A woman wearing a Nigerian football jersey and a white and green bonnet sits behind a man dressed in Bafana Bafana jersey and next to a lady in a Cameroonian tracksuit. These are only a few of the colourful worshippers who gather in St Mark’s Presbyterian Church in Yeoville on a Sunday morning.

A member of the United Reformed Church in Sebokeng, South Africa hangs a South African flag in their home on June 6 in celebration of the Soccer World Cup. (Andrew Esiebo, TwentyTen)

The whispering stops when Reverend Solomon Surwumwe starts his sermon: “Yesterday, our youth from St Mark’s played St Jean’s youth. It was the final of the Mini World Cup. We won 4-2, and it was not only beating them, we taught them a football lesson”. Reverend Solomon’s address is stopped by applause and the cheers of church-goers. “Let’s magnify our little heroes in the name of our Lord,” adds Solomon, beaming from the pulpit.

“This is just a foretaste of the football talent Bafana Bafana is going to show to the whole world during this 2010 World Cup,” a congregant proclaims. Speaking to the Mini World Cup winners, Solomon continues, “Guys, congratulations! It is Sunday school time now, just cross the street and go to the outbuilding. A teacher is waiting for you. You need to be strong to conquer the devil every time”.

Kids dressed in the national colours of South Africa, Nigeria, Ghana, Cameroon, and some of the European football clubs, stand in a line like players on a pitch, and then walk out with piano-organ music and the soft voice of the choir in the background.

Cars parked along the fence of the red brick Church building flaunt flags of the six African representatives of the 2010 Soccer World Cup. Passers by carry mini banners and flags to display their loyalty to football teams; it is impossible to ignore the excitement brewing for the soccer tournament.

Sunday school is set up like a soccer field. There are two removable goal posts set up in the square, three balls lie on the ground and chairs surround the pitch in a room decorated with pictures of Jesus Christ and his apostles. Norman Mangena, the head of St Mark’s Sunday school explains why the church, that was once reluctant to accept football indoors, was ‘wooing’ football now.

“We are using the soccer platform to send our message to more people because the World Cup is going to be watched by millions of people. This is the opportunity for me to wear a South African National jersey with a message, ‘Jesus loves you’. If it comes out on TV, it will reach millions of people,” says Mangena.

Hombolani Charaa, an 18-year-old Sunday school teacher says, “Since Fifa announced the 2010 World Cup will be held in South Africa, everyone is focused on football. You have football everywhere and children are more and more attracted by football. If we use ordinary words our message won’t get across, but use a ball as a tool, then it works so far … but too much football is not good!” she exclaims as she ducks to avoid a ball kicked by Thulani Bryce, one of the young players.

“I am the captain of St Mark’s team, we won yesterday and I scored two goals,” Thulani boasts. “Are you here to recruit young soccer players? You can write my name, I want to be a player, Michael Essien is my idol.”

The love of football has permeated every organisation, institution and people group in South Africa and churches are no exception. Is it idol worship or a means of communicating the message of the gospel.

This articel was published in Mail and Gaurdian read the full artical here