For years, soccer has dominated Brazil as the main sport, with American football following in popularity somehwere around dentist visits.
Brazilians called the sport too violent and the rules too complicated, but with the growth of cable television giving them more access to the sport, it has been attracting a growing number of Brazilian fans and players. Today, Brazil has two well-established semi-professional leagues, a competitive national team, and more than 120 amateur American football teams playing throughout the country, including in ABWE Missionary David Carrel’s town in northeast Brazil.
While it is not likely to ever seriously challenge the popularity of soccer, the growth of American football’s popularity is opening doors for David to share the gospel in a region that is less than 5 percent evangelical.
David and his family moved to Arcoverde, Brazil, in early 2014 — not long after the city formed a new American football team, the Arcoverde Templários.
“I was looking for ways to get connected in our new city, so when I heard a team of American football had started, it really sparked my curiosity,” said David. “I was definitely a fan, and I had played as a kid and then pick-up games as an adult.”
David got in touch with the team’s founder and coach who invited him to come to their next practice. Unsure of what to expect, he arrived at the athletic park and found a group of players milling around.
When the coach arrived, the team quickly lined up and tried to look tough. The coach spotted David and shook his hand before addressing the team.
“This is David,” the coach announced. “He is going to coach the offense.”
This was news to David, but he agreed and feverishly began trying to recall the basics of offense. Luckily, his training and routes came flooding back — 2,4,6,8 are the gaps to right, and 1,3,5,7 are the gaps to the left. And he breathed more easily when he realized the men knew little about the details of playing the game. He had a lot he could teach the men — about the game and about his faith.
David began by building real relationships with his team members. Slowly, he earned their respect through his knowledge of the game, but it didn’t take long for him to reveal himself as a spiritual mentor and begin inviting the men to functions at his church plant.
“On our team, I try to emphasize character and truly helping each other through life,” said David.
In the fall of 2014, David was promoted to the team’s head coach, and despite some disheartening losses, the team has made great strides. It has become more organized, developed a strong fan base, and each player has improved — as has David’s relationship with them. It is because of these deepened relationships that David has been able to continue sharing his heart for God.
“I often incorporate biblical character traits and principals in my coaching, and after a recent disorganized practice, I unashamedly told them we need the gospel because we need to learn to serve each other,” said David. “Many of these guys have nothing to do with church and I know it will take time to reach them, but I am just glad that they are listening.”
While progress is slow, it is evident. Many have had solid one-on-one spiritual conversations with David, several players are now attending David’s church plant, and a group of five players is about to finish the Story of Hope Bible study, including a man named Rodrigo.
Rodrigo was seven years old when his father passed away from a heart attack, collapsing after a soccer game at the same field where Rodrigo now plays American football. While Rodrigo claims the loss of his father doesn’t bother him, it is clear he has a lot of rage inside of him. He is so passionate about football that when things are not going well he often takes out his frustration on someone else, usually in the form of an aggressive legal hit. While his anger is well channeled through football, it shows David just how much he needs the peace of Christ.
“I have struggled with anger in my life so I can relate to him,” said David. “It has given me an opportunity to show him how God can calm rage and give him peace.”
Rodrigo grew up with spiritism and Catholicism, and he believed in God generally, but through David, he is growing to understand the Bible and the gospel. Rodrigo regularly attends David’s Bible studies and shows great respect for David and his teachings. He calls David his coach, and his friends notice how he has grown on and off the field.
“It’s amazing to think that God is using an American sport to help me reach Brazilians,” said David.
In addition to coaching, David recently hosted his second regional football clinic where he had eight experienced Americans come to train players from throughout northeast Brazil — headed up by Hoss Johnson, a former NFL player and Christian.
The clinic attracted more than 50 athletes from five different states who studied football, listened to character lessons, and heard the gospel.
“Football has a unique way of opening up doors to share the gospel and has helped me make important connections in the community,” said David. “In Brazil, Americans are instantly respected as football authorities, and for anyone interested, I could find a 100 places in Brazil for them to get involved in church planting through football — including here in Arcoverde.”