The World Cup and Germany

Those of you who know us well will probably have picked up on a few details about us. Though we have a heart for all the peoples of Europe, we are especially connected to Germany and her people because we have spent so much of our lives there. German is the language we will learn first, and Germany the country where we will live. You also may have noticed that we’re not exactly sports fans. I don’t own a jersey for my favorite football team, because I don’t have a favorite football team. Nor is my lack of interest in football due to my affection for some other sport. Even as far back as High School, my varsity letters were in Drama, Music, and managing the girls soccer team. (Which I can assure you had nothing to do with an interest in soccer.)

Given the stature of the World Cup, and particularly it’s popularity in Europe, we thought it would be wise for ministry reasons for us to at least pay some modicum of attention to what happened. It was deeply surprising to us, as we began tracking the USA and Germany, to discover that within both Brandy and I, lived an avid soccer fan. Those of you who did follow the Cup will have noted that the USA was eliminated in the first round, but Germany went on to take third place in the tournament, defeated only once – and by Italy, the World Champions. The Germans, naturally, were ecstatic. But therein lies the story…

As a people, the Germans are reserved and somewhat cynical. Being defeated in both world wars has robbed them of the national pride that we take for granted, and a combination of socialism and secular humanism has left them with a tendency to see the dark side of things.

Their World Cup team had a new coach this year, Jurgen Klinsmann. To the soccer faithful he is well known, once a great star of the game when he played for Germany, retiring in 1998, a Olypic Medalist, a World Cup winner, and one of the finest soccer players of all times. However, the Germans were not pleased with Klinsmann as a coach. He had settled in Los Angeles, and was communting to Germany for his coaching duties. He brought with him American Sports Psychologists, and worst of all, he selected players for his starting line up based on performance rather than reputation. This was most costly in the case of Oliver Kahn, Munich’s famous goal keeper, a man some have described as a national hero — and world famous for his abilities, who wound up sitting the bench for nearly the entire World Cup.

So as their team entered the World Cup, Germans muttered bitterly about “California Klinsmann” and the team that would be lucky to make it to the quarter-finals. It didn’t take long for them to come around. The German team’s run for the cup was almost magical. Coming away with third place, the Golden Foot Award (for the highest scoring player), and the Most Promising Young Player Award, isn’t bad for a team that would be lucky to make it to the quarter-finals. The Germans were a transformed people during the World Cup, waving the flag and grinning from ear to ear as they unabashedly showed the world they love their team.

photo copyright 2006 AFP

Why is this important? Afterall, this blog is really about seeing the Germans become Christians, not about what kind of soccer fans they are. It’s important because I see it as another piece of the puzzle. Another hopeful sign dropping into place. For fifty years, the Germans have been a people without hope or faith. Today, as they have begun reexamining the faith they left behind, they have also rediscovered hope. It may only be in a trivial soccer game, but I think it tells us about something deeper happening in the spirit of the people. This isn’t the first time Germany has done well in the Cup, and yet this time is different.

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