting it out to sign him. He also represented England at age grade level.

His career has taken several twists which has seen him represent 14 different teams across five different countries.

It was his first move abroad which led him to create a network for Christian footballers.

"Finding a local church in Belgium was tough," he says. "The language was tricky. With the football schedule - playing Sundays and Wednesdays - it was just tricky to get to church. I was praying and I felt the Lord say 'John, I want you to start a movement for Christian footballers'."

After speaking to a number of fellow believers in the sport, he took the plunge in 2015 with "no agenda and just let the Holy Spirit have his way".

Meeting online, those invited were encouraged to come for fellowship, prayer, even just a place to moan about struggles.

"We cried, we laughed, we studied the word, we prayed together. It was just family," Bostock tells me as he reflects back.

"There was a real sense of just understanding because we have the same background, we go through the same things. 

"Pastors, ministers, evangelists - they're key, but nobody quite understands what it's like being in the bubble of football. So when you run alongside players who are running the same race, it really is phenomenal."

Fast-forward five years, the group known as Ballers In God (BIG) has 100 footballers playing across 12 different countries. They include Premier League footballers and players who've represented countries such as Sweden, Netherlands, Ghana and Nigeria. Groups meet weekly with different groups in different languages with the aim to unite, equip and disciple players. 

"There's always been Christian players and players with faith or questions around the world but in terms of having a kind of a network where players can come together as a hub, it hasn't really been done before especially from the inside out: players starting it for players. The organisation Christians in Sport do a phenomenal job, they've been a blessing to me over the years and still are, but I think having it from current players to current players, it just kind of brings a different kind of angle. We are out there. There are many using their gifts to glorify God and want to just grow in their faith."

While football often brings the highs of winning trophies, it can also be difficult for those who are forced to travel away from family, face injury or are cast aside.

Bostock, like many, has experienced all of the above. This season, while welcoming a return to the UK, he's found himself on the fringes of the first team meaning he's not been able to play as much as he'd like. While that does still get him down, he says he's found a new perspective thanks to his work with BiG.

"One player said to me, 'John, if you didn't come to Nottingham Forest, and I didn't come to Ballers In God - I would have given up football this year'. That really hit me because I realised that it's not about me playing week in, week out. I realised that there's a bigger purpose than just playing. I was able to invite one guy to this movement and he started to get clarity about what he's supposed to do in life and grow in confidence and ignite his faith in God. To hear somebody say that he made a life changing decision just through being around the movement and receiving encouragement that for me is better than scoring any goal."

With so many footballers finding themselves at home at BIG, the network is now looking at ways of how it can help others and bring others to faith.

"We now want to come alongside charities, plant churches, come alongside orphanages, and just be a light in communities. We want to host football tournaments and go into schools. We realise that as footballers we have a huge platform and if you use it wisely, you really can have a huge impact."

Bostock is aware they won't be able to achieve all this alone and is keen for Christians to stand with them as they use their platform, especially during a time of uncertainty both inside and outside of the sport.

"Pray that we keep our eyes on Christ and even in the midst of this time we can be a light. We live in a strange bubble where footballers are idolised and feel untouchable. For a lot of players this is the first time they're actually saying 'I can't put my faith in football, even that's been shaken'. So please pray that footballers around the world would realise that they need Jesus and he would use us to really encourage them and win them. That would be awesome."

To find out what life in lockdown is like for a Christian footballer, click here.

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