Spreading God’s Love Through Soccer: Meet Haiti Missionary Rich Mears
From an affluent childhood, to his father’s murder and surviving a gun shot to his own leg during an outreach attempt in Haiti, life has been anything but predictable for Missionary Rich Mears. Risen traveled to Port-au-Prince to catch up with Mears to see firsthand the work he is doing through soccer in the capital city of Haiti and to hear his story of faith, survival and spreading the Gospel.
Interviewed Exclusively for Risen Magazine in Port-au-Prince, Haiti
Risen Magazine: How long have you been in Haiti?
Rich Mears: My wife and I went into full time missions in 1997. We went to Quebec to learn French for a year and a half. We landed in Haiti in March of 2000 with our three children. From 2000-2003, we were living on a mission campus with our children and we were working with the national church in community development. I love soccer so during that time I played with the kids in the neighborhood. I founded a Haitian ministry, called Lemuel Soccer Club, that had a soccer team and they wanted to train the team to do evangelism. That’s how I started doing soccer ministry. I got hooked up with Ambassadors Football through Jon Boggs [who runs the organization’s Global Projects] when he visited Haiti.
From 2003-2006 there was a lot of violence and kidnapping in Haiti that we didn’t want to expose ourselves or our children to. During that time, I went to two trainings with Ambassadors Football and got a M.A. degree in Organizational Leadership. We came back to Haiti in 2006 and I developed a plan we’ve been executing ever since to start local evangelist soccer teams in Christian schools.
RM: What was your childhood like growing up?
RMears: There is a song I like to quote for my early years, Summertime, by Porgy and Bess, that says, “Your dad is rich and your mom is good looking so hush little baby don’t you cry.” Basically, I had a silver spoon kind of childhood. My father was a dentist and my mother was a lawyer so we didn’t struggle for anything materially. I was in a very prestigious private school from the first grade. My dad drove a Cadillac and we had a summer house in the country; it was a great place to go run around in the woods and find swimming holes. I have an older sister and my dad loved music and he played the organ. At one point he was thinking of becoming a professional musician, but the practical side took over and he became a dentist. We always had music around the house. He had a huge record collection. I can remember going to the Opera in New York City when we were nine or ten years old. My parents love to travel too. In the spring of 1970, they took us on a two-week trip to Central America. We went to see the Mayan ruins; at that time they were just excavating them. We went to Mexico, Guatemala, and Honduras to see these ruins. It was one of those deeply unique experiences. Unfortunately, [just months later] in November of 1970, my father was murdered. I was 11 years old and that just changed my whole world. Up until that point I was a spoiled brat because I had everything I wanted. God used that [tragedy] to bring me to Him. In sixth grade there was another kid in my class who invited me to a Boy’s Brigade meeting at his church. That is when I first heard and understood the Gospel.
RM: Wow. Would you be willing to share any details or reason relating to your dad’s murder?
RMears: He had picked up a hitchhiker who was an army soldier. He took him overnight to our summer house. During the night he [the hitchhiker] broke into the gun cabinet and was waiting for my dad when he came to pick him up.
RM: Did they find that individual?
RMears: Oh yeah. They caught him and put him in jail. The most important thing is, if you were that man, I would say, “I forgive you because God forgave me. Even though what you did was bad, I am no better than you.”
RM: How did these circumstances affect your life and faith?
RMears: God used that to help me search for Him. I wasn’t searching for Him because I didn’t need Him. Without a dad I really needed the Lord and thankfully had a grandfather who was Christian who tried his best to help me. He lived far away and was a flawed human being. He had his sins.
I had a silver spoon kind of childhood. My father was a dentist and my mother was a lawyer so we didn’t struggle for anything materially.
RM: All of this happened before you even hit high school. How did your teen years shape up?
RMear: It wasn’t easy. Sports have always been a release and a way to de-stress for me. I can remember kicking a ball against any wall. I remember wrecking the siding of one of the houses and breaking windows. A kickboard was built at the soccer field and I would hit it constantly. My mom says I could never sit still. I could practice sports at school, but I had to take the train 45 minutes to school every day.
I did have a rebellious time. When I was 15 and 16 I fell in the habit of cursing a lot but God helped me get over that. Even though I was exposed to drugs at an early age I’m thankful I never fell into that or smoking. Thankfully God kept me away from sexual sin as well.
RM: How would you classify your relationship with God at that time?
RMears: I was just holding on. I didn’t get a lot of good teaching. It wasn’t until I went to college at University of Pennsylvania that I got good Bible teaching and discipleship.
RM: Just because you had God in your life, it didn’t mean you were now immune to tragedy. In fact just a few years ago your life was threatened by gunpoint as well. What happened?
RMears: It was June 17, 2010, during the World Cup in Haiti. We were trying to do an outreach in Port-au-Prince to help allow people to watch the games and then we would evangelize to the crowds. We bought a video projector and packaged it up. We were going to send it up to the north coast with a bunch of Christian literature to distribute. I had a Haitian friend with me who was in that area. We got up very early and drove down to the bus station. I had known it was a dangerous place so that’s why I didn’t go alone. When we got there I stayed with the car and I told my helper to go to the bus driver and get everything arranged. He did and I drove the car to the bus. I sat in the car while he unloaded the car. I told him to get someone to help him so we could do it quickly. The car doors were opening and I didn’t know who was supposed to be there and who wasn’t.
The next thing I know this guy opened the front door and grabbed my briefcase. I told him not to take it. He showed me he had a gun and I said, “No.” He took the briefcase, which had the video projector in it. Then he grabbed my personal bag, and that’s when he shot me. I didn’t realize I got shot. The bullet went through my thigh and felt more like a bad Charlie horse. The man shot me with a .22. If he had shot me with a bigger caliber gun it would have torn through my leg and shattered the bone. The guy who was helping me sent a driver to me and he took me to the hospital. The first hospital we went to was closed, the second didn’t have a doctor on call, and the third was able to treat me. My colleagues then took me to another hospital where doctors did an operation. I’ve been able to tell that story many times to players, coaches, and the people of Haiti. What’s so ironic was that my dad was killed with a .22 rifle; like father, like son in a way.
RM: Many people would think, “I’ve been a missionary for over a decade, I’ve been shot, its time to head back to the states and move on.” Do you feel that at times? What is driving you to stay in ministry?
RMears: Being in ministry for 15 years or so, I’ve seen a lot of people crash and burn. I have a strong desire to finish well. I may not be able to accomplish everything that I would like to accomplish in Haiti. When I came here most of the schools didn’t have soccer teams or sports teams in general. One of my dreams is to [create] sports in the Christian schools in Haiti. I also would like to found an interscholastic sports league in Haiti. There aren’t any local sports leagues or the NCAA. There aren’t sports leagues that organize tournaments. From a social standpoint, I’d like to be remembered for spreading the Gospel.
After I was shot I never thought about not coming back. I’m not done yet and God hasn’t called me to another place. There are a lot of different challenges I’ve faced. God is good and I don’t feel like He’s done with me yet.