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SPORTS SPECTRUM


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Juan Carlos Valerón:

Sandra Behne/Getty Images

Juan Carlos Valerón found contentment in Christ that success on the football field couldn’t provide

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Isaac Díaz:

When tragedy struck in the life of Chile’s Isaac Diaz, he saw how real God was in his life

Esteban Garay/STR /Getty Images

CONTENTS

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Kaká:

The Brazilian superstar captures the attention of the world, not only with his play but by living out his faith every day

Brad Guzan:

Christopher Lee/Getty Images

U.S. goalkeeper Brad Guzan has remained consistent in his sport and in his faith

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Young-Pyo Lee:

Robert Cianflone/Getty Images

Much loved Korean Young-Pyo Lee had his heart changed forever after searching for God and talking with friends

Claudio Villa /Getty Images

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Juan Carlos Valerón Juan Carlos Valerón found contentment in Christ that success on the football field couldn’t provide uan Valeron’s faith journey is a great example of how new believers often face trials early in their walk with Christ. As one of Spain’s most decorated professional football players for the past 15 years, Valeron has led his national team to big victories including two European Championships, the Spanish Cup, and playing in the World Cup. But his victories on the field have been hampered by family pain off the field, starting with the death of his brother who was only 30. “We were quite a united family, and losing him was devastating,” he shares. “It was particularly difficult to see my parents struggle. But God graciously cared for us, and I am certain that without His help, my parents couldn’t have coped with their loss. Unfortunately, the pain deepened when soon after, my father also passed away.” In his pain, Valerón struggled with questions like, Why is this happening? And when he couldn’t find the answers on his own, he looked to God. “He was the answer,” assures Valeron. “He showed me that good could come from painful experiences. During that time, one of my brothers came to know God, and from that point, my family’s faith has grown steadily.” When Valerón was a young boy, his goal on the football field was to play in the top division and reach elite status in Spain. But even after accomplishing great success, including the World Cup, he realized that without God, the victories didn’t give him contentment.

Valerón faced some very difficult times when he tried to ask God why. Worldwide sportspeople are helping and encouraging each other in a holistic way. “I realized those successes weren’t really important,” he shares. “In fact, without God, they were worth nothing. But Jesus is everything. Just like the food we need to live, Jesus is the necessity in life. Once I had a personal relationship with Him, I wanted to be with Him. While I may still experience difficult times, I know God is with me, and therefore accept them with joy. And I know that someday, I will be in His presence and experience His glory.”

Sandra Behne. / Getty Images

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Brad Guzan U.S. goalkeeper Brad Guzan has remained consistent in his sport and in his faith

Miguel Tovar/STF / Getty Images

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ur biggest breakthrough moments sometimes come when we least expect them. In 2005, United States goalkeeper Brad Guzan had thought he played poorly in place of Chivas USA’s injured keeper. The squad finished with an abysmal 4 wins and 22 losses record in its first year, and Guzan believed much of it was his responsibility. “I was young,” he says. “I wasn’t sure I was ready mentally and physically. And I wasn’t sure if I was good enough. We were not winning games…So that point was definitely a low for me. There were a lot of questions going through my head.” At the end of the season, however, Guzan received an email inviting him to the U.S. National team’s camp. It was an invitation to represent his country. The thing he least expected. It was a huge confidence boost after a first year that seemed like it couldn’t have gone worse. And two years later, his stardom continued to rise, as he was named the 2007 Major League Football Goalkeeper of the Year. This led to an opportunity to play for Aston Villa in one of the world’s best football leagues, the English Premier League in 2008, where he has remained ever since (apart from a one-month loan to Hull City). Being in such a competitive league hasn’t been easy, but he has come a long way since his first year with Chivas USA. “It was a trying four years for me, the first four years in England,” Guzan says. “It was difficult because you would play a game, do well and the next week you would find yourself on the bench. So it was inconsistent football that I was experiencing and I was looking for the consistency… (But) you have to be professional. You have to be persistent…You just have to keep fighting...I knew that if I kept going I would be given an opportunity at some point.” It is that persistence that has remained consistent, in a position as mentally tough as goalkeeping that keeps him steady in all circumstances – good or bad.

