Joao Leite da Silva Neto
Joao Letie - God's Goal Keeper
The Mineirao Soccer Stadium was packed. The decisive game ended in a draw. The Brazilian champion of 1977 would be decided through penalty kicks. Atletico had already wasted two chances by throwing out the ball. Now it was Sao Paulo ís team turn. The ball was placed on the penalty mark. The soccer commentator on the radio studio was shouting as much as he could, and his thousands of listeners all over the country were eagerly listening: "This is the last chance! It's now or never! Sao Paulo's hopes are in the feet of Getlio, and those of the Atletico are in the hands of Joao Leite, God's goal keeper! Now I want to see whether God really is with this guy!"
Fighting for an ideal
Joao Leite was born in Belo Horizonte in 1955. He was very poor as a child and soon started dreaming of one day becoming a great goal keeper.
This dream cost him much sacrifice, perseverance, and dedication. A good goal keeper has to practice for up to six hours a day in order to keep in shape his reflexes and the elasticity of his body. Leite had to grow patient and he underwent heavy practicing before he was accepted as Atletico's third goal keeper.
After much hardship which lasted a long time, he didn't have any perspective of eventually making to the top team. He would walk about in sadness and was constantly asking God for a chance to be hired by a small team in the interior since his Atletico had the famous Argentine Ortiz as its main goal keeper. Leite didn't even think he could rise up to Ortiz's level one day. But unexpectedly Ortiz had a row with the coach and left the team. To everybody's surprise, Joao Leite was called to replace him in the actual game that followed.
I felt OK, I was well prepared, physically and technically. But I was totally unprepared psychologically. I thought that if I ever lost an easy ball I would never again have the courage to play again. What if that just happened during my very first game? I sought Go, my last resort. I couldn't go through that all by myself!
When Leite entered the soccer field and saw the huge Mineirao Stadium packed to the brim - it is one of the largest stadiums in the world - his heart went dead cold. His knees trembled and started knocking each other.
When he reached his goal, before the referee's whistle calling the game to a start. He remembered a verse he had seen in the Bible: "Fear not. I am with you wherever you go." He understood that he was not alone in that goal.
He immediately put his trust in God. He calmed himself and caught all the balls. He did so well that he became goalie number one of his team for the next ten years! He participated in all decisive games, he earned many titles and played also for the Brazilian national squad in the 1980 world championship.
A Bible give-away mania
What about this mania, I mean, distributing Bibles to his adversaries? How did he get into this?
I wanted peace and happiness. I thought these things would come by through fame and money. With the passing of time, however, I realized that my famous and rich colleagues didn't have any peace or happiness. I noticed also that my sisters, who had no money, had everything I wanted besides the assurance of eternal life. That bothered me. I was scared all the time and worried about what might happen to me after death.
Saved by a finger
One day, during practice, a player kicked the ball and when I did my defense I broke one of my fingers. In the x-ray room I began to cry uncontrollably. The doctor tried to comfort saying that I would be OK in about one month's time. But that didn't help at all. The pain was not physical. I arrived home and I said to my sister: "Let's go to church! I want to turn my life over to Jesus!"
Because of that broken finger I was convinced that without Christ my destiny would be eternal separation from God. In my heart I knew that "the wages of sin is death." I understood that Christ paid for my guilt with His death in order to reconcile my self with God.
After that incident, which was in fact the most important event of my life, everything changed. I used to be unsure of myself before; I was superstitious, a liar, I feared all kinds of things. I looked like a nice guy in the eyes of society but I was totally apart from the standards of God. Now I enjoy peace, happiness, I feel safe and secure in Jesus. He is with me during practice, in the games, through trials and temptations, in the goal area, in my triumph as well as in my times of defeat. He is with me when I am injured and when I have to defend penalty kicks. He gives technical skills, good physical condition and intuition to jump in the right direction when I know that the player is about to kick the ball.
That's exactly what happened in that final game in the 1977 tournament.
The referee blew his whistle and Getlio kicked the ball as hard as he could. The ball swooshed like a torpedo . . . And then the radio announcer shouted to the top of his lungs and from the bottom of his heart: "Joao Leite caught the ball! Truly this is God's goal keeper!"
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