JOHANNESBURG, South Africa Some Christians have miraculous stories of how they came to know Christ. Some have found themselves in the deepest, darkest moments one could possibly imagine and realized there was nowhere left to turn but to a Higher Power.
Clarence Goodson, a defender on the U.S. World Cup team, was not one of those stories.
Raised in a very tight-knit family with strong Christian values in Alexandria, Va., Goodson recognized at an early age the difference in right and wrong and was active in his local church. His parents were strong influences in his life and provided him with a Christian foundation to build his relationship with Christ.
Goodson does recall, however, one of the lower points in his life. Having dreamt all his life of being a professional soccer player, Goodson tried out for the Olympic Development Program and was cut from the district team, which is the lowest level of the league. Discouraged that his dreams may never come true, Goodson knew that however disheartened and disappointed he may be at the time, God was faithful.
"I believe God rewards faithfulness," Goodson said. "If we are obedient and follow Christ with all of our mind, body and soul, we will receive our heart's desires. That's not to say that you can get whatever you want, but if it is in God's will for your life, you will receive abundant joy. I am very proud to say that today, though hard work and putting my faith in Jesus Christ, I am the only person from those ODP tryouts to make the U.S. Men's National Team. Sometimes we think that things could not get much worse, but Christ has a bigger plan set out for each and every one of us."
From the outside, many sports fans idolize the lifestyles of professional athletes, convinced they live a life of luxury, complete with six-car garages, movie-theater-sized televisions and steak dinners every night, with no struggles -- financially or otherwise. That's not always the case for a Christian athlete, Goodson said.
"As an athlete, there are many temptations that the normal, everyday person may not experience," he said. "People want to give you things or ask things of you that are not things Christians should be involved with. As a Christian, we have to know what's right and wrong and recognize that we are in a position as professional athletes to lead others to Christ because of our platform."
Goodson married his wife, Kelsey, in January 2009 and says that she is now the biggest influence in his life. In addition to his wife, he says others who make big impacts on his life spiritually and professionally are his father; Cliff Shaw, the chaplain for FC Dallas in MLS; and his youth soccer coach, Gene Mishalow.
"They are the biggest role models in my life, and I don't make any big decisions without first consulting them because I know they'll always point me in the right direction," Goodson said.
Currently a defender for IK Start in Norway, Goodson says he originally struggled in a country that is spiritually thirsty. Having always been surrounded by strong spiritual influences, the lack of spirituality in Norway was a temporary shock to Goodson, but he quickly recognized the opportunity that presented itself, like he strives to do in every situation.
"Norway lacks the amount of full-fledged Christians that my teams in America had. We do have a few good Christians here that love Jesus Christ," Goodson said. "We are good for each other to pick up when we may be feeling down or going through difficult times. We all need the fellowship of believers in our lives. It's easy today to get sermons and music on the Internet, but that doesn't give you the Christian interaction we all desperately need."
Since he came to Norway in 2008, IK Start has signed other Christian players that Goodson has connected with, and his wife provides a strong spiritual grounding for him as well. When he is home in the United States, he attends First Baptist Church in Springfield, Va.
Goodson's Christian upbringing has molded him into the strong man he is today, and he credits his family for that, knowing he wouldn't be who he is or where he is without them, not only on a professional level, but, more importantly, on a spiritual level.
"Mothers and fathers are extremely important in the growth of a child," he said. "They set the standard for everything in their children's lives, and they are the ones who teach right from wrong, good from bad and how to be a faithful Christian."