When we first planned to hold a soccer camp through Source of Life in Gressier, Haiti I pictured us playing on some rocky hill along a dusty road near the home in the countryside because that was what I had seen in the area the only other time I had been there. But then I heard there was a soccer field nearby that we would be able to use. It’s funny how your mindset can then change. I went from my initial concept of camp to slight disappointment when I saw the field. When I heard, “field,” I pictured flat with grass. What I saw in front of me was more reminiscent of pictures of the “Dust Bowl” from a history book. What little grass there was had two small goats grazing on it (one day we had to abandon the grassy area because of the goats). The dirt penetrated our clothes like nothing I’ve ever seen before. Every clothing item that we brought that was white was stained beyond recovery. Funny though, once the kids showed up and the soccer balls started flying all that other stuff became insignificant, just as it should have been. Months have passed and I can’t wait to get back to that dusty field so that I can watch those kids play soccer.
When it came time to crown our tournament champions for our first ever Freedom FC camp tournament things got a little strange. Standing in the back row towards the center of the team photo lineup stood a tall boy that I had never seen before. Now admittedly I am terrible with faces but he was definitely not one of our campers. He no doubt had assumed there would be a good gift given to the winning team as other awards had already been handed out and I carried with me a bag of twelve new Adidas soccer balls. But there he was, motionless, avoiding all eye contact. When we asked him to step out of the picture he acted as though no one was there. So we did the only thing we could do, we proceeded with him there but did not give him a ball. He had already enjoyed a hot cooked meal intended only for the campers and volunteers so he had a pretty good day nonetheless. Things grew stranger as a little while later another boy, who was a camper, accused me of stealing his award. He wasn’t clear exactly what was taken but I checked the list (for the record I didn’t take anything from anyone) only to find he didn’t finish near the top of any of the three competitions, was not the top goal scorer, nor did he win the award for top goal keeper. To top it all off his team finished next to last in the tournament. It wasn’t until reviewing video weeks later that I saw him standing there with team Byern, celebrating with the soccer ball intended for someone else. WE HAD TWO IMPOSTERS! Someone had taken the ball from him but to this day I don’t know who. Hopefully it was the ball’s rightful owner.
I was frustrated for a little while until it occurred to me that these two boys had likely NEVER received a gift before. Here was their chance. Some rich (or so they assume) guy is just handing out stuff. Now was their turn for a gift. How can you be angry at a kid who just wants to be given something, anything?
Because of these two boys I decided to give away more awards this year. I learned a valuable lesson from those boys and I owe them a debt of gratitude. We look at the outward behavior but there is ALWAYS something going on inside the heart. I hope we reach the hearts of these kids this year.
They say that the clothes make the man. If that’s true then the futball/soccer boots must make the player. That, however, is certainly NOT true. With all the marketing of sports equipment one would assume that was the case though. In 2015 one boy at camp truly stood out with his ball touch. When it came to receiving a pass out of the air with the foot he had no equal. With sixty kids and a language barrier, coupled with the fact that we had only four days together based upon sport, not conversation, we didn’t learn many names. This boy that stood out we called “pinky.” This came from the pink canvas shoes that he wore, certainly not the first choice of soccer players around the world. In Haiti his shoes were nice though. Our one equipment requirement was a shoe that had a closed toe and would not fall off. We repaired several shoes with duct tape on the sidelines and not everyone had shoes that fit properly much less were appropriate for sport. This year we are bringing down cleats. Lots of cleats. Hopefully enough cleats that each child can have a pair. If the boots make the footballers then we are in for a treat this summer.
When I was a little boy I loved to go through my fathers old vinyl albums. My favorites were the Beach Boys, the Beatles, and a song called “That’s My Pa” by Sheb Wooley (I had to look that one up, so should you). The Beatles have a song titled “I Want to Hold Your Hand” that got a lot of play time in our living room. When I think of the song It plays in my mind with the predictable repetitive “I can’t hide, I can’t hide, I can’t hide, I can’t hide, I can’t hide, I can’t hide, I can’t hide” that would go on forever if you forgot to put a coin over the needle head. In Haiti we experienced the holding of hands that goes on and on too.
