What’s a soccer ball to you? A childhood hobby, an obsession for crazed sports fans around the world, another practice or game to fit into your busy schedule?

Here in Nairobi, soccer (or football as Kenyans call it) is more than just a game. Pastor Evans, the director of Karura Youth Sports Association (KYSA), is using soccer balls to start a chain reaction of positive change that is transforming this community.

Two years ago, KYSA began football leagues for kids of all ages, plus a competitive young adult team, with a focus not only on sports, but on community service, capacity building, and character development, too. Here are just two of the transformation stories from KYSA I’ve seen so far.

Oliver and Njeri picking up trash for community service.

Oliver and Njeri picking up trash for community service.

Meet Oliver Mwangi, a player for Karura United, KYSA’s adult team that competes in Kenya’s second tier national league. Before KYSA, Oliver told me, he had no job and no direction. Instead, he chose to fill his life with alcohol. Now, he is benefiting not only from a monthly stipend awarded to Karura’s adult players, but also the accountability of his teammates who all live by KYSA’s no drinking policy.

Oliver’s transformation and those of his teammates (some are former car-jackers and drug users) is having a ripple effect. For their community service requirement, they have helped to plant 2000 trees in cooperation with the United Nations Environment Programme in Nairobi. And they are standing out on the field, too, showing other teams how to this “church” team plays with both skill and respect.

A member of the “Kangaroo” youth team cutting grass around the goal.

A member of the “Kangaroo” youth team cutting grass around the goal.

Next take a look at the youth leagues. Last Saturday morning, if you had walked by the football field next to Banana Hill’s primary school, you would have seen me with a pack of kids and adult volunteers swinging pangas to cut the overgrown grass that was growing up around the goal posts.

After working on the field, we spilled out on to the streets to pick up trash in the town’s open air market. Our happy parade ended at the high school’s football field up the street, where we watched the under-12 boys play an enthusiastic exhibition game.

For the people of Banana Hill, KYSA’s community clean-up day means more than simply cleaner streets. Their programs also keep kids away from the many threats that plague their families: drugs, alcohol, and especially a certain militant group called Mungiki, a brutally violent gang who has made its headquarters in Banana Hill and actively recruits from among its youth.

Trash can be found everywhere!

Trash can be found everywhere!

As I watched the kids literally take over their town on Saturday, armed with plastic gloves and trash bags, an amazing thing happened. The splash of color and life they brought started another chain reaction. Women street vendors began to marvel and laugh, saying, “Does your mother know you are working this hard?” to the boys sweeping around their stand. The city council sent a dump truck to pick up the huge mound of trash we collected. And then, in the middle of the street, a local storeowner brought out crates full of sodas, one bottle for every kid who participated, just to show his appreciation. And no one could believe these kids were working for free.

So how does KYSA do it, bring about this transformation in the face of such deeply entrenched problems like poverty, substance abuse, and militant violence?

Kids waiting for instructions before trying out their new uniforms on the field.

Kids waiting for instructions before trying out their new uniforms on the field.

No one can say ‘no’ to love.” That’s Pastor Evans’ philosophy. It was also his response when he learned that one of their younger players is now being recruited to join Mungiki. His goal is to show each player real love, the kind you can’t get anywhere else, especially from a gang or drugs.

After KYSA players have experienced this love, he says, “We believe God will transform.” Not only the player, but through them, entire communities, too.

For KYSA, soccer balls are just the starting point. The real gift they offer is love, and with that combination, I have a more exciting question to ask: Where will KYSA’s chain reaction of transformation take them next?

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Next Steps
    • Imagine ways you can continue the chain reaction started by KYSA: organize a drive to collect much needed soccer cleats, uniforms, and equipment for KYSA’s youth leagues. Email info@karuracc.or.ke with your ideas.
    • Visit KYSA’s website to find out more about their fundraising campaign going on right now.
    Next Steps

About the Author: Jessica Shewan is a journalist with World Next Door. She graduated in 2009 from The University of Evansville with a bachelor's degree in History. She loves making new international friends and is passionate about seeing the global church pursue justice and peace!

