CLINTON, Miss.- What started out as a mission trip to Costa Rica in 1996 has grown into one of Mississippi’s premier sports franchises, and a pretty incredible story. Back in 1996, the choir at First Baptist Church of Clinton went on a tour that took them down to Costa Rica. While they were there, they were contacted by a missionary that was working with them that let them know about a soccer tournament that was happening across from the church where they were singing that night. Apparently a bus had broken down with one of the teams that was supposed to play in it, so the Costa Ricans invited some “gringos” to come play and give them a little tune-up, with the expectation of running right through them. What they didn’t know, was that five gentlemen on the trip were soccer players at Mississippi College in Clinton. So the guys borrowed some shorts and tennis shoes, and jumped right into the tournament, and shocked the small Costa Rican community by making it all the way to the finals. They drew crowds. People over the city wanted to come watch these Americans play futbol.
While they were playing in the tournament, they noticed a gentleman playing on one of the teams that looked to be quite a bit older, and a little out-of-place. The man approached them after their final game, and introduced himself. He turned out to be a sports evangelist that serviced the entire country of Costa Rica. He was impressed by the gringos’ skill on the pitch, and presented them with an idea. Rusty Bryant was one of the five in that group.
“I know that God put us on that field that day together for a reason,” Bryant said. “So he approached me and said ‘man, look at all these people.’ He said ‘how awesome would it be if yall brought a real team, and we played for a week and you used soccer as your platform to share the gospel.’ And so, it just kind of got the wheels turning, and we left and came back home, and within three months we were back with our first team, and that’s how Brilla came about.’’
Brilla is the Spanish word for shine, taken from Matthew 5:16, which says
“In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.”
So they went back to Costa Rica with the purpose of… shining, and using soccer to be able to share the gospel with the people there.
From then on, when they returned home to Clinton, they began to play in tournaments, host camps, speak at luncheons. Their ministry was growing like wildfire, and their soccer skills weren’t too shabby either. They used the Spanish name “Brilla” as a tool to spark conversation, to get Mississippians asking what it meant, and why that name.
“I always thought that I was going to be on a church staff, and God just really said this was a way to reach more people,” Bryant added.
2007 was the year they decided to take it to the next level, and purchase the franchise rights to the Mississippi Brilla FC in the Premier Development League. This is when the youth club began, and the Urban Soccer, which is their inner-city ministry.
Players on the Brilla come from all corners of the world. Out of at least thirty players, about ten of them are local, from Mississippi, but the rest are from elsewhere. Their team this year consists of fifteen international players, who either played in another country, or came to American to play at an American college. They like to recruit Christian players, but they also see this as an opportunity to witness to their own teammates.
“There was a kid from South Africa that came in, and we asked him about his spiritual life,” Bryant said. “And he said ‘I don’t understand.’ And we said ‘well can you tell us about your relationship with Jesus?’ and he said ‘who is Jesus?’ and so naturally, we told him. When he walked out the door, Scott and I looked at each other, and said you know, that’s why this team exists; is for a guy like him, not for just a bunch of Christian soccer players.”
Listen to our entire interview with the General Manager of the Mississippi Brilla, Rusty Bryant, HERE: