Zazpi Jausi “facilitates after-school sports practice” for dozens of children from vulnerable backgrounds. “It is an instrument of blessing”, say its founders
If rugby is a sport played by gentlemen, as the former British Prime Minister Winston Churchill referred to it, then what better alternative of team sport can be offered to those who are not attracted by football or basketball?
This is the premise on which the Zazpi Jausi Rugby Elakrtea project was born five years ago, promoted by a couple of evangelical pastors in the Spanish region of Bizkaia.
“There are many children who don’t like football, and they need a real alternative to a team sport. Rugby seems rough, but it has a nobility that I haven’t seen in any other sport. There is maximum respect for the opponent and the referee”, points out Gemma López, who, along with her husband, David Bengoetxea, pastors the evangelical church Punto de Encuentro Cristiano (Chistian Meting Point), in Barakaldo, and both promoted the initiative.
Furthermore, “the third half and the mutual walk around applauding the opponent at the end of the match is sacred. When a player is about to kick, silence in the stands is the norm. Only the captain talks to the referee and his decisions are not discussed”.
“Rugby is a team sport, where there are usually no superstars, but everyone supports each other, covers each other, goes forward and defends together and doesn’t pretend to be injured or exaggerate fouls to fool the referee, as in football”, says López.
A pioneering team
Zazpi Jausi Rugby Elkartea is “the only reference for rugby in all the Left Bank of Bizkaia. We have been registered as a sports association in the Basque Country‘s register of sports entities since 2018 and we are part of the Provincial Council’s School Sports”, underlines López.
Their unique character has helped them to connect with other entities with more experience. “As our team is still small, we have a solidarity alliance with the Bilbao rugby team, Universitario Bilbao Rugby, who invite us to train with them on Fridays on their pitch and to play on Saturdays in the school sport matches organised by the Bizkaia Rugby Federation”.
But the most solid aspect of the project is its vision, which has turned it into much more than an extra-school rugby team.
With the slogan “values for the field and for life”, it also includes other activities to strengthen coexistence and relationships, such as the ‘Summer Rugby Camp’, that allow team members to keep in touch beyond the season and the school year.
The values of rugby
The project was created with the aim of “facilitating extracurricular sport without anyone being left out due to a lack of resources. That boys and girls who don’t fit in football feel accepted and find their role within the team. In rugby there is room for the skinny, the fat, the slow and the fast. There is room for everyone”.
Many of the children who have passed through the team’s ranks “come from migrant and refugee families”.
“Most are families that we attend to in the social emergency care programme of the ‘Asociación Hay una esperanza para ti’ (There is hope for you), others come through the church ‘Punto de Encuentro Cristiano‘ and others arrive recommended by the socio-educational team of the City Council, and by other social entities we work with, such as ‘Save the Children’, or simply, we are contacted by neighbours of Barakaldo”, she explains.
López stresses that “for many boys and girls this is an oasis in the middle of the week (training sessions are on Wednesdays), where they feel integrated and enjoy the fellowship and values of rugby, as well as a Christian atmosphere”. They also share times of prayer together before the start of each session.
Linked from the beginning with the ‘Asociación Hay una esperanza para ti’, created from the Evangelical Church Punto de Encuentro Cristiano in Barakaldo, Zazpi Jausi Rugby Elkartea also responds to a ministerial vocation.
“Not all the kids are from the church or come from an evangelical background, but they all know what we are. There are several children from the school whose families are not evangelical who are joining the church’s youth activities, and their parents are delighted”, says López.
They also have the support of “two players who have joined the project and come from a friendly church in another municipality. From the beginning we have had the support of the Christian Rugby Union. Furthermore, they also have relationships with other organisations. For example, they are part of the network of Christian ministries and athletes ‘Ready Set Go Spain&Andorra’”.
The short-term challenge they are focusing on is to find a coach. They are looking for “a sports missionary” who can take on this role and, at the same time, “develop in the medium term the extension of this sporting project to other municipalities and districts of Bizkaia”.
“Someone who loves Jesus and rugby, and who believes in this wonderful way of serving the new generations through sport and its values”, adds López.
The other two urgent needs of Zazpi Jausi Rugby Elkartea are finances and the search for sponsors, and facilities, as there is no rugby pitch in Barakaldo.
The best way to do this, says López, is to publicise the project. They are also open to contacting other Christians who have experience in the world of rugby and to receiving financial donations, which is how they have sustained themselves until now.
According to Lopez, they “need to make it financially viable to recruit more coaching staff, buy sports equipment, organise sports camps and provide scholarships for those in need”.
“As a testimony of provision, we fondly remember how two seasons ago, after searching hard for a sponsoring company without success, the Lord surprised us by providing us through an Irish family, a contact of a missionary here in Bilbao. With their generous donation we were able to afford the purchase of our official kit to play matches on Saturdays. God really surprises us and sustains his projects”, she points out.
Furthermore, they are also grateful for “all prayerful support” to help Zazpi Jausi Rugby Elkartea “grow and continue to be an instrument of blessing available to new generations”.
Originally published on The Evangelical Focus
(c) Evangelical Focus, used with permission