Not lucky, just blessed, says Ode Fulutudilu
For someone who started life as a Congolese refugee, it is especially amazing that Ode Fulutudilu has played for South Africa in their third-place finish in the 2014 African Women's Championships.
Having achieved her dreams Ode has some advice for young aspiring soccer players and sportspeople.
"Never give up on the burning desires that God has placed in your heart," Ode advises young players.
"It is never going to be easy and expect obstacles but don't allow them to discourage you from your dreams,"
Ode's amazing story reveals how important a personal relationship with God was to the direction of her life.
After being separated from her mother due to the conflict in DRC Congo, Ode and her father lived with his brother and his wife.
"My father had no money and we were relying on my uncle to feed and put a roof over our heads," Ode explains.
At age six she recalls, "I was sent home from school in first grade due to the fact that my father did not have the money for me to continue going to school. I was out of school for two or three years."
It was a devastating blow because, she says, "My own father and mother did not have the chance to finish primary school in Congo."
But that was not the end of her story, because that same year Ode asked God to be in control of her life.
"I attended a (Christian) Sunday school when I was young and it was always one of my favorite things to do," she says.
"I grew to love Jesus and at the age of six I gave my life to Him because I wanted Him to help my father and I."
Two years later Ode says, "God provided the means for me to continue my education."
Her father was unable to find work in South Africa, so he moved back to Congo and placed Ode in a children's home.
"I began playing soccer in the children's home," Ode recalls. "They always encouraged me to play the game."
A British missionary working in South Africa began fostering her at age 14, and Ode's faith in God was nurtured by her new mom.
“Hang on and never give up”"I recommitted my life to Him when I was a teenager," Ode says.
"I realized that I was a sinner (in rebellion against God) and needed Jesus in my life and to take control of my past and future."
Ode's soccer talent was soon recognized. She was supported by generous donors in answer to her prayers, and she won a soccer scholarship to Lee University in America.
There she played for the ladies team who won the National Inter-university Soccer tournament two years running.
"Since my second attempt at school till this very day, God has paid for my education in full," Ode explains.
"I have no loans to worry about when I graduate with a BA in Sociology, because He paid it all! I am not lucky ... I am blessed."
Ode finished her degree in 2014 and moved back to South Africa. She is now training hard to gain selection in South Africa's 2016 Olympic team in Rio, and is pursuing registration as a social worker.
"After doing well in America, I was extremely excited to be called up for the South African senior national team. It was amazing to see God being faithful in all the hard work that I had put in all my life," she says.
What other advice would Ode give to girls who aspire to play soccer? "Never be satisfied with just being good. Always strive to be the best that you can be and make sure that the habits that you have today are on point to the dreams that you have for tomorrow. Whatever you do on a regular basis today will determine where you will be tomorrow.
"Hang on to the words of God as lamp and direction for your feet not what others say or what they think is best because what God has whispered to your heart is not always made known to everyone else. So hang on and never give up!"•