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Words | Mark Janzen
Photographs | Jenaya Robertson
The trip made Aliya Coy fall in love with soccer again.
“It made me rethink about why I actually still play the game,” says Coy, who is coming off her third year with the Trinity Western University women’s soccer team. “Just being in Peru and Paraguay and seeing the joy that these kids had on their faces by just playing the sport they love – it reminded me of what’s important.”
Coy was reflective sitting at home thousands of miles away from the dusty streets of Manchay.
“Even though competition is good and competing for a spot is good, the trip was a really intentional time that allowed me to focus on things that actually matter and actually investing in people’s lives and showing them that God loves them.”
The Spartans star outside back was in South America alongside several other members of the TWU women’s soccer team, serving with TeamUp in what has become a years-long relationship between the Spartans and the Paraguayan and Peruvian people.
Jenaya Robertson, who recently graduated after serving as the women’s soccer team’s captain for the past three years, is familiar with the both countries. The opportunity she had to return to South America this past spring marked her third time in Paraguay and her fourth time in Peru. It was on a trip two years ago when she cemented her relationship with Jesus. Later that year, in 2018, she was baptized. For Robertson, it’s all about her faith, the beautiful game and miraculous transformation.
“It has opened my eyes more and more as to why I love this sport and why I love using the gifts God has given me to reach others and see how that transforms communities.”
During their time in South America, the Spartans and TeamUp helped run soccer academy sessions for underprivileged children, provided sport training for volunteers, offered opportunities for coaching development and helped foster the soccer opportunities that connect the local churches with their communities.
“We’re able to provide the tools for these churches to start up a soccer school and get people involved,” Robertson says. “We’re not interested in going down there for a one-time thing. We’re working to help them continue to grow their programs and provide the resources to do that.
“We’re able to go and love on others and inspire them through the gifts we have through sport, and that’s where I see the most impactful transformation.”
Grace Van Den Brink just finished her first season as a Spartan. In South America, she witnessed the pure joy that overflows from the game.
“You could see the community really come together and it wasn’t just us connecting with them, but they were connecting with each other through sport,” Van Den Brink says. “Sometimes I see soccer almost like a job because I do it every day and I commit so much time to it. But just to see how much joy it brings them reminds me of the joy it does bring me when I’m connected with my teammates and it reminds me of the great privilege I have to play.”
Joy was never more apparent than when the Spartans helped launch of the first-ever TeamUp Cup – a rare, if not unprecedented, opportunity for kids of varying ages to come from communities around Lima and compete in a formal tournament.
“One of the teams – they were probably 14 or 15 years old – came from a very broken part of Peru,” Coy says. “One of the coaches was telling me that these kids aren’t involved in great things during the day, but at night they come to the church and they play with the church’s soccer team. Soccer was literally helping get them off the streets at night. It was actually saving people’s lives.”
Van Den Brink recalls the tournament through a similar lens.
“It was perspective-changing. We take for granted the privilege to play organized sports. All the kids and parents were all so amazed by the experience of the TeamUp Cup because they hadn’t ever been part of something like that before.”
Graham Roxburgh, who is both the women’s soccer coach at TWU and the director of TeamUp, saw a story that is just beginning to unfurl.
“We got to see the power of competing and belonging to a team and how that brings hope, self-esteem and joy and a sense of community,” Roxburgh says. “And as a coach, it was really fun to see some of my players really blossom when it comes to loving others.”
Beyond the pitch, the Spartans served in practical ways – helping build small gardens and homes for local families – as a way to simply share the love of Jesus by loving the people.
A few months removed from her time in Paraguay and Peru, Coy is reflective. She is rediscovering something in herself.
“The kids take their faith so seriously there and they really know what it means to be reliant on God,” she says. “They express that to their friends and they want the best for each other and to grow deeper in their faith every day. It’s incredibly inspiring.”
Then, she returns to the pitch.
“I just notice how much more free I am when I play. I feel like I’m back in Peru on the dirt fields playing with those kids.
“That joy that I felt there – I feel that I’ve brought that back home.”
Join the #TeamUpChallenge and Donate NOW to help provide food for families in need in Peru.
The women’s soccer team’s story of its experience in Paraguay and Peru is the third piece of an extensive 14-part series, detailing the people and the stories that make up Spartan Athletics.
Print copies of the SPARTA magazine are available for purchase. All proceeds go to Spartan families in need.