Reporting David McCoy
MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — Football is the most popular American sport, but it’s the other football – soccer — that holds sway as the most popular sport just about everywhere else, with three billion fans worldwide.
Torrey Babb and his wife, Heather, saw that as an opportunity to do something unique and rather creative. They’re missionaries and they figured: What better way to share their message than to put the message right on the most popular ball in the world?
“To you and I, a soccer ball is just another ball,” Torrey Babb said. “But to someone who’s never received anything, maybe never received a birthday present in all their life, never received a Christmas present, many times this is the first gift that they’ve ever received, and it’s the first thing that’s brand new. So many of us, we’ll pack up our old shoes, we’ll send them to Haiti. We pack up our old shirts, we send them to Guatemala. But to give someone something that is brand new, out of the package, it’s just amazing.”
The congregation at Victory Lutheran in Eden Prairie went to church a little sweaty Sunday morning.
They offered to do a 5K run as a fundraiser for the Babb’s ministry, which is called The Mission Ball soccer balls with a missionary message written right on the leather. The Babbs are from the Sioux Falls area, but have taken the mission balls all over the world.
“When we were in Ecuador, we saw kids that were playing soccer with wadded up sacks, tied together,” Torrey said. “And only two blocks away, they were selling soccer balls on the side of the street. But if you can’t buy food and you can’t buy clothing, you’re not going to spend money on a soccer ball.”
So, when Torrey comes with a bag full of mission balls,“It’s like Christmas,” he said. “I tell people in America it’s like giving a teenager a car. Most Americans don’t really appreciate the impact of a soccer ball.
“But to a kid in a third world country who’s grown up just loving the sport, they see that soccer ball and it’s so much more. And to be able to use that to give it to them, and also share the reason why we’re giving it to them, the hope that lies within, to share the gospel with them, it’s just an amazing experience.”
I first met Torrey Babb and his wife in September 2008, when I was working for KELO, the CBS affiliate in Sioux Falls. Back then all they had was 100 prototype balls — and a modest goal.
“Originally it was just going to be a tool for us to use on mission trips,” Torrey said. “And then as we started thinking about it like, well if it’s a trip for us to use on mission trips, it’s going to be a tool for other people to use.”
Two months ago, they surpassed their 50,000th mission ball.
“Never did I imagine,” Torrey said, “that in 4 short years, we’d make them in 30 different languages, we’d have them going out to 60 different countries around the world.”
They’ve taken them to Haiti, Guatemala, Mexico and Pakistan. They sent 2,000 of them to South Africa during the World Cup.
“It’s just so fun to be in a country like Pakistan,” Torrey said, “where we’re really not that welcome as a white American, but when they see that soccer ball, we have that friendship. And I have pictures of guys with big old guns on their backs, but a smile on their face with that soccer ball, arm in arm, because we have that common thing.”
The balls are priced inexpensively so they can get more of them out there. Because of that, they rely on fundraisers to support their ministry. That’s where the 5K event comes in.
“I suppose it’s like owning a burger joint, and every time you sell a burger, you don’t make any money,” Torrey said. “You just can buy another burger.”
They don’t have billions served like the Golden Arches, but they’re on their way.
Babb is already making plans for a big project during the World Cup next year in Brazil.