Sex Workers and Evangelicals – a World Cup match to trump them all
The 2014 World Cup has already proved to be one of the most memorable for decades. Experts reckon it is on course to be among the highest scoring in the tournament's 84-year-old history.
But one match has taken place which is unique in the annals of soccer. The game – an informal one, organised on the sidelines of the main event – found Brazilian prostitutes and a Christian evangelical group forming a joint team, as they banded together to take on local university players in World Cup host city Belo Horizonte.
The sex workers, called the Naked Football Club (although they do wear soccer outfits when playing) were scheduled to play but found themselves short of team members. That's when the visiting Christians – American evangelicals on a mission trip to Brazil – stepped in to make up the numbers.
The teams took over a street in the centre of town and played the match in order to raise awareness about sex workers' rights.
Local journalists report that the match was organized by the Prostitutes' Association of Minas Gerais, which represents the region's 80,000 sex workers. They have complained for many years that they are discriminated against and should have the same rights under law as any other profession.
Little is reported about who the group of evangelical Christians were – which is great, because it demonstrates that they weren't there to draw attention to themselves. Instead, it seems that they were just doing what Christians should be doing – being salt and light, and stepping in to help with a particular situation when it arose.
As one blogger, Fred Clark, put it: "I would very much like to visit their church. They seem to know something about Jesus there." And he's right, of course. Jesus hung out with all sorts of people who were deemed socially unacceptable in his day – and was criticised for eating with "tax collectors and sinners".
We should remember, too, that one particular prostitute, Rahab, is singled out in the Bible as a heroine of faith for helping Joshua and the Israelites in the Old Testament. She is held up in the New Testament in Hebrews 11 as a model of trust in God, and also has the honour of being recorded in one of the genealogies of Jesus (Matthew 1:5).
She's a fine example of how the gospel is always (or should be) both more inclusive and transformative than we sometimes believe. The gospel is inclusive in that it often sweeps all sorts of unexpected people into grace – and transformative in that it offers radical change through repentance and faith.
Christian speaker Tony Campolo records how he once had an opportunity to show grace-in-action to a sex worker when he was in a cafe in Honolulu and a group of prostitutes came in. He overheard that one of them had a birthday coming up – and so secretly arranged with the cafe proprietor to throw a party there the next day in her honour.
The sex worker in question was flabbergasted – as were those looking on in the cafe. At least one of the other diners found it difficult to believe any church could have a Christian leader who arranged parties for prostitutes, and told Campolo: "There's no church like that. If there was, I'd join it. I'd join a church like that!"
I suspect it's possible that more Christians are doing things like the Christian soccer players and like Tony Campolo than is ever widely known. In the case of the evangelical footballers, however, their action has been reported from China to Russia and from Hindustan to Ireland – and glory has been brought to God.
David Baker is a Church of England minister and journalist.