Introducing or bringing people together that may not have otherwise met gives me great joy. Witnessing others exchange encouragement and become better individuals simply because they shared a moment with a new friend, lights me up.
I recently had the opportunity to connect two sisters who have become dear to me over the past few years. Fiorela Thibodeaux from Austin and Patti Zito from New York didn't know each other a few months ago. However, they were both set on a similar mission...traveling to Russia for the 2018 World Cup, marking an item off their bucket list and cheering their beloved Peruvian team to victory!
Although Peru didn't make it far in the premier soccer tournament of the world, Fiorela and Patti's lives were enriched not only by meeting each other, but also in connecting and sharing with disciples and locals in Russia as well as other spectators from around the globe.
Take a look at what Fiorela had to share about her experience:
"The World Cup is one big party that celebrates the most popular sport in the globe. The atmosphere of an event like this has no equal. We went to Russia 2018 to see our Peruvian National Soccer team in the World Cup after 36 years of absence. It was such a wonderful experience to sing our national anthem and root alongside tens of thousands other Peruvians as our players displayed beautiful talent. Despite being eliminated from the competition after the second match, Russians and fellow soccer fans from different nationalities showered compliments about the magic of Peruvian football: “you did not deserve to leave so soon…” was often heard. It was also common to hear locals chanting "Pe-ru! Pe-ru!" when fans were spotted.
Russians are often perceived as cold and unwelcoming. However as a world traveler, I believe in my humble opinion that they are one of the best, if not the best, hosts in the world. They go out of their way to make you feel welcome… at home. If you add to the innate Russian way the Christian hospitality spirit, you end up with the warmest of stays and the most beautiful memories.
Starting by being met at train stations and endless walks all over town, they proudly showed us Mother Russia. Our delightful hosts: Julia, Aliya, Igor (thank you for the awesome professional photos, bro!) and Irina and all the brothers and sisters from the Moscow and Ekaterinburg church, and even our hostel hosts: Julia and Oleg in Sochi, made our days most memorable. I wish to come back one day… to stay!
Train rides were my favorite! The long journeys were extremely pleasant and surprisingly amusing due the high comfort level on board that Russians have mastered gracefully. Conversations and meals with other soccer fans were shared. God put us in a place to not only talk about football, but to share our faith with other Christians and travelers alike. It's all glory to Him that we live and have the privilege to travel and appreciate the wonders of His creation…everywhere we go, we have a spiritual family that awaits with open arms and cheerful hearts to display God’s love on earth."
And Patti created a special video with her husband Jimmy about the stellar hospitality of Russians. Check it out here:
Sporting events and cultural alliances always have a tendency to bond us. However, the supernatural exists in our connection as disciples of Christ. As Paul states in Galatians 3:23-29:
"Before the way of faith in Christ was available to us, we were placed under guard by the law. We were kept in protective custody, so to speak, until the way of faith was revealed. Let me put it another way. The law was our guardian until Christ came; it protected us until we could be made right with God through faith.
And now that the way of faith has come, we no longer need the law as our guardian. For you are all children of God through faith in Christ Jesus. And all who have been united with Christ in baptism have put on Christ, like putting on new clothes. There is no longer Jew or Gentile, slave or free, male and female. For you are all one in Christ Jesus. And now that you belong to Christ, you are the true children of Abraham. You are his heirs, and God’s promise to Abraham belongs to you."
Praise be to God for his amazing gift!
In what ways has the love between disciples superceded the camaraderie between you and fellow sports fans? What do you appreciate about the bonds through Christ that extend beyond nationalities? Share in the comments below!