Saturday, November 28, 2015

Soccer and My Experience With Muslims

I recently wrote a blog post about the Paris attacks and the controversy of bringing refugees into the United States. (click here if you would like to read that blog post) My mom talked to me about that particular article the other day, and she suggested I share my thoughts about Muslims. She reminded me that I came to the conclusions I did largely because of the personal experiences I have had with Muslim people. She is a wise woman, so I took her advice and here we go.

I grew up in Willmar, MN. One of the things I really enjoyed about growing up in Willmar was the large ethnic diversity. Willmar is a large melting pot of all kinds of different people groups. There are difficulties and problems that can come up with as big of differences as there are between different cultures, but there are some great benefits as well. In my opinion, one of the best benefits of different cultures coming together is soccer.

Many of my best memories of growing up in Willmar involve playing soccer. My brother and I played soccer almost all year around. We both played competitively during the summer and fall every year. During the winter and spring months we would find ways to play soccer with our friends and with the neighborhood kids as well. We loved, and still do love, soccer; which is also known as, "The Beautiful Game."

Photo credit:

My brother and I both started playing soccer when we were 4 or 5 years old. I know a huge reason we played soccer, and continued to play, was because of our teammates. We had the privilege of playing with some VERY talented kids while growing up. We learned to love the game from a young age.

Thanks to the cultural diversity in Willmar, we were able to witness the passion and love for the game that many Hispanics and Africans possess. I remember having teammates who were from: Bolivia, Colombia, Mexico, Honduras, Guatemala, El Salvador, Brazil, Kenya, and Somalia. We had a couple of guys from Spain and Germany throughout the years as well. (I text my brother while I was writing this blog and we both came up with the same list, so I don't think we forgot too many countries haha.)

My summer and fall soccer teams from junior high and high school consisted of about half white kids and the other half Hispanic and African kids. It was great! We were usually pretty good teams.

It's really fun playing soccer with people who have played their whole lives, because they know the game inside and out. I may have just met someone for the first time, we may or may not even speak the same language, but if we both speak soccer, then that's more than enough.

There were very few soccer games we played in Willmar where the sidelines weren't full of fans. Soccer was a family affair, especially for the Hispanic and African players. It was a blast. Like I said before, these are some of my best memories growing up.

Something I recognize now is that almost all of the teammates I had held similar religious beliefs to their parents. It makes sense, I guess. Many of the white kids were Christian or atheist. Many of the Hispanic kids were Christian, or more specifically; Catholic. Many, if not all, of the African kids were Muslim. One thing that almost all of us kids had in common though, was that many of us were complacent and pretty soft spoken about our beliefs.

We all had beliefs, and some of us even considered religion to be a huge part of our lives and beliefs. But it would've been pretty difficult to figure out what religion we were a part of, if it were based solely on the way we lived our lives. Our religious beliefs were mostly talk... just like most people.

Or as the Message Bible says it in James 1:26-27,
"Anyone who sets himself up as 'religious' by talking a good game is self-deceived. This kind of religion is hot air and only hot air. Real religion, the kind that passes muster before God the Father, is this: Reach out to the homeless and loveless in their plight, and guard against corruption from the godless world."

We were mostly hot air.

I only remember having one serious conversation/debate between a couple of us Christian guys with some of the Muslim guys. ONE CONVERSATION, that I'm aware of, in the countless hours we spent together over the years of being teammates. After the debate, we all agreed to disagree and left it at that. It was pretty easy to tell that both groups of guys were pretty set in their beliefs. The Muslims knew we were going to Hell and we knew they were going to Hell. And that was that.

A few of the Muslim guys on our team played soccer AND ran cross country during the same season. Both. During the same season! I have no idea how they did it. We were a decent team in soccer my junior and senior years. But they were a great team in cross country. They were the best. They won back to back state AA boys titles in 2005 and 2006. I remember them being ranked 5th in the nation and they were even in Sports Illustrated. Pretty crazy! They were living every high school athlete's dream.

The two guys on the left played midfield for us in soccer and were a part of our back to back state winning cross country team. They could run all day... and they did!
Photo credit: West Central Tribune

These guys were great athletes. They were great teammates. They were part of my soccer family. They had my back and I had theirs. They were my brothers. They were Muslims.

I have had almost nothing but positive experiences with Muslim believers. I wish they could say the same about their experiences with me, as a Christian believer.

