Monday, February 23, 2015

Thank God for the Minnows

Q. What do Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Scotland, United Arab Emirates and Ireland have in common?
A. They're all currently competing in the Cricket World Cup. #cwc15

The highly stratified world of cricket currently consists of the top 10 international teams (Full Members: who are the only teams permitted to play the 5 day Test matches) and the 38 Associate nations who are trying to reach the top tier and then  57 Affiliate nations who don't really have a national governing body in place.

In the meantime, the Associates compete amongst themselves for the honor of playing with the big boys in the Cricket World Cup or T20 World Cup. Occasionally, the Associate teams may play matches against Full Members outside of world cups, but these opportunities are extremely limited.

Among the Full Members, Sri Lanka entered the club in 1981. Zimbabwe played its first test match in 1992. While it retains full membership, it withdrew itself from test competition in 2006. Bangladesh became the 10th test playing nation in 2000.

Each of these nations competed as Associates before making the transition to Full Member competitors. However, progress has been slow for these teams. After winning just four games out of 26 during the first five ICC Cricket World Cup tournaments, the next edition brought the most unlikely winner of a major international cricket tournament thus far. 20 years in the making, Sri Lanka's victory over Australia in the 1996 final was the breakthrough moment for this team. Similarly, Bangladesh has only won two test series since 2000.

Although the top teams in world cricket form a pretty tight clique, I love that the Associate nations are involved in the World Cup. I love that sometimes they scare the big boys, and I love that occasionally they defeat them.  This article is a good read on the Associate's quest for an upset.

I love that players drawn from a combination of indigenous teams and the ad-hoc competitions along the Pakistan border refugee camps can represent Afghanistan on cricket's biggest stage and compete against defending champions India with its population of 1 billion.

I love that United Arab Emirates can put together a team of expatriate Indians, Pakistanis and a few Emiratis who compete despite their religious and cultural differences.

I love that the Full Members are willing to risk their reputations because they know that including these "minnows" benefits the future of cricket as whole. (Strangely, the ICC currently plans to exclude minnows from the 2019 World Cup.) Smaller and weaker nations need motivation to improve and playing in major international tournaments provides that goal.

I'm not suggesting that Australia and Pakistan are taking the attitude John the Baptizer showed to Jesus when he said, "He must become greater; I must become less". (John 3:30) But they are honoring the spirit behind 1 Tim 4:12, "Don't let anyone look down on you because of your youth...".

Many churches invest a great deal of time and energy into helping teens learn and grow spiritually. I'm so glad they do. The next step is to provide opportunities for young adults to involve themselves in the kingdom work of the church. Many times, only the most active and extroverted young adults find their way into active ministry within a church because older more established members fill most of the positions.

Churches need to intentionally create space for young adults and new Christians to explore their giftedness and grow through involvement. Just as their participation in the World Cup will do wonders for the future of cricket in Afghanistan, even if they don't win a single match, churches encourage young Christians by inviting them to participate and learn skills in the process. Ultimately it makes the kingdom of God much stronger.

This development process may involve formal mentoring or internships. It may also require that churches recognise the skills and gifts of younger members and seek to match them with service opportunities. And of course, individuals can always just spend time with young Christians to encourage and guide them.

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