When Ruth Farrell’s adopted son Andrew was 3 years old, she noticed something different about him when he was playing on the playground.
“On the jungle gym other kids would jump, hit the ground and stop,” she said. “Then they’d start running.”
With Andrew, it was one fluid motion.
“He’d hit the ground running,” she said. “I thought, ‘Whoa, where did that come from?’”
This Sunday, the world will see that innate gift on display on a much bigger playground.
Now 22, Andrew is a starting defender for the New England Revolution, which will battle the Los Angeles Galaxy in Major League Soccer’s national championship game.
While his MLS bio talks about his lightening quick first step, there is so much more to Andrew’s story than his pure athleticism.
“When you adopt or have a child, you have no idea where the journey is going to take you,” says Ruth.
Ruth and her husband, Hunter, added Andrew to their family in Louisville after serving as missionaries for the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) in the Congo, where they adopted Ndaya and Will.
“Andrew’s first words were ‘Faster, faster,’” Ruth said, adding that he constantly heard these words when playing with his older brother, Will.
“It’s almost like he started walking and running at the same time, chasing after his older brother, always with a soccer ball,” Ruth said.
When he was five, Andrew joined his first soccer team in the Highland Youth Recreation league. Ruth helped coach the team, which never lost a game.
“I’m undefeated as coach,” she laughed. “His next team was quite a step up.”
That same year the Farrells moved to Peru to begin another missionary stint. Andrew and Will, who is Peruvian, joined a soccer team coached by three Peruvian World Cup soccer players.
Andrew was playing with the children of folks living on $3 a day. They’d often hold collections in Lima so the boys could get to soccer practice on the city’s buses.
The Farrells returned to Louisville when Andrew was 15. Hunter became director of Presbyterian World Mission and Ruth became coordinator of the Presbyterian Hunger Program.
Andrew went Atherton High School. Playing on a team made up of students from Mexico, Congo, Sudan and Guatemala, he earned a scholarship to the University of Louisville.
As a 20-year-old junior, Andrew was the No. 1 pick in the MLS draft in 2013. New England traded up two picks to get him.
“God’s hand has been in this,” Ruth said. “Coach Jay Heaps [head coach of the New England Revolution] and the entire organization, on down, has been perfect for him.”
“We’re so grateful for all of his coaches, who always were as concerned about making a good person as they were about soccer players,” Hunter said.
In June, Andrew joined three Revolution teammates at a Prom to Remember night for teens battling cancer. The players put on their best suits to pose for prom photos and walked down the red carpet to dance with the students.
Andrew struck up an email correspondence with the father of a child with cancer who had read about the prom night.
A couple of weeks ago, the Farrells received an email from Andrew detailing his relationship with the father. “Please pray for this family,” it read.
“Maybe this is part of the gift we get from Andrew being in the limelight,” Hunter said. “We got to see how he interacted with this hurting family.”
“We began to think about all of those Sundays with our children, all the prayer requests we’d get,” Ruth said. “You realize for your child’s spiritual journey — some of it stuck.”
After Andrew’s last game, his coach saw something else.
“He said, ‘The great thing about Andrew is he would play with the same intensity if he were in someone’s backyard,’” Hunter said.
Hearing that brought back memories of all the children playing together.
“Each one is so different — Andrew is gifted in soccer — but each one has brought amazing joy into our lives, each in their own way is rising to the next level,” Hunter said.
After driving 11,000 miles watching Andrew play soccer this year, the Farrells will be in different places for Sunday’s MLS championship game.
Hunter and Will are flying to Los Angeles. Ruth will watch the game in Peru, where she’s attending a climate change conference. Ndaya will watch the game from her home in Indianapolis.
“Presbyterians can watch the game this Sunday at 3 p.m. Eastern Standard Time on ESPN,” she said with great enthusiasm. “Go Revs!”
Hunter smiled. “She is the ultimate soccer mom. We are grateful and give thanks to God.”