A BRAZILIAN IN ULAN BATOR – Footballer and missionary

Joaquim Magalhães de Castro

Jardel da Silva, a native of Curitiba, state of Paraná, Brasil, opted for distant Mongolia to live. Or rather, “to fulfill the mission that is destined for me,” in his own words. In addition to being a footballer, Jardel is a missionary.

The first year spent in the Mongolian capital was devoted entirely to learning the local language. The result is clear: he speaks fluent Mongolian. From the very beginning he was accompanied by his wife, Ines, and the little Joshua who took the first steps in this land of rolling mountains and very blue sky. Jardel admits that the beginning was quite difficult, “You can imagine how it cost me, accustomed to the heat all year, the rigor of winter here.” He remembered that he wore overcoats, such was “the dread of catching a cold.” The cultural difference was reflected in an increased difficulty in communication. “These people’s way of thinking and acting is completely different from ours.” He complains, by the way, of the Mongols’ lack of punctuality, and then adds: “But in this respect they do not differ much from Brazilians, do they?” He feels, however, integrated into the local society and is even recognized on the street. “I’m half famous here …,” he says with a twinge of vanity. That does not hurt his image, since he is genuinely humble.

Originally from a poor family, Jardel was destined to play with rag ball and a “bottle of empty plastic vinegar.” Just like many of the current vedettes of Brazilian soccer. At the age of 12, Jardel joined the Pinheiros club of the local division of the state of Paraná and at 16, when most of his colleagues had already left the ball, he joined Atletico Paranense. “From a total of 70 children, only I went through this stage.” A fundamental step that would lead him to ascend to Curitiba, team of the top league.

We are in 1985, the year in which the Curitiba is the national champion. Jardel remains at the club until the age of 21. There he befriends a member of an evangelical church that invites him to participate in a retreat. Jardel confesses to having acceded to the invitation, taking it as “an excellent opportunity to find a girlfriend.” The retreat, however, changes his perception of life. He decides that he must further deepen “my knowledge of Jesus.” Football, that was everything to him then, passes to the second plan from there on.

With 21 years and a unique opportunity ahead of embarking on professional football, Jardel has to make a choice. He still hesitates but concludes that God had given him the task of “teaching children to play football.” So he abandoned his professional career to create a kindergarten in Curitiba. The local church pays him “a symbolic salary,” that allows him to stay ahead of the “little school” for two years.

A chance encounter with a couple who was living in Mongolia helps him make the decision. He was going to Central Asia! But before such a distant stop, preparations had to be made. Learn English, for example. In London he joined YWAM – Youth With a Mission. He attended a soccer technique course “recognized by Fifa,” where he received not only physical but also psychological preparation, plus “notions of nutritionism, safety in the field, etc …” A course essentially practical, “the lectures were exhausted in a week.”

He arrived in Mongolia accompanied by his family in July 2001. Two hours after leaving the plane, he is at the local stadium. “I talked to the players and their coach and I asked them if I could play with them.” A month later he joined the squad. In the second year, his services are requested by the national champion team. As a coach-player.

Due to the arduous climatic conditions the Mongolian championship summed up to two months of the year: July and August. In it only five teams participate. Basically, “it’s just a summer tournament, where only 14 matches are played.”

Regarding the current football situation in Mongolia, Jardel says that “although sport is not very active in the country, there are potential talented players.” There are, however, some serious problems. One of them is the lack of place to train during the winter. Heated gymnastic pavilions must be rented. Which makes sports practice too expensive.

But the problem is mostly structural. And to help solve it one have to encourage the practice of the modality among the younger players. That is why Jardel decided to start a “school” – the UB United Football Club – currently attended by about eighty children. Mostly children of expatriates from sixteen countries. But they also include children who are orphaned, abandoned or neglected. Providing an opportunity to these disadvantaged, “the opportunity I did not have when I was their age,” is the great goal of Jardel.

At UB United Football Club, “where they teach in English and Mongolian,” children practice twice a week. On Wednesdays, the Brazilian reunites the parents of the children “in a sporting conviviality with international characteristics.”

Children who can afford it do pay a monthly fee, which allows the others, “street children,” to attend classes for free. This congregation is important to Jardel. For “by living with the poor children, the children of the richest will grow up to become adults aware of the existence of the most deprived ones. They will certainly be more fraternal human beings.” Jardel is convinced of that.

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