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To be a youth in Myanmar today is to go up against a unique set of challenges. Politically, the country formerly known as Burma is going through a rocky transition from a repressive military form of government to a democratic form; in the midst of the process, the current civilian government has had to declare martial law to try to put down a rebel insurgency. Culturally, Myanmar is struggling to overcome discrimination against its ethnic and religious minorities; it is experiencing unrest among students who are dissatisfied with its attempts at education reform; and it is wrestling with the reality that as many as 65 to 70 percent of its young people use illegal drugs regularly (the drug of choice for many: heroin). Economically, Myanmar is one of the poorest countries in Southeast Asia and one of the 25 poorest countries in the world.

For all their need, there is one thing that the youth in Myanmar need even more: Jesus.

Lutheran Hour Ministries—Myanmar Director Mar Lay reports that she has discovered a place where young Burmese hearts and minds are open to learning about the One Who can bring peace to their souls: the sports field. Like her LHM colleague Dinh Hai Au in Vietnam, Mar Lay has found that Burmese youth—young men especially—live for the game of miniature soccer known as futsal. In February this year, her LHM—Myanmar center sponsored its fifth annual futsal tournament, in which eight teams—some composed of believers, some not—met on the pitch to vie for LHM's coveted "JOEL Cup."*

Futsal is an intense game. The dimensions of a futsal pitch are small enough to allow the game to be played in an ordinary gym. The ball is smaller than a soccer ball; there are fewer members on a futsal team than on a soccer team. It's a fast and chaotic sport; emotions can run high and play can become violent. But at an LHM JOEL Cup Tournament, all teams pledge to respect each of their opponents and model good sportsmanship. There is a time of prayer before each match. Fellowship is encouraged. Jesus is invited to be at the center of the event. And those who don't know Jesus often discover Who He is.

In other words, the JOEL Cup Tournament is different from just about every other futsal event—and participants appreciate the difference.

Pastor Khin Maung Latt entered a team from the South Dagon Methodist Center. Pastor Khin has struggled for years to share the Gospel with young people; but since becoming involved with the JOEL Cup Tournament, he has seen a change. "There is a lot of interest in having fellowship with our Christian center," he says; "in fact, ten young unbelievers—all futsal players—are now coming regularly to our worship services. All the players seem very excited to play with Christian players and are already talking about entering the tournament again next year."

Score a goal for the Gospel. Stay tuned for more news from the futsal pitch!

Please pray for the work of Lutheran Hour Ministries—Myanmar! In addition to the country's many challenges, violence and intimidation by some factions of its majority religion have earned it the #25 ranking on Open Doors International's 2015 World Watch List of the 50 nations where persecution of Christians is most severe. Pray for protection, strength and boldness in sharing the message of Jesus.

* The name "JOEL" is borrowed from Project JOEL, the youth program of LHM's Latin American ministry centers. The letters stand for the Spanish words JOvenes con el Espiritu Libre ("youth with a free spirit").

Change Their World. Change Yours. This changes everything.

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