forgiveness • peacemaking • reconciliation
equality • poverty • missions


Kicking for Community

June 26, 2017 by

To anyone passing the playing field below Schöngleina the other night, the echoes of a soccer tournament in full swing must have seemed truly strange. Not because there was a game: soccer is a religion in this corner of Thuringia, as it is across Germany. And not because of the dominant sounds: there’s nothing unusual about cheers, whistles, and the neat thud of a ball being punted across grass. But if you had listened more than a few moments, you would have noticed something completely incongruous, given the setting: the muffled shouts weren’t just German, but a whole jumble of languages, including French, English, Farsi, Arabic, Pashto, and at least three African tongues.

the teams preparing before the tournament

In other words, it didn’t sound like any other game ever played in this picturesque village of 500. That’s because it was a first-time event: an Integrationsfußballtournier (“integrative soccer tournament”) conceived by representatives of several local Sportvereine (athletic clubs) and supported by the German Red Cross and the Bruderhof.

The event drew eight local teams, including five from homes or residential centers for young refugees. All in all, over a hundred young men of fifteen different nationalities participated. In a city like Berlin, or even a university town like nearby Jena, such diversity is not a big deal; in a rural setting like this one, where emotions tend to run high when it comes to foreigners, let alone refugees with dark skin or names like Mohammed, it is exceedingly rare. In a nutshell, anything that encourages bridge-building between people of different religious and ethnic backgrounds is not just welcome, but vitally important.

practice before the tournament

By the end of the evening, as enthusiastic yells (after goals) and heated arguments (over contested calls) gave way to the sort of friendly murmur fueled by beer, hard rolls, and sausages, it was unlikely that anyone was worrying about anything as complex as integration. Instead, the entire motley assortment – refugees and local athletes, social workers and Red Cross staff, referees, and numerous onlookers, including the Bürgermeister ­– had been welded into one community.

A cynic might point out that it was “only” a game; that an evening of camaraderie is a pretty short-lived community. But that’s beside the point. In a time and place where the anxieties and hatreds of a small minority are at times enough to give the entire country a bad reputation, the village of Schöngleina proved, last Friday night, that sometimes you don’t need much more than a soccer ball to bring people together, and to give at least a handful of some of the most vulnerable young men on the planet the lasting memories of a most beautiful June evening.

some of the young men watching the tournament from the sidelines


About the author

Chris and Bea Zimmerman

Chris Zimmerman

Chris Zimmerman and his wife, Bea, live at Beech Grove, a Bruderhof in Kent, U.K.

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  • I came to play football in England in a similar way. Thank you for helping out with that.

    Kylian Wanyama