A Footballer and a Child of God

A Footballer and a Child of God

Dr Mandela Thyoka, Doncaster church Pathfinder Director

Dr Mandela Thyoka reflects on this year's FIFA World Cup in Qatar by focusing on England's Bukayo Saka and his faith in God.

As the World Cup reaches its climax after a gruelling round of matches in the Qatar heat, with Bukayo Saka and England long since departed the tournament, Saka's profession of faith in God will act as a catalyst for change among his adoring fans. The 21-year-old Arsenal Forward Saka remains the standout star of this World Cup. He bowed out with England's elimination from the quarter-finals with his head held high and remained a winner with God and the Bible on his side.

Saka was born to Nigerian parents and educated at a Christian school. His Instagram handle states, "God's Child".

The FIFA World Cup Finals in Qatar may have gripped the hearts of ardent football fans and the wider global audience. Dubbed "tournament in the desert", this World Cup has been unique. It's the first time the tournament has been staged in this region and the first time to be held in December as opposed to June to avoid the great heat in Qatar. The games have been played on manicured pitches inside eight futuristic stadiums. All the host venues were purposely built within a 21-mile radius of central Doha and linked by a metro system, allowing fans to travel to the games easily. Qatar 2022 was dubbed the last show of many legends — with two of the world's arguably greatest footballers of modern times, Argentina's Lionel Messi and Portugal's Cristiano Ronaldo gracing the tournament. But for me, the rise of a new star Bukayo Saka grabbed my attention.

Saka on the ball.Amidst the fanfare of national football teams competing for football's most fabulous prize, it is easy to lose sight of some footballers who have remained faithful to God. One such standout case is Bukayo Saka, who I admire for openly sharing his Christian faith in Qatar. Saka told journalists in Qatar when asked about his faith, "I read my Bible every night. I've been continuing to do that out here. For me, it is really important to have the presence of God in me all the time, and it gives me more confidence to know that God's plan is perfect. So, I can go on the pitch and know that God has my back."

"But the main thing for me is just keeping my faith. I have faith in God, so I don't need to be nervous or worry about any outcomes because this is my first World Cup. You know, I can start worrying about different things and different outcomes, but instead, I choose to put my faith in God."

Bukayo's interview in full:

Saka's interview is so refreshing, especially when official statistics recently indicated that less than 50% of the British population are Christians. Only 20 years ago, 72% of UK citizens declared themselves Christians, but now only 46%.

Bukayo Saka is versatile; he plays full-back, wing-back or forward, and on either flank. He has been a regular for the England senior squad since the Football Association invited him to the England team in October 2020. Not long ago, as a 19-year-old, he endured a penalty heartache for England in the rescheduled Euro 2020 tournament when he missed the decisive penalty in England's defeat to Italy at Wembley Stadium in July 2021. He was subjected to racist abuse and hate messages but remained firm because of his faith. "By driving out hate, by being kind to one another, we will win," wrote Saka in his Instagram post on 15 July 2021. The nation's love for the youngster was shown in the next home match against Andorra when he received the loudest cheer of the day from the Wembley crowd and marked his 20th birthday with a goal.

The England teamSaka is not the first professional footballer to openly declare and proudly proclaim their Christian faith. At the same time, in the tournament, the inspiration for his declaration comes from knowing he did it during football's most significant competition. Our young people can draw inspiration from Saka's bravery as they, too, can be ambassadors for Christ wherever they go.

The competition featured 32 national teams competing across 64 matches, with the finalists Argentina and France playing in the Cup Final on Sunday, 18 December 2022.