By Abe Levy, Staff Writer
On a football field at the Cornerstone Christian Schools on Saturday, about two dozen Spanish-speaking churches will assemble their soccer teams for a tournament they call Copa Amistad, or Friendship Cup.
The all-day event will be more than a test of sportsmanship, or an opportunity for fellowship around a sport not usually on the radar of English-speaking churches.
Soccer has become a ministry and a tool for churches angling to reach out to the Latino community, whose population is increasingly influencing San Antonio's religious landscape.
Many teams at Saturday's tournament have invited friends who don't regularly go to church.
“We have guys on our team who grew up in the church but are not constant,” said Samuel Garcia, a youth pastor at Centro Cristiano La Iglesia del Señor who grew up in the Mexican border state of Coahuila. “When we get together more often for soccer, they start going to services.”
Iglesia Cornerstone, which is affiliated with Cornerstone Church, has done most of organizing for the event, which will include festival features, such as face painting and musical acts.
“We have unity of churches at heart with this tournament,” said Ruben Mendez, pastor of Iglesia Cornerstone. “This is an opportunity for the Hispanic churches to show a face of unity and reach out. We know that soccer is huge in the Hispanic community.”
For Garcia's church, soccer allows for ongoing outreach.
The church cobbles together teams for local soccer leagues and seeks to stand out for their Christian attitude on the field, not just athletic skill, he said.
“You can tell who we are by the way we're speaking and trying to be a little bit more sportsmanlike,” Garcia said. “We teach core values that we are to treat people the way they want to be treated, play as a team and also try to discover your talents as a soccer player.”
The church, which has about 300 members and meets at 910 E. Southcross, sees this sport as a culturally effective way to reach Hispanics.
“One thing I think we need to do as a church is tell people and invite nonchurch people,” Garcia said. “That way we're not just doing soccer to have fun. We're actually telling someone about our faith.”
Source: The San Antonio Express-News