Spreading the gospel throughout the World (Cup)


It’s the 90th minute of the biggest game in a country’s soccer history. A giant family huddles around a small TV and jumps up and down while screaming in their native language.

There’s a knock at the door. A family member peeks around the window curtain to see two Mormon missionaries.

This can’t be happening.

Spain goalkeeper Iker Casillas celebrates with his teammates after winning the 2010 World Cup against the Netherlands. (AP photo)
Spain goalkeeper Iker Casillas celebrates with his teammates after winning the 2010 World Cup against the Netherlands. (AP photo)

There is also an exchange taking place on the other side of the door.

“Elder, why are we doing this? No one is going to answer the door while the game is on.”

For missionaries serving in countries participating in the World Cup this conversation and experience happen all too often.

“It was almost impossible to do any work, especially finding,” said Greg Fetzer, who served in the Malaga Spain Mission during the 2010 World Cup. “It was bad during all big games, but it got even worse once Spain made it to semifinal games. I remember in the match right before the World Cup, against Germany, it was like a ghost town outside. ”

Missionaries are forced to be creative in where they go and what they talk about with people. Any and all conventional finding activity ideas are thrown out the window on game day.

“The stadium where the World Cup was being played was just outside of my area, but there were other missionary companionships who worked that area,” said Steve Vawdrey, who served in Mexico City during the 1986 World Cup in Mexico. “The mission president had given strict rules that missionaries were not to attend the World Cup. Soccer is huge in Mexico, and while the World Cup was going, people talked of nothing else.”

Rules for missionaries are fairly standard across the board, but in some cases mission presidents can make exceptions and allow missionaries a little freedom. For missionaries in the Netherlands this was the case during the 2010 World Cup.

“It was ridiculously impossible to find during games, especially when The Netherlands were playing,” said Mckay Garrett, who served in the Netherlands during the 2010 cup. “My mission president learned of this very quickly and told all missionaries we could watch the games if we watched with an investigator.”

Others didn’t find out about mission rules changes until it was too late.

“I remember being frustrated that I didn’t watch the World Cup final,” Fetzer said. “I found out about a month later that our mission president had given us permission.”

For missionaries in Mexico, there wasn’t quite as much freedom.

“Rumor has it that two missionaries from the other district decided to go to the World Cup,” Vawdrey said. “The mission president found out when the missionaries were pictured in the local paper after the event. They were sent home.”

With the World Cup only taking place every four years it is easy to see why different countries get so excited when their country makes the tournament. The excitement grows within a country as the team advances.

“People decorated like it was Kim and Kanye’s wedding,” Garrett said. “Streets were filled with orange and banners strung across the street from houses (and) waved over the streets. Yards had blowup lions (Netherlands mascot), grocery stores gave out posters and blow horns, which I still have. It wasn’t like only one house decorated; every single house on the street did. I could count on one hand the houses that didn’t decorate on a street.”

When the tournament is all over only one country is left standing to experience the victory. “I remember walking from a train station, heading home when the game finished and Spain won,” Fetzer said. “People just started running out into the streets out of bars and apartments, yelling and cheering. They were driving around honking horns and cheering the rest of the night.”

For the other 31 countries who didn’t win the feeling is pain and sadness.

“It was really exciting to root for a team in the finals, too bad the Netherlands lost. The next day almost felt like everyone just lost their grandma,” Garrett said.

For those who had the chance to serve in countries that were part of a World Cup it is something they will remember forever. It’s an experience few people will ever get to enjoy.

But all returned missionaries understand the pains of tracting and finding. This summer, from mid-June to mid-July, it will be tough for the missionaries — especially those serving in host country Brazil and the 31 other World Cup nations.

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