Football and faith
by Sherrie Norris
The success of the trip was much like that experienced by some of the same team members in 2013, where hundreds of people prayed to receive Christ - and the love for America's favorite sport gained even more popularity.
Since 2004, Wilson has made annual trips to El Salvador, where few Christians are available to make a difference.
Wilson has worked to develop relationships with national leaders, police, prison officials and even gang leaders in El Salvador, and has been invited through doors that few Americans have entered.
"It hasn't come easy, but it's been well worth the journey," he said.
It's a real plus that they love Americans, Wilson said.
"The main church we work with, Harvest Baptist, and its pastor Mauricio Hernandez are fantastic, as are others who are now involved," he said.
Because of the life-changing impact of his ministry in the country, Wilson has become well-known, respected and is warmly received.
Wilson and his wife and ministry partner, Wanda Wilson, preceded the other team members by two weeks this year to lay the groundwork and participate in citywide evangelism. Johnny also visited thousands of inmates in the country's overcrowded prisons, including one for women.
Wanda conducted women's ministry events in the city, during which she sang and spoke to several hundred women on the power of prayer.
Football and Faith
Prior to his 2013 visit, Wilson was asked by country leaders to incorporate a football clinic when he returned.
"They told us that they watch the Super Bowl, but they didn't understand the game," he said.
Recruiting Roman Gabriel III, president of Sold Out Ministries, and ASU mountaineer quarterback Logan Hallock proved to be a good move.
The duo taught dozens of youngsters about football basics. Before leaving, they saw the youths play the game "like champions," on worn and dirty soccer fields.
"As a result of our trip last year, a football team was formed and just recently gained membership into a semipro association," Wilson said. "We were able to meet with the leaders who were very excited to have Roman there, with his NFL experience, and Logan, too, as a great college quarterback."
Football was just one of the trip's many highlights, Wilson said.
As in 2013, Wilson's group was divided into several teams and welcomed into schools where thousands of students heard about Jesus for the first time - hundreds of which made professions of faith.
The school outreach was in preparation for a large event at the end of their visit called "Soyafest."
Gabriel, whose passion for youth is well-known through his Boone-based drug and alcohol prevention program, said, "It was a great blessing again to partner with the Wilsons to bring the hope of the gospel of Jesus Christ to El Salvador. We had the opportunity to work with four local club pro football teams, showing them fundamentals of the game of football - and life."
Gabriel was in awe of the youngsters, he said.
"Despite having very little and living in a dangerous place, they are so bright and enthusiastic and open to us as we visited their schools," he said. "Every young person, growing up in our great country, America, could learn something by the way these people live their lives - with great joy and enthusiasm, without all the excess that we have here."
"It's so refreshing to share the gospel with students in their schools and to see around 400 make decisions for Christ," Gabriel said. "Our families have been hurt greatly in America because God is under assault; his people, our kids, should get the same opportunity to explore their faith, just like any other area of their lives."
Gabriel was blessed, greatly he said, and looks forward to returning to El Salvador, "as long as God will allow me the opportunity."
Hallock, who shared his testimony openly and often, said his experiences in El Salvador have been among the greatest of his life.
"I will never forget this trip," he said. "It was cool to see how the Lord placed a burden on my heart for sharing Christ through football - and how I was able to go back there and work with the young people again."
It's exciting to Hallock that football "is starting to get big" in El Salvador.
"We are thankful that we can use it as a platform to tell the people about Jesus Christ," he said. "I love football, but having a personal relationship with Jesus Christ is the most important thing. The people in El Salvador are starving for the truth. To think we were able to go share the love of Christ with them - and teach them football skills at the same time - is amazing."
Boone native Josh Honeycutt and his wife, Angela, also returned for their second year, accompanied by friends from their home church; Mike Northern and sons, Austin and Ridge Northern of Boone, were a part of the team, too.
"Last year, Josh and I absolutely fell in love with the country and its people," Angela said. "So, this year we took a team of 10 people from The Lambs Chapel, our church in Haw River. It's hard to put into words the makeover our hearts have received from taking these trips."
Angela called it "almost overwhelming," that the people there were so welcoming and loving.
"It's amazing that we can go into schools and spread the good news of our great God there, especially since we can't even do that in our own country," she said.
The Honeycutts are grateful for the opportunity, they said, to help others, and hopefully make a difference, but they admit the blessings they receive in return are much greater.
"We have made lifelong friendships and will be connected with this beautiful country of El Salvador for a very long time," they said.
Mike Northern's trip highlight, he said, was seeing his sons share their testimonies about what Jesus had done for them with other kids their age and to help lead them to Christ.
"My only regret is that I waited this long to take a mission trip," he said. "All God expects is our willingness to go out and tell others about him. You don't have to be perfect."
For Austin Northern, it was teaching others about American football, going into a different school each day to share his faith and to invite them to Soyfest, which he described as a grand finale at the end of the week.
Several thousand young people attended the event held in a large arena, Wilson said, which included the American football clinic, several sports competitions, a car show, a motorcycle stunt team, inflatables and a high school band playing Christian music. Wilson delivered a gospel message over the loud speaker, as well.
Before the event, Hallock said, "We were able to go there and pray over the fields and ask the Lord to bless everything that we were going to do and to bless what would happen. We serve a God who communicates with all languages, and yet the message is still the same: His grace is sufficient for you, me, and the whole world."
Ridge Northern said that just by walking into the schools, he could feel that the students were hungry for good news, but that he could also feel God working.
"Every time I shared my faith, there might not have been one person raise their hand," he said, "but I knew that a seed was being planted in their hearts. I hope someone else comes along to help them grow their faith."
From one visit to another, Wilson said he has seen evidence of life-changing experiences through translators, police, inmates and their guards, as well as with children, youth, college students and their parents.
"We share the good news of Jesus Christ with these precious people," he said. "We show them respect, provide meals and do it all in a courteous, nonconfrontational way."
The majority of those they serve live in poverty, Wilson said, adding, "The average home where we go consists of eight people and a monthly income of about $240."
Wilson is planning a return trip to El Salvador in March 2015, with hopes of hosting a nationwide evangelistic effort with 50 teams spread across the country.
For more information on joining Wilson's ministry through going or giving, call (828) 773-3441.
Tax-deductible donations may be mailed to Johnny Wilson Evangelistic Association Inc., P.O. Box 3412, Boone, NC 28607.