The Softball Tournament That's Bringing New Churches to Paraguay
Image: Joey Kyber / Pixabay

Stephen Copeland is the author of Quiet Dream, Violet Sky, which explores the history of Roanoke, Virginia’s Interstate Softball Tournament. The book is due to be released in 2017; this article presents a part of its story.

Missionary Norberto Kurrle looks out the bus window across the Paraguayan countryside, with its golden fields, scattered shrubs, and distant hills. The sun is setting. Thin, smoky clouds hang over the horizon. However tranquil the scene might be, though, it is impossible to ignore that it was on this very road—Route 1, one of the six main highways in Paraguay—that Norberto, now 44, experienced a tragedy as unexplainable as God’s own mind.

On a foggy morning in April 2012, Norberto was traveling to the capital of Asuncion with his wife Julie, their only son Timothy, and their newly-adopted daughter Anahi to finalize her adoption papers. As he drove, a truck, which was haphazardly parked on the side of the road, emerged from the blanketing haze and crunched into the right side of the Kurrles' car, killing his beloved wife and only son. In an instant, Norberto’s family was stripped from four to two.

Not long ago, Norberto’s green eyes might have burned with anger or ached with sadness while traveling down this road. Tonight, however, they are somehow at ease, matching his soft-spoken demeanor and gentle persona. In fact, his face is glowing.

Much of Norberto’s joy is because he is reunited with his best friend, Chad Briscoe, 43, an athletic director at Grace College in Winona Lake, Indiana. Chad and his wife, Jamie, have traveled to Paraguay to visit Norberto and the entire Kurrle family (Norberto's three siblings and his parents)—all of whom are full-time missionaries in Paraguay. And the Briscoes have traveled here, 5,000 miles away from their Indiana home, all because of a church softball tournament that unites them with the Kurrles—a tournament that was started in 1978, nearly 40 years before, and that connects two families and two places that are an entire world apart.

The Coal Miner’s Daughter and the Missionary Kid

On this evening, their reunion is almost as incomprehensible and surreal as their unlikely history. That's because there was a time, not long ago, when each of them wondered if this day would ever come. The Briscoes recently emerged from their own storm, as Jamie was diagnosed with Stage 3 breast cancer at the mere age of 32, just one year after Norberto’s car accident. Now she is cancer-free.

At the moment, Norberto is telling the Briscoes about his wife, Nancy, who had also been widowed, and how their son’s due date is three weeks away.

“We are going to name him Dominic,” Norberto tells them. “It means ‘Belonging to God.’”

The deep tie between the Briscoes and the Kurrles can be traced back long before Chad and Norberto were even born, when the matriarchs of their families, Twila Briscoe (then Tucker) and Tabita Kurrle (then Meier), roomed together as freshmen at Anderson College in 1962. Twila, a coal miner’s daughter from the mountains of West Virginia, and Tabita, a missionary kid from the jungles of Argentina, found themselves at Anderson because of their shared Church of God roots and their interests in ministry. They became best friends. Sisters. Confidants.

“From the moment I met her, it was as if a long-lost sister had come home,” Twila reflects. “I remember it like it was yesterday. There is no person on this Earth I treasure more than Tabita Meier Kurrle.”

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The Softball Tournament That's Bringing New Churches to Paraguay