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Comments

  1. Aaron Elliott said... 

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    July 7th, 2009 at 1:14 pm  

    I want to come and participate in this!! Soccer as part of the vehicle of transformation…I am so in! And especially when the alternative is a gang? Come on…I pray for KYSA to continue its amazing ministry!

  2. Njoki's brother said... 

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    July 7th, 2009 at 4:40 pm  

    Good stuff Jess. Awesome to hear that a sports ministry is thriving and changing communities. Miss ya girl. I leave for Toronto tomorrow. Love ya.

  3. Barry Rodriguez said... 

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    July 9th, 2009 at 3:49 am  

    Great article, Jess! It’s so cool to see how KYSA is transforming their community.

    I can imagine the surprise of the street vendors seeing a bunch of ne’er-do-well kids picking up trash. Especially when so many kids their age are being caught up in the Mungiki…

  4. rob said... 

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    July 9th, 2009 at 12:07 pm  

    No one can say “No” to love. Awesome. Brilliant. And compelling.

  5. muhia said... 

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    July 10th, 2009 at 4:40 am  

    Banana Hill? That’s my “shaggz” (Kenyan for where I come from)! I have almost despaired at the Mungiki menace (probably the greatest internal threat to security Kenya has ever experienced) taking over my home town. I am so glad that your readers now know about KYSA and how the love of Christ is winning over this vibrant, center matatu culture. Go Jess, shout it loud! Go KYSA! Go Pastor Evans! Praise the Lord!!

  6. Dave Rod said... 

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    July 10th, 2009 at 1:44 pm  

    Awesome insights Jess. And thank you for introducing us to some world class compelled people.

  7. Linda Quigley said... 

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    July 10th, 2009 at 5:05 pm  

    Wow Jess! Thanks so much for the info. The names KYSA and mungiki are now in my Bible to be prayed over…one for miraculous motion ‘up the field’ and the other to be prayed back and out of existence!!

  8. Dave Quigley said... 

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    July 10th, 2009 at 7:27 pm  

    I love the images of the bright colors, the love, the witness, and the transformation – inside and out. Thanks Jess!

  9. shelli said... 

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    July 11th, 2009 at 11:05 am  

    Great job taking me (sitting here in the good ole USA) over to Kenya, even if just for the briefest of moments, to expand my horizons. I so look forward to reading these articles, looking at the amazing photos, and experiencing social justice through all of your eyes. You are all amazing… and I pray for you and your Kenyan partners.

  10. Pst Evans Makatia said... 

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    July 13th, 2009 at 8:43 am  

    Thanks Jessie.
    Great working with you. Thanks for sharing our story on your site. Thanks to all who praying for KYSa and our community. We are to be the light in this community, pray for favour,provision and enablement.
    God bless you all.

  11. Humphrey Njeru said... 

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    August 19th, 2009 at 1:17 pm  

    Thanks So Much Jessica for Sharig the Story. Its our hope to involve as many people as possible within Nairobi area. THe war against insecurity and hopelessness amongst the youth In Kenya starts with showing them true love and giving them hope.

  12. Jomo said... 

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    January 13th, 2010 at 7:09 am  

    Dear all.

    It was good to see some good stuff from within i think KYSA is a very good intitiative and the best thing to do is to support the group i will be visiting them soon also tell us how we can contribute either online or how can we send funds to assist the initiative.

    thanks.

    Jomo from London, UK.

  13. Jessica Shewan said... 

    Reply

    January 16th, 2010 at 5:43 pm  

    Thanks for writing, Jomo. I’m glad that you are as excited as I am about the great work KYSA is doing. Pastor Evans would love to host your visit to see a KYSA event. If you would like to know how to contribute funds electronically, his email is evans@karuracc.or.ke. You can also visit the new website to see more photos at http://www.karuracc.or.ke/kysa. Blessings!

  14. Breanna Sipple said... 

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    February 21st, 2011 at 5:06 pm  

    1. Muhia’s comment made me smile:)
    2. Wow, it’s so neat to read about what God has been doing through KYSA, I am sure there have been even more testimonies since!
    3. Playing sports throughout high school really impacted me, and I am so glad to see how being a part of KYSA’s team is making a difference in the lives of the players AND the community!

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