Brad has experienced, in teams he has played for, men serving as sports mentors and counselors for life and faith. “When things are going well for you, you can’t get too confident,” Guzan says. “When things aren’t going your way, you can’t get too low…I think as athletes, everyone gets caught in the intensity of the moment, and then maybe do things that they regret later. For me, I am no different. I am not perfect…But God loves everyone. You have to be able to open yourself to Him and allow Him into your life. And if you do that, the forgiveness, the relief that comes off your shoulders, knowing that you have God’s love, you are able to follow Him through your life’s journey.” In 2013, Guzan started in place of an injured Tim Howard for the men’s national team in two 2014 FIFA World Cup Brazil qualifiers and did not concede a goal in either match. “For me, my personal life, my faith life and my sport life—they all come together,” Guzan says. “I think they have to. I think that is just natural. You don’t have one without the other and most importantly you have to have Jesus in your life…As I said, it hasn’t always been a rosy road to success. There are always going to be bumps along the way. And through those difficulties Jesus is what helped me get through all of those struggles.”

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SCAN HERE to watch a video of Lee Young-Pyo

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Robert Cianflone/Getty Images


Young-Pyo Lee Much loved Korean Young-Pyo Lee had his heart changed forever after searching for God and talking with friends

Karim Jaafar / Getty Images

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hen it was all over — the remarkable footwork, the smart playing, the impressive globetrotting — there was only adoration. As Young-Pyo Lee walked off the field for the final time as a professional football player in the Vancouver Whitecaps’ 2013 season finale, the crowd at BC Place stood and showered the Major League Football defender with cheers for two outstanding seasons as a Vancouver Whitecap and 14 years of remarkable professional football. The sellout crowd — loudly chanted “Y.P. Lee!” Some fans held up a massive South Korean flag with an image of Lee in the centre. His teammates encircled him and tossed him up into the air over and over. “God is the most important thing to me, not football,” Lee says. “Football is only one of many ways I can glorify and serve my Lord.” Lee, as he retires, is one of the most popular and decorated Asian football players in history. Born in Hongcheon, his career has included earning 127 caps — third-most of all-time among South Koreans — and competed in three World Cups (2002, 2006, 2010), helping the Taeguk Warriors reach the 2002 Cup semi-finals. After starting his pro career in the South Korean Professional Football League, Lee made the jump to Europe’s upper echelon when he signed with PSV Eindhoven. He followed three-years in the Netherlands in the English Premier League (Tottenham Hotspur), the German Bundesliga (Borussia Dortmund) and the Saudi Arabian Professional League (Al-Hilal). For his final two seasons, he opted for the Major League Football Vancouver Whitecaps despite reportedly receiving far larger financial offers elsewhere, partially because he thought Vancouver would provide a better chance for him to learn the business operations side of football.

Thousands of football players like Young-Pyo Lee are committed to encouraging other players to Live out, Represent and Share their stories of faith in the World of Sport. What Lee marvels at most, though, is not his remarkable football career, but his salvation. Growing up in another faith background, he put his faith in Christ after some friends shared their faith and challenged him to read the Bible. “When I honestly searched for the truth through reading and talking with close friends, I was amazed,” Lee says. “God showed me that He did exist, and my heart was changed forever.” 7


SCAN HERE to watch a video of Isaac Díaz

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Isaac Díaz When tragedy struck in the life of Chile’s Isaac Diaz, he saw how real God was in his life

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rom the time Isaac Diaz was a baby and had a football in his bed, to playing as a professional athlete in packed stadiums, football has always been a part of his life. And he succeeded despite being from a small town.

