Imagine what it’s like to live in a house made of corrugated iron, where a soccer jersey is an unimaginable luxury.
In San Lucas Tolimán, Guatemala, those are the realities of life, but an Overland Park church is helping to make some things easier.
Rolling Hills Presbyterian Church has made regular trips to the town to help build a school over the last few years under the auspices of the non-profit humanitarian organization Transformational Journeys. The church raised more than $40,000 for the project and worked with local stone masons to build the structure.
On one of the more recent trips, the senior mason was chatting with the Rev. Ted Pierce of Rolling Hills about his life. The mason mentioned that he and some of the other masons wanted to play soccer in a local recreational league, but they weren’t allowed to participate in tournaments without matching jerseys.
“The head mason said in passing that his team didn’t have a sponsor, and it’s hard to recruit, because they don’t look legitimate,” Pierce said.
Pierce asked him how much it would cost for matching jerseys and some cleats for the men.
“I yelled across to Gabe Hopkins, and I said, ‘Hey Gabe, you want to sponsor a Guatemalan soccer team?’”
Within minutes, Pierce and other church members, including Gabe Hopkins, had agreed to pitch in together to make up the $120 needed.
“We were casually talking and one thing led to another, and we quickly jumped on board and were amazed you could sponsor a soccer team for (so little),” Hopkins said.
Hopkins and others designed a simple T-shirt that said “Rolling Hills” on it.
The church members wanted to put the players’ names on the back, but the masons refused. It turns out that they didn’t want to ask the church for more than was absolutely necessary.
Instead of getting shirts for everyone, the masons just asked for enough to cover the players on the field at any one time. When a player subs in, the player leaving the field will give the sub his jersey off his own back.
“We didn’t know until after (we ordered the shirts), or we would have bought them more,” Hopkins said.
After their initial conversation, though, the man came back to Pierce with a grave face and said it would cost more than they had originally thought.
“He comes back later in the afternoon, looking down and says it’s not going to be $120; it’s going to be $150. He thought he was going to lose the sponsorship,” Pierce said. “We shook our heads at how little it takes for folks in our situation to help them.”
It might seem silly to be so concerned over $30, but according to National Geographic, the average yearly income in Guatemala is just $3,900. The country weathered a bloody 36-year civil war that ended in 1996.
With more serious issues to handle, soccer isn’t on the top priority list when it comes to infrastructure. The country’s team has never qualified for the World Cup finals. When children play soccer there, they don’t wear uniforms — or even shoes — and often run on mud and cement fields.
“It’s just mind-boggling to us as we look at our fields on 135th Street, lit and (playable in) all weather,” Pierce said. “These guys play on dirt. The kids practice without shoes.”
Since the jerseys were made locally, the men had them by the next day and were proudly showing them off to friends and family.
“You’d think that a church sponsorship would be kind of goofy, but they take great pride” in it, Pierce said.