I remember that Ramadan would usually occur sometime during soccer season. Ramadan is an Islamic month of fasting, where the believers don't eat or drink anything from sunrise to sunset. No eating or drinking while the sun is up for a whole month. That's commitment. That's sacrifice. That's a dedication to their god and a form of worship that most Christians don't even get close to! (Hey Christians, we could learn a thing or two from the Muslims about commitment, dedication, and prayer!)

During Ramadan, some of us on the team were jerks to the Muslim kids. We would try to get them to "sin" and eat food and drink water after some of our soccer games. I remember some of the team buying them McChickens and putting the food on their table, just trying to get them to trip up and eat something. We weren't intentionally being mean, we were having fun and joking around with them more than anything. A little bit of hazing, I guess you could say.

Looking back now, I can admit that we shouldn't have done that to our teammates. But, it was all done in fun at the time. Thankfully, our Muslim teammates were good sports and had fun with our "game" as well.

This is my experience with Muslim people. What's yours? What's your reasoning for wanting or not wanting to help the refugees?

Don't write off a whole people group. Don't write off a whole religion. Don't write off the world's second largest religion. Don't write off almost 1/4 of the world's population. Don't write off over 1.5 billion people who need to know Jesus. Don't write off Muslims because of a few bad apples.

This is part of our mission. They are part of our mission. Love and serve Muslims. Show them Jesus in word and in deed. Be Christlike Christians my friends. It's in you because He is in you!

Shake the earth!
- Joel


  1. I actually have a muslim friend that I worked with for over 3 years and still friends with her. They know of Moses and Abraham, of coarse, because they believe Ishmael was the son God promised everything to, not Isaac. So God the Father is not in debate, it's who the savior is. Muslims speak to Ishmael and his mother going into the desert, but from there it really goes south from the bible and their Father becomes the enemy. Joel, it's the love of God and the Holy Spirit that draws someone to our Heavenly Father and Jesus is the representive of that love fully and completely. I know from experience that they are just as devote in their beliefs as we are in ours(more so with some Christians) and the only way that it can turn around is prayer. (Intercession has to birth in people before anything happens)
    On another note, I have a few friends that are gay and wonderful people, but they are deceived as are the Muslims. But you know what Joel, so was I on a lot of things as well. Satan does that, he deceives people into thinking what they are doing is okay and bothers no one, which is the biggest lie ever. Sin leads to death and God is so against sin because he knows the harm it will do to us. I feel sorry for all those refugees, but I do not want them to come here. My son has put his life on the line 3 different times (he is there right now) to teach them to defend themselves. The bible teaches that you can not teach a fool and my son would totally agree, just from experience alone. I do not want any more Muslims coming into this nation, the diversity of this nation is causing our morals to go completely south from what the LORD teaches us. God doesn't want us to be ignorant. I do not want my son to come home and have to defend this country from the Jhadist radicals. If you study their religion, they are permitted to lie to us so they can deceive us in order to fulfill their plans. These are not just cute people that need to be saved, therefore lets give them a chance.(make love not war - 60s thing) These are people that are hell bent on converting us or killing us, no in between. Mohammad teaches this and we can not change their beliefs by just thinking they are so sweet and just need Jesus. It is true they need Jesus, however only God, Jesus and the Holy Spirit knows which one are ready to be saved and that is where wisdom and knowledge comes in. We are not to be in fear, for God will protect us, if that knowledge is in you, however in my experience only a hand full of Christians really know who they are in Christ Jesus and all the blessing they should be walking in. (a completely different topic) I will choose to obey God and pray for my enemies but I don't want them here. Actually there are plenty here already. Love you Nephew and big hugs. You are the pastor of your church and you must teach as the LORD directs you for your congreation. Love, Blessings, Hugs always!

    1. Love you Aunt Deb and super thankful for the sacrifice Josh has made for us! Thanks for the comment, I agree with you on most everything :)

    2. Joel!! I was doing a little searching on Islam and Willmar and came across your blog. Well done! Islam has been on my mind this week after my parents passed on a piece somebody sent them about Willmar. I wrote them a letter in which I addressed points made by the author about Willmar and our Muslim neighbors. I was somewhat more combative (and verbose) than you were in your very well written piece. I'll pass that on as well. I tried to include my letter in this post but it was much too long.

      It's good to hear you are still kicking a soccer ball around!
      Eric Vogel

    3. I would encourage the other writer (Joels Aunt Deb) to do some reading on the origins and evolution of Islam. Mohammad DID NOT preach the conversion or killing of anybody. In fact, Christians and Jews were to be treated with respect as "people of The Book".

    4. Thanks Eric! I'm glad you enjoyed this post. I'd like to read your letter if you are willing to share it with me :) My email is if you would like to send it to me sometime.