Around the world, football academies are being developed to provide skills, spiritual development and coaching for life. “When I was born, I shared the bed with a football … and have been playing ever since,” says Diaz. “Our town, Fresia, is very small but did have a football academy for youth. In addition to playing locally, my father took me all over the country to gain experience in tournaments and other competitions. I was fortunate to progress to the pro level, and to play in packed stadiums is a great thrill for me.” Diaz plays in the first division for Universidad de Chile and has played twice in Copa Libertadores for Chile. Tragedy struck, though, and with the death of his brother, the faith that meant so much to his parents and that they took so seriously wasn’t as important to Diaz. But after he had time to contemplate it, and after God revealed Himself to Diaz, he embraced it and committed his life to Christ. “My family was always attending church, but honestly, I went primarily because my parents expected me to,” Diaz says. “I can still remember exactly where we sat in the pews. With my brother’s death, I finally realized how real God was to me – and all that He meant in my life. I believe 100 percent that no one can live life to the full without God!” Even though Diaz’s faith carries him through each day, he understands that he isn’t immune to hardships. His faith doesn’t prevent bad things from happening, but it does help him get through tough times when they come. “Sometimes life as a pro football player can be very difficult,” he says. “The environment of uncertainty that surrounds a club and the playing time decisions coaches make about players can often lead to self-doubt and anxiety. And then add to that the never-ending shouts by crowds that are impossible to ignore. But I know that as long as my faith is in God, I can be at peace and follow the path He has laid out for me.

Sportspeople are learning to live in obedience to the Bible. “I have learned that God will often do impossible things. I just need to trust in Him and His Word.” “King Solomon was incredibly wise. When he became king at a young age, the Lord appeared to him and said, ‘Ask for whatever you want me to give you’ (from the Bible, 1 Kings 3:5). Of all the things Solomon could have desired, he asked for a ‘discerning heart.’ He knew that relying on God to lead him was the answer to a successful life. From the Bible, in Proverbs 3:5-6, Solomon wrote from personal experience, ‘Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not rely on your own understanding; think about Him in all your ways, and He will guide you on the right paths.’ May you also come to trust in God and know Him with all your heart.” Esteban Garay/STR / Getty Images

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“I have been very blessed with success— the World Cup in 2002, the FIFA prize of the Golden Ball in 2007, many championships and honours. It may seem that I have everything. Due to my wealth and fame, some people ask why or if I still need Jesus,” he shares. “The answer is simple: I need Jesus every day of my life. His Word, the Bible, tells me that without Him, I can’t do anything. I really believe that. The ability I have to play football and all that has resulted from it are gifts from God. He has given me a talent to use for Him, and I try to improve on it every day.” “I also believe that pursuing excellence with the skills He has given me brings honour to Him. God doesn’t want His followers to be lukewarm; He wants our best. The Bible says in 1 Corinthians 10:31‘Therefore, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do everything for God’s glory.’ My motivation to win matches…has grown from wanting to be excellent for my Creator.” “It was a dream for me just to play for São Paulo and one game for Brazil, but the Bible says God can give you more than you even ask for and that is what has happened in my life.”

that unforgettable game. The press couldn’t get enough of him, and he was an instant heartthrob of young women. He couldn’t go out in public without being mobbed. At first, Kaká’s mother answered the 50 letters a day from female admirers, but the flood of attention quickly became too much. After the initial shock, Kaká developed a warm relationship with the press and fans, but he avoided the temptations of the nightclubs and paparazzi scene. As had always been the case, his family and faith was his anchor. “Many people think that I became a Christian after the accident, but that is not true,” Kaká says. “My parents always taught me the Bible and its values, and also about Jesus Christ and faith.” Being baptized at 12 was an important milestone for Kaká and one that had a profound effect on his young spiritual life. “Little by little, I stopped simply hearing people talk about the Jesus my parents taught me,” he says. “There came a time when I wanted to live my own experiences with God.”

