Soccer Camp Sparks Kingdom Partnership

Neighborhood mission & Latino ministry at City of Light (Aurora, IL)
By Bonnie McMaken

If you were taking an evening walk in my diverse (mostly Latino) neighborhood in middle of August, you’d pass a park full of 80-100 kids, parents, and volunteers ministering the love of Jesus: most playing soccer, some doing crafts, and others chatting in Spanish or handing out bags of Takis chips.

City of Light’s free, week-long soccer camp was the highlight of our summer, although we’ve led it for the past three years. So a surprising gospel partnership with Christ Church Vienna, an Anglican parish with a robust Latino ministry near Washington D.C., made this year’s camp even more special.

The Holy Spirit brought together different leaders, languages, churches, and dioceses to create a wider impact. A team of 15 Christ Church high school students, leaders, and pastors rallied around our week of urban ministry and discipleship.

Each night focused on a different theme of creation and salvation, leaving kids with the clear message of a God who loves them and wants to know them. This good news was emphasized in the songs and teaching between soccer drills, and even in the Bible crafts station for kids too young for the camp.

A joyful bilingual Sunday service culminated the outreach. Father Juan Esteban Saravia from Chile, one of the trip’s lead pastors who came with his whole family, preached a rich gospel message. His wife Carolina told me, “We were so moved by the Spirit and by the ministry God is doing with [these students] already.”

Student leader Freddy Villanueva, 20, came to know Jesus as Lord through Christ Church’s soccer outreach, although he’d grown up in a Catholic home. Many other students on this trip had similar stories. Some had worked to pay their own way. Freddy described his team’s main goal: “to be a spark of light for a new beginning in Christ for the kids and their families.”

That mission aligns perfectly with City of Light’s vision in Aurora, the second-largest city in Illinois. Now post-pandemic, our church is able to press more into embodying Jesus’ presence in our city. “The team’s energy to serve the community of Aurora was infectious for us,” said Brittany Yeager, children’s pastor. Our faith grew as we saw the Christ Church team pour themselves out for our city, and vice versa.

The spiritual conversations with dozens of parents, siblings, aunts and uncles, and grandparents, were a highlight I heard repeatedly from City of Light leaders and volunteers. “The unity and affection for one another as we did ministry together was incredible,” said Father Trevor McMaken, pastor at City of Light (and my husband).

On the camp’s last night, I recalled Easter night 2023.  A man was shot and killed while sitting in his car across from our house, right by the park. Now, instead of witnessing death and darkness, we were participating in full kingdom life as 200 people from almost 20 nations enjoyed free hot dogs, sprawled on the grass for a summer movie night, and heard about a God who loves them.

What a beautiful little glimpse of heaven, where every tribe and tongue and nation will play and feast at the Table of the Lord.

Photos by Rachel Wassink

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