There’s a huge match-fixing scandal in the world of professional soccer that is causing great concern internationally, especially as the World Cup of Football is pending. Apparently bribes as high as $120,000.00 have been given to referees and players in order to fix a match . The benefit, of course, goes to the bookies, who, in turn, are in the hire of organized crime. One report says this “industry” may equal, or surpass, the world trade in illegal drugs. The world’s “beautiful game” has become a sordid facade.

I’ve often marvelled at the grace and skill of the players, many of whom are from remote villages in Africa. Their professional expertise has been finely honed by thousands of hours played as children on barren, dusty pitches where they learn to dribble the “ball” through playmates, village dogs, a gaunt cow or two, and toddlers trying to emulate their older siblings. I say “ball” because it’s often a tightly wound bunch of cast-off plastic bags, tied into a sphere with string and tape. Most of these kids have never seen a real soccer ball. But their love of the game, and their tireless athleticism is a joy to watch.

The contrast between the cynical world of the western professionals and the pure love of the village game applies to so much more than football. I see it in the churches. Time and again I speak in western churches where there is no expectation of the transcendent, casual reverence for God, and a deeply settled boredom among the “worshippers”. Contrast this with what I see when I speak in humble african village churches – men, women, and especially children, with their faces drawn towards heaven, their eyes tear-filled, their voices raised in adoration, their hearts bursting with respect and reverence. Their church buildings can be razed in an hour, and rebuilt in half a day. But their faith is as solid as the Rock. They are truly in the game.