Soccer as a second language: Women’s soccer recaps trip to Brazil, thanks JBU community

“I struggle to adequately put into words how thankful we are,” head coach Kathleen Paulsen said.

Paulsen and her team had the opportunity to travel to Brazil over the Christmas holiday for a mission trip. Through fundraising, support and prayers the team was able to minister to the people of Brazil through the game of soccer.

Traveling to the slums of Brazil, the team was able to share the love of Christ in a very special way.

“Soccer is like another language in Brazil,” Junior Kristen Morency said. “They live and breathe soccer, so when a group like us comes to play them they wonder why, and then we have the opportunity to show them Jesus.”

The Lady Eagles were able to play two club teams, a professional team and the Women’s U-20 Brazilian National Team.

“Postgame prayers and testimonies were a way we were able to tell these girls about Jesus,” Morency said. “Playing the actual game with joy and competing as hard as we could was important because it would set up the post game talk.”

The team also traveled to three orphanages and slums in various parts of Rio de Janeiro. Junior Madi Susmilch recalls the experience as eye opening.

“The biggest impact for me was looking at the favelas, which are the slums of Brazil,” Susmlich said. “They are unsanitary and an eye-sore with houses upon houses built with whatever they can find, but at night, it is one of the most beautiful sights there.”

“There were adult and child prostitutes, pimps, drug lords, thieves, anything you could imagine,” Susmilch said. “But what was more astounding was the way these people could live when they weren’t just trying to survive.”

Morency remembered a 9-year-old boy named Cristiano that she met in one of the orphanages that made a lasting impact on her.

“I played 2v2 soccer with him and I saw nothing but joy pouring out of him,” Morency said. “At the end I gave him an extra soccer t-shirt we had brought along and he put it on right away.”

“He prayed in front of the whole group and thanked God for me coming to play soccer with him,” Morency said. “It melted my heart. It was really cool to see such joy from such a young boy.”

Susmilch saw the people in the same way she saw the homes.

“They were the kindest, most loveable and loving people,” Susmilch said. “Their whole life is a huge juxtaposition, where they do one thing to survive, but that reflects nothing of the people they are on the inside.”

“They live in the beaten up, unstable houses that are the most beautiful things at night.”

Junior Chloe Fennell said the team was able to take a nature hike across an aqueduct that led into the ocean.

“It was absolutely breathtaking, I was blown away each day with the beauty of nature,” Fennell said. “Sometimes literally all I could say was, ‘Wow,’ and it’s all there to glorify the One who created it!”

Naturally, the team now feels closer than ever before.

“As all trips usually do, we feel more bonded,” Susmilch said. “We changed the lives of people.”

Susmilch shared a story of a young girl in Brazil who was estranged from her father. After being ministered to by the team, the young girl went to her father and apologized to him for the things that had come between them.

“She’s doing great things now in soccer and is loving her life, Susmilch said. “We did that.”

Fennell believes that while their team grew closer together, the team remained consistent.

“I mean that, while we were there under such strenuous and even scary circumstances, nothing changed,” Fennell said. “We still trusted each other, we still loved each other, we still held each other close. God has given us consistency, even in Brazil. May He be praised.”

The team expresses their thankfulness to the John Brown community and the support that extended beyond their regular season.

“I get to say every day that I have the best job,” Paulsen said. “A huge part of that is the community supporting the team throughout the season and through Brazil.”

Paulsen shared that the theme for the season was “step”, meaning God will do what ever He will in the world, but he invites us into His story. He just asks that we take a step of faith.

“To watch this team take a massive step of faith on and off the field has been so powerful for me to see. Brazil was part of this step.”

Paulsen shared this message with the JBU community:

“Thank you for cheering, encouraging, and shouting for us at games, in the halls, and in dorms. Thank you for all the donuts, t-shirts, snacks, donations and prayers for Brazil. You have been a part of our story as we took a step of faith in spite of our fear that He would not provide. He proved faithful and His faithfulness played out through His people in the JBU community. So thank you.”

A video recap of the trip made by junior Casey O’Brien can be found at: