Friday, June 23, 2006

World Cup Fever - Football for a Better World

I didn't grow up a huge soccer fan. I played a few years while really young but then the American dominated sports of American football, baseball and basketball took over my time, energy and interest. I get caught up in college football, Super Bowl fever, the World Series and March Madness. They are must see tv for me. Then I moved to Africa.

Yes, I admit, I woke up in the middle of a few nights, found a friendly ex-pat's satellite tv in town, and watched Super Bowls, national championship games, World Series games, etc. but it just wasn't that convenient and there weren't too many people to share the excitement with.

That's when I came to appreciate the World Cup. I lived in Uganda for the 1998 and 2002 World Cups and even though Uganda was not even close to being in the World Cup picture, it became a national month long hyped event even more so than the Super Bowl is here. World Cup games would shut down the nation, especially when an African country was playing, as everyone tuned in either by tv or radio. It was nearly impossible to not get caught up in the hype. And so I came to appreciate more the world's version of football and the hype of the World Cup. I became a big fan and really enjoyed connecting more with all of my African friends.

Yesterday, as I cheered on and became frustrated by the USA's effort in Germany, I couldn't help but think of the simultaneous ecstatic elation being felt in Ghana and really all over the African continent. Ghana's government declared a 1/2 day holiday for the big game. It was reported that they asked their gold mines to temporarily shut down to allow enough electricity to power all the tvs across the country. That's how big football is in the world.

And in light of the things I've been writing about on this blog, I'm amazed at how a single game can represent so much. The world's football, as it turns out, is a great equalizer. How else could a country of 22 million defeat a country of 299 million? How else could a country that doesn't have enough electricity to power their country topple the world's greatest economic superpower? So, while I'm down that the USA is out and we can't generate a little more soccer interest in this country, I'm elated for hundreds of millions of Africans who look to the joy of a single game for a brief respite from their daily life struggles for survival.

On a related note, you can imagine American football, baseball, and basketball are not primary interests of Africans. Football and baseball especially require too much money to play the game and it's a no-brainer that millions of Africans would not get into games that require so much when clean drinking water is such a chore to obtain. Soccer, or "football" in the rest of the world except the U.S., however can be played anywhere. Wrap some banana leaves up tightly to form a ball, plant some sticks in the ground for goals and voilah, you have a football match. It's one of the few team sports that Africans can afford.

So, as we move through the 2006 World Cup the world will soon begin to look towards the 2010 World Cup. Where? For the first time in history the World Cup will be played on African soil in South Africa. They will be promoting it not only as a South African event but as an African continental event. And what a great opportunity it presents for Africa. The theme that will be unveiled July 7th in Berlin will be "Africa's calling" and there will be a concert called "Football for a Better World." So here's to Africa in getting the world's sports spotlight for the next four years. From FIFA's current president, "We can all applaud Africa. The victor is football. The victor is Africa."

Who knows, maybe my family and I will have to celebrate it by cheering on the USA and all African participating countries in person! One thing is for sure, I'll be cheering on the world's sport of football and the opportunities the 2010 World Cup presents to Africa.

For now, Go Ghana Black Stars!

Saturday, June 17, 2006

Watch Roz on TV

2 p.m. tomorrow on Discovery's Animal Planet channel, 93 year old Roz Carr is interviewed on the show titled: Gorillas Revisited with Sigourney Weaver.

Hopefully someday there will be an entire film devoted to the incredible life of Rosamond Carr. Here's her book.

Wednesday, June 14, 2006

Transformational Travel

What do we do once we're aware of our tendencies towards a superiority complex and we travel the world to do good works? Personally, I love the concept of "transformational travel". Transformational travel has everything to do with being aware of our tendencies towards the superiority complex and engaging in activities while traveling overseas that reflect humility, respect and true concern and love for the people we encounter. I'm not going to go into it any more because there is already some great resources on this concept.

Greg Taylor's blog is focused on this concept right now. Greg's new book How to Get Ready for Short-Term Missions is a must read for those going to new places to share God's love. Tony Campolo's Beyond Borders is a ministry founded on this concept.

As far as individuals go, Sam Shewmaker, has been my personal hero in this regard. I had the privilege of climbing Kilimanjaro with Sam in 1998 and then working with him on several other occasions. Most recently, I heard him give a short speech to Rwanda's President Kagame at Oklahoma Christian University. It was a speech filled with love, respect, and honor. I'm copying the text of his speech below. (I love the "they are not a pitiable people" comment and have already stolen the phrase from him.) That's how you minister to people across the world!

So, if you are traveling to new places or involved in working with the poor, read up on these materials and consider how you can be transformed in your travels as you take the love of Christ with you.

Sam Shewmaker Speech to President Kagame on Behalf of Churches of Christ

Your Excellency, President Kagame and Madame Kagame
Ambassador Nsenga
President and Mrs. Oneal
Distinguished guests
Ladies and Gentlemen

Mwaramutse nyose
Karibuni sana mu Amerika

Your Excellency, we wish to express thanks to you and your people for honoring us by a visit to this campus today. Murakoze!

As a son of Africa myself, it is a special pleasure for me personally to witness the beginnings of a relationship between this Christian University and the Nation of Rwanda.

Your Excellency, as a citizen of the United States of America, I would like to express, on behalf of many of my fellow-Americans, and indeed on my own behalf, a belated, though deeply felt apology – that the government of the United States did not come to the aid of the people of Rwanda in their darkest hour. This fact is a stain on our national honor for which we are deeply sorry.

Some of us have visited your beautiful country and have met some of your beautiful people. While we have been moved to deep grief for the tragedy of Rwanda,
We do not pity the people of Rwanda, because they are not a pitiable people.
We see them as a resilient people who are growing in their hope every day.

Your Excellency, we believe that this is in large part due to your effective leadership. We believe that God has put you and your government in this position of leadership in Rwanda “for such a time as this.”

Many of us present here today represent a fellowship of Christian congregations known as Churches of Christ. As followers of Jesus Christ both in belief and in action, it is our desire to partner with Rwandans in the planting of churches that, in a holistic way, will become communities of healing that meet the spiritual, emotional and physical needs of the people.

It is our desire to work in solidarity along side your people to achieve the goals of your national Vision 2020 – in whatever fields, be they in the field of spiritual development and the planting of churches, the fields of education, of training in business, information technology, in primary health care training, or in strategies to assist families to break out of the cycle of poverty.

We look forward to a harmonious working relationship with Rwanda that expresses Christ’s spirit of compassion and service.

In closing, let me say on behalf of churches of Christ, that we wish you, the government and the people of Rwanda great success and the bountiful blessings of God on your path to national unity, prosperity and well-being.

May God always abide in Rwanda. Imana Ikurinde.

Thursday, June 08, 2006

A Superiority Complex

Jeff Sachs, in his book The End of Poverty: Economic Possibilities of Our Time, writes of a faulty social theory. Here's a quote....

"When a society is economically dominant, it is easy for its members to assume that such dominance reflects a deeper superiority - whether religious, racial, genetic, cultural, or institutional - rather than an accident of timing or geography."

As I read my history books and about various empires and slavery and colonialism, etc. I find this to be without a doubt true. This bad social theory has repeated itself over and over. Here's something else I see as a truth.
"But we see Jesus, who was made a little lower than the angels, now crowned with glory and honor because he suffered death, so that by the grace of God he might taste death for everyone." Hebrews 2:9
Not just a few, but for everyone!
When we lived in Uganda we were fortunate to host many visitors from the U.S. We felt like we were running an active bed and breakfast and we loved it. Of course, many different types of visitors came through. Most we loved and they really helped us to minister and serve our Ugandan friends. Others were a testimony to Sachs quote above - they felt dominant due to their economically powerful culture which made it hard for them to minister. Several college interns would talk about how"lazy" Ugandans were. They would complain, "Why do Ugandans sit around all day long? If they just worked harder they would be better off." It wasn't just a youth thing either. Other older American visitors would use their short visits to expound on all of their solutions to overcome the multiple problems Ugandans faced every day.
Ugandans see the superiority complex of Americans so often that they often just tune them out. (Which says so much about Ugandans - other societies build resentment up to the point of terrorism) But friendships deepened and understanding became much clearer, when we all stopped offering our solutions and began listening more, adapting to their many positive cultural values and behaviors, and in general becoming more humble believing that God created each one of us in His image despite our cultural upbringing. The unemployed 35 year old Ugandan man deep in the village that is suffering right now from AIDS and malaria was made with just as much importance and value in God's eyes as this 35 year old American man sitting in his large home on a fast Internet connection, just finished with my third meal of the day, after having taken medicine to overcome the infection I had last week. I don't know why God gave me all of these things, that I'm so thankful for, but I know that I have these things NOT because I'm any better than my 35 year old Ugandan friends.
The longer we lived in Uganda the more we came to appreciate the value of listening, learning, understanding and humility while interacting with our Ugandan friends. After all, Jesus did those same things for us.