In Nicaragua, having a pair of soccer cleats — or even a ball — is a luxury.
Most children play their country’s most-popular sport barefoot, or wearing flip-flops in open fields with makeshift goal posts.
Maile Grout, a 2013 Seymour High School graduate, and the Grace College women’s soccer team recognized the issue and decided they needed to make a difference.
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The squad — which totals 26 people including coaches — recently went on a mission trip to teach soccer, donate equipment and spread their faith.
“Before the trip, we were in contact with the missionaries, and they told us about some of the needs there,” Grout said. “They recently started a sports clinic, mainly soccer, because it’s their favorite sport down there, and we told our coach they were playing in bare feet or in flip-flops.”
Before leaving Feb. 28, Grout, a sophomore at Grace, reached out to her past soccer coaches to collect cleats.
The response from the community was overwhelming.
In the end, they collected 50 pairs of soccer boots and balls.
On top of that, the team left four trophies, referee gear and practice jerseys during their stay.
“They were very thankful,” Grout said. “Another thing we gave them, in addition, was all of our practice gear. We took all of that with us, and they are going to use them as uniforms. It was interesting to see how thankful they were for something (we think of) as so simple. It showed us that we take a lot of things for granted. It really hit home with me and reminded me how blessed we are with what we have here.”
Last year, the team went to Nicaragua but didn’t focus on soccer quite as much on the trip, Grout said.
“This year, we were given a chance to go somewhere else again (on a mission trip),” Grout said. “We talked about it and prayed about it as a team and decided to go back to Nicaragua. It was cool because I think it meant a lot to the people there to have us come back. We saw some of the same people that were there from the first time.”
During their stay, the team played in men’s tournaments since there aren’t a lot of women who play the sport in Nicaragua. They also hosted soccer clinics.
The team beat a handful of the all-male teams.
“The first day we were there, we played in a tournament,” Grout said. “That really got some excitement in the community. The very next weekend, we had another tournament, and a lot more people were there. It was really encouraging throughout the week seeing all the relationships we made.”
Grace, an Evangelical institution, also focused on spreading the gospel during their stay.
“Before and after the matches, we would have one person share their testimony,” Grout said. “We also gave different messages about the hope of Christ and how we incorporate playing soccer into faith.”
When the women weren’t playing soccer, the team spent time volunteering vacation Bible school and conducting Bible studies at a jail ministry.
For Grout’s testimony, she told how she was raised in a Christian home and accepted Christ at 8 years old.
She said that it has been a journey of ups and downs in life, as she faced many trials. During her senior year at Seymour, Grout tore her ACL, a season-ending injury.
Most importantly, soccer has given Grout a platform to share the gospel.
“It taught me that soccer wasn’t about me,” Grout said. “Soccer was a way to glorify the Lord. It’s a platform to strengthen and spread my faith.”
In the future, the Grace women’s soccer team hopes to continue doing mission work, whether it be overseas or in their own backyard.