Faith and Family

There’s a common saying about football: “England invented it. The Brazilians perfected it.” The Brazilian game is generally an artful, rhythmic flow marked by skillful dribbling and unexpected passing. The nation brought jogo bonito, the beautiful game, to the world and holds more World Cup championships (five) than any other country. But Europe is the epicentre of professional football. The big money of each nation’s pro leagues draws the world’s top talent, and the continent-wide UEFA Champions League attracts the highest stakes competition and talent. So it was no surprise when the then 21-year-old Kaká went to play for AC Milan in Italy’s Serie A. European football is generally considered more physical and tactical than the South American game, but the strong and taller Kaká adapted instantly. In his first season he earned a starting role, scored 10 goals and helped Milan win the Scudetto, the Serie A championship. He was also named the league Player of the Year. “[Kaká] has the technique of a Brazilian and the physical qualities of a European,” Vanderlei Luxemburgo, former Brazilian national team

in

Kaká’s fame shot into the stratosphere football-mad Brazil following

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Europe Bound

coach, told FIFA.com. “He is the standardbearer of the modern game.” By 2005, Kaká and Milan reached the Champions League final where they let a 3-0 half-time lead slip and lost to Liverpool in a penalty shoot outies. Milan returned in 2007, however, to win the Champions League in a rematch against Liverpool. Kaká’s string of best-in-the-world awards followed, and he was named in the Time magazine ‘100 most influential people in the world’ list. After turning down a huge transfer offer from Manchester City, Kaká and Milan agreed to a similarly large offer from Real Madrid. The record-breaking deal was eclipsed within weeks when Real Madrid then signed Cristiano Ronaldo. Ultimately, the team spent remarkable amounts on international stars in order to reclaim domestic and European dominance. Kaká struggled with some injuries, and the entire team didn’t immediately play as expected. Expectations on Los Blancos were incredibly high, and fans wanted the axe to fall on the coach Manuel Pellegrini when they lost to France’s Lyon in the first knockout round of the Champions League. However, Real Madrid finished second to Barcelona in the race for the Spanish title.

Radical

Kaká’s accomplishments on the field obviously brought him worldwide prominence, but his personal reputation has also drawn widespread attention among international sports stars. Pick an international footballer —or professional athlete—and over simplified stereotypes and Kaká contradicts them. He’s Brazilian, so he grew up in poverty playing with a homemade ball? Both of Kaká’s parents were well-educated professionals who raised the family in an affluent area of São Paulo, and Kaká attended São Paulo FC’s football academy. He must play with lots of flashy dribbling and Brazilian flair? While his fundamental ball skills are extraordinary, Kaká’s style is strong, yet elegant and efficient. “He will always try to go vertically rather than horizontally,” AC Milan coach Carlo Ancelotti told The Observer. “He will never take the extra, unnecessary touch.” But what about off the field—another playboy like so many international stars? Hardly. Kaká and his wife, Caroline, famously married as virgins and have talked about this openly in the press.

“Kaká’s desire is to live as a servant in obedience to the Bible.”


Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images

“It was one of the greatest challenges in my life because we made a choice which wasn’t easy,” Kaká says. “We spent a lot of time praying and walking closely with Jesus and the Holy Spirit. It was a great challenge, but it was really good to have waited. Sex is a great blessing from God for the pleasure of both husband and wife within marriage, and it is not the trivial or casual thing it has become nowadays.” Surely he’s self-centred and materialistic? Kaká’s generous giving to his home church in Brazil is widely known. He has also served as a United Nations Ambassador against hunger, speaking to children about hunger. “I owe a lot to football. Now I’d like to give something back and bring hope to hungry kids less fortunate than myself,” he says. “I hope my own experience can inspire hungry children to believe they can overcome the odds and lead a normal life.” He hopes to be a pastor after he retires from football. “Kaká never changed,” says Marcelo Saragosa, his best friend since childhood and a professional football player. “He is always the simple person as when I met him 10 or 12 years ago.” Most media have shown respect for Kaká’s faith and praised his sportsmanship. His consistency and graciousness matched with

his outstanding play make it difficult to do otherwise. Yet when some have suggested that his lifestyle is boring, Kaká has countered that it is radical to follow Christ.

perfected the gift He gave me in my life. Jesus said ‘without me, you can do nothing’ and I believe this.”

“The Sports Movement helps churches to serve youth to grow in their sports skills, practical life skills and Biblical understanding. As Kaká says, “Without Jesus, we can do nothing.” As Kaká continues to pursue new goals, he leaves little doubt that he is all about Jesus. “Today, I have my ministry through sports, but I play because I have a Godgiven gift,” he says. “I play because He has 13


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