While Brazilian legend Pelé is credited for making the phrase “the beautiful game” synonymous with soccer, Water Mission staff members from Mexico have given the motto a whole new meaning.
Water Mission is a Christian engineering ministry that builds safe water, sanitation, and hygiene solutions in rural, refugee and post-disaster settings. Now retired from professional baseball, I have the privilege of working with Water Mission and alongside some of the most passionate, compassionate and servant-hearted people. One of which is Wilberth Valdivieso, community development lead for Water Mission in Mexico.
In my interview with Wilberth, I learned about the beauty and joy of sharing God’s love through soccer and safe water. We talked about how the game is an integral part of Wilberth’s ministry, and how “fútbol” is just another language in which to communicate joyful, hopeful messages. I hope that amid all that’s going on in our nation and our world, our conversation reminds you of how sports have the power to uplift and bring people together.
Scott Linebrink: If there’s one thing I know, it’s that soccer, or fútbol, is a big part of Mexican culture. I also know that a person’s favorite sports team says a lot about them. So tell us, what’s your favorite soccer team?
Wilberth Valdivieso: My favorite team is FC Barcelona, which has the best player in the world: Lionel Messi! There also used to be a Mexican player on the team, Rafael Márquez, who was very good.
SL: I can tell you’ve been a soccer fan for a long time. How long have you been playing the sport for?
WV: I’ve been playing soccer since childhood and I’ve been on a team since I was 14 years old.
SL: What position do you play?
WV: I’m good at playing defense but I like to play forward, too, because I like to score goals.
SL: Spoken like a true competitor. Do you still play soccer regularly?
WV: Before COVID-19, I played every Sunday evening with a group of people from my church.
SL: That’s great. We all miss gathering with our friends and playing sports, don’t we? That reminds me, I heard that Water Mission staff in Mexico engage with community members, especially children, through sports. Why do you think this is important for Water Mission’s work of providing safe water?
WV: We love to play sports in the communities where we have safe water projects. We do this to reach out to kids and young people. Our goal is to socialize with them. That way, we get to know them and make friends.
Every time we arrive in a community, the kids want to play and connect with us. We play many different games, but mostly soccer. Usually, we just split into two teams, but we’ve also had tournaments involving several teams made up of community members. All the teams play one another, and the winning team plays Team Water Mission! Unfortunately, we usually lose (laughs). At the end of every game we play, Water Mission staff members give a Biblical reflection that encourages the youth.
Engaging in this way is very important because in many communities, alcohol and drugs are a problem among young people. This is why after every game, we give a Biblical lesson and share that God has a purpose for their lives. That way, they can know that they are significant and can live a peaceful, fruitful life with God. Sharing the message of the Living Water is part of our work as a ministry.
SL: Do you have a fond memory of a soccer game that you played at one of these communities?
WV: Yes! At the end of last year, we had several Water Mission staff and supporters visit from the United States. They had come to see first-hand how access to safe water was making an impact on the community. They also came to meet the people whose lives were being changed by this simple yet significant resource.
We took them to visit the community of Tierra y Libertad, where we played soccer and volleyball with community members. At the end of the games, we offered to pray for people. Many adults and young people were around and came forward for prayer. We were able to pray for so many. It was so beautiful.
Now, every time we go to work in this community, young people always come running to us, wanting to talk with us, connect with us, and play sports again. This motivates me to keep up the work and keep connecting with the youth. These events leave a lasting impact on them.
SL: Why do you believe that these beautiful moments have become a part of Water Mission’s ministry and tradition?
WV: Water Mission isn’t just about doing water, sanitation and hygiene projects. We want to meet people. We want them to know that we’re not there to just install equipment and do hygiene trainings. We are their friends. Every time we go to a community, people want us to visit with them and talk with them. They welcome us warmly. We get invited to pray for people and get invited to their homes for dinner. This is an important part of what we do. We make friends so that people welcome us, receive us with love, and partner with us on safe water projects and on uplifting their communities out of water poverty. We want them to hear the joyful message that we bring — that the clean, safe water they are about to have is a taste of God’s goodness and grace.
SL: And why do you think it’s significant to share this joyful and hopeful truth?
WV: As native-born staff here in Mexico, we have the privilege of seeing people be happy and grateful. Many of them feel like they have been neglected or forgotten. While it is possible for some of them to buy bottled water, it’s so expensive and unaffordable. When we come to work in a community as a Christian engineering organization, they can trust that they can now have access to water that is both safe and not beyond their means.
Some of them say that they had never known of an organization that was truly concerned about them. In these communities, many come and go. Water Mission has the mindset that it’s better to give than to receive, and our goal is long-term, sustainable change. And because of that, people are very joyful and appreciative of our safe water, sanitation and hygiene solutions.
SL: Wilberth, this is so encouraging to hear. Everything you’ve said is a great reminder of not only the power of sports but of how life-changing safe water and the Living Water are. Thank you for your time and for the love and joy you put into your work daily. God bless and keep up the good work.
If Wilberth’s words have inspired you, consider joining Water Mission’s team members around the world and transform a life today. Learn how.
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