Stories

Rugby League, Jesus and me

Date posted: 26/10/17

Frank Mayfield 

Anticipation is building towards the Rugby League World Cup, with England facing defending champions Australia in Melbourne in the opening match on Friday (27th October). With the showpiece tournament taking place Down Under, it also brings back many happy memories for Frank Mayfield. Frank played for England in the 2008 Student Rugby League World Cup in Brisbane and here reflects on his journey of playing and witnessing for Jesus in the 13-man code.     

It was one of the best few weeks of my life. I got a late call to the squad after one of the wingers got injured, so just making it there was so special. We beat the Kiwis in the semis, which was amazing. Facing the haka was incredible. They were the world champions from four years before, but we managed to grind out a great win.

In the final, we came up against the Australians, coached by one the greatest players to ever pull on a rugby league jersey, Brett Kenny. Amazingly, we led 10-0 at half time, but the Aussies came out like men possessed in the second half in front of a vocal home crowd and scored 26 unanswered points to take the game away from us. We scored a consolation try in the final minutes to make the score 26-16, but it was not enough.

There were a few tears in the dressing room afterwards and a lot of the guys were really gutted, but looking back now, it was still an amazing experience. It was undoubtedly the highlight of my sporting life, to sing the national anthem in that cup final is a moment I’ll never forget.

Worshipping and witnessing

The privilege of having the gifts to play rugby at that level was something I am so thankful to God for. I really tried to thank Him by playing for Him. I also had a real sense of His calling because I was the only player in the squad who was a Christian. If I hadn’t been there, there wouldn’t have been anyone to share the gospel with them. I felt I was in there for a reason.

Frank MayfieldNot only was it an amazing experience on the field, it was also a very memorable three weeks being together as a squad. As a Christian, it gave me opportunities to share my faith in Jesus, being so tight knit with the boys, sharing everything together. It opened up numerous doors to speak about my relationship with Christ and how it impacts my life.

As has always been the way in every rugby league team I’ve played for, I was the only Christian, which comes with its challenges, but I was fortunate enough to belong to a very strong Christians in Sport group at Leeds Met University and we had been praying together in the weeks leading up to the tournament for open doors for the gospel.

It was so great to know that I had mates praying for me back home and texting me, keeping me sharp and accountable.

Community

One thing I love about rugby league is the sense of family and belonging. It’s no secret that it’s a very regional sport, concentrated in the M62 corridor and entrenched in working class culture. Every team I’ve ever been part of has had such a strong sense of community and identity and are a key part of the local area.

Having also grown up in Halifax, West Yorkshire has always been a big part of my life. Whilst playing for a local amateur club after uni, Stanningley in West Leeds, I was struck by the sheer amount of people I was fortunate enough to meet who were deeply invested in the club. Whilst there, I was able to share the gospel with numerous members of the club including my coach who took such an interest that we began reading Mark’s gospel together and I later had the joy of seeing him give his life to Christ.

Interestingly, I only played a small part in his journey. His lifelong friend who we had played alongside as a boy was a Christian and had faithfully witnessed to him over the years. Humanly speaking, he sowed the seed and did an awful lot of watering! I only played a small part in God drawing him to Himself and It was a great privilege to see God bring about the harvest after many years of prayer and faithful witness from his friend.

People of peace

When I moved down to London, I played for Hemel Stags, a new club in Championship One. An old uni mate joined too and God gave me opportunities to witness to him too, We had some great chats on our car journeys together and it gave me a chance to explain a bit more about the Christian faith.

Frank MayfieldMy work as a personal trainer means I’m semi-retired now.I really do miss rugby league, but I’m still following the game and in touch with my old mates. There were plenty of challenges being a Christian in rugby league, not least the drinking culture.

You wonder to yourself, ‘should I be in this environment?’ But then you have to keep reminding yourself, ‘well if I drop out and start playing in a Christian rugby team, then where’s the light going to be, where’s the witness going to be?’ Sometimes it’s quite a dark place to be, but that’s all the more reason to be in that place and try and shine a light for Christ.

It’s looking to those people of peace who do want to talk. Often they come to you as well. Obviously you’re trying with everyone to serve and love them, and say something when you can, but it’s often them that make the move towards you and want to know more.

Prayer

Prayer is the best thing you can do. Pray for your teammates, your coaches, everyone. Ask God for opportunities and for open doors to share the gospel. Also, are there people keeping you accountable when they know you’re on a night out for example?

If you’re joining a new club, try to take the first opportunity you have to speak of Jesus. It’s harder to say something later on if you haven’t before. If someone asks you what did you do at the weekend, that’s an easy opportunity to talk about church, how big a part it plays in your life and and how encouraging it is. Think about how you can serve. That can have a big impact and people will really notice. Take the lead in inviting your teammates round, introduce them to your Christian friends. 

Frank MayfieldI am praying for more workers in the harvest field. The harvest field is plentiful, but the workers are few. I have just been struck by the small number of Christians I am aware of in the world of rugby league. It would just be really awesome to see more people getting stuck in and sticking their hand up and really wanting to witness.

Go for it

One of the things I love about rugby league, it’s such a tight-knit community. For churches, who are close to a local club, there would be so many opportunities to serve if you go looking for them.

I’d urge any Christians out there in the world of rugby league to use the World Cup as an opportunity to rub shoulders with your teammates and spend time around your local club. Maybe open up your home and invite some of your mates round to watch the game, have a meal and pray for God to be at work, giving you opportunities to share your faith in Christ.

For news, fixtures and information, you can visit the Rugby League World Cup website here.

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