Werner held a boy’s hand on the walk back from camp to Source of Life for dinner on camp day two and he wound up sponsoring that boy to go to school. Unfortunately, in places like Haiti where the children are the poorest, education is not free. Most kids who are fortunate enough to go to school have no options other than privately run schools where books and uniforms must be purchased as well as tuition payments to be made. That one holding of the hand changed a German footballer turned cabinet maker and one small child forever.
I too held a boy’s hand walking back on our final day of camp. I must point out that my discomfort in holding hands with this boy came from the fact that in America we simply do not hold hands with strangers. Anyone who knows me well also knows I’m not big on holding hands, but that’s beside the point. The walk from the field to the home where we finished camp with dinner each night took about 40 minutes. This particular boy held my hand for over half the walk. He talked to me and I talked to him. He spoke no English and I only about five words in Creole. I can say a few basic niceties and instruct someone to pass the ball but that is about it. After a while I asked the boy where his camp shirt was. He didn’t have one…he wasn’t one of our campers. He had just seen all of these kids walking along the road and he had heard that they ate a big meal after futball/soccer each day. Every day we ended up with 8-10 mystery guests for dinner but that day before camp I was reminded that the food was for campers and volunteers only. Here we were, a half hour’s walk from that boy’s home. I held his hand…led him down the road…talked to him about, well, I can’t be sure about what…but here we were, at the gate to the home. Of course I had to give him dinner. There were so many people in that first year of camp that impacted my life. This particular boy reached into my heart simply by holding my hand.
Mean White Guy
To say that I was nervous about what laid ahead of us when we arrived at the field for our first day of camp is a gross understatement. I had all the nervous energy I get before I coach a game multiplied by the uncertainty of how to communicate across language and culture times whichever number just popped into your head. I could have puked. Thankfully I did not. Our first order of business was to get everyone checked in and get shirts handed out. It only took three times longer than expected to get the 60 shirts handed out and by then I had already avoided being robbed.
Approximately halfway through handing out the shirts five men in their mid to late twenties pressed in closer and closer to the point of criminal discomfort. When I was seventeen I was robbed on New Years Eve in Boston. If you’ve ever heard that story you will know I was legendarily stupid and naive with no perspective whatsoever as to my environment. I learned my lesson. I am now always analyzing my surroundings and I had ascertained that these guys wanted shirts and some of the shiny new Adidas Champions League balls that the kids were using under the watchful eyes and instructions of Werner and Jacob. Jacques, my friend who runs the children’s home in Gressier, was helping me with registration. The men said something to him so I asked what they wanted…I was right. They wanted to know if I had any shirts that would fit them. I said, “Yes, but they’re not for them they are for the kids.” Jacques translated and I assumed they would then take them by force. After a moment they talked amongst themselves and a few minutes later slowly backed away. They made off with a ball later that afternoon but I thought only losing one out of twenty four wasn’t bad under the circumstances. I was later told that one of the men said to the group leader, who was wearing a red shirt and matching red hat (and might I add they were all dressed very nicely), “This white guy’s mean. He isn’t going to give us anything. We should leave.” The shaved head, sunglasses, and lack of ability to smile served me well that day!
That was the last bad experience of the week. Every day after that I had anywhere from three to five adult men from the neighborhood approach me and speak to me in whatever English they could muster or through an interpreter thanking us for being there. I was told over and over again that no one had ever done anything nice for these kids. The best part was these weren’t even their kids. I wonder if I would go out of my way to thank someone for doing something kind for someone else’s kids. I might not but these men did. I learned quickly that the good people of Gressier far outnumbered those who may have had less than righteous intentions. But in the end, even those guys turned out to be alright. Three more days without incident shows they weren’t that bad. The off duty police officer who searched the neighboring homes for the stolen soccer ball probably didn’t hurt either!
I love competition. I love to watch it, talk about it, engage in it. I bet I’m more competitive than you are. Disagree? You’re wrong (see how bad it is?). I’ve competed in organized sports as an athlete and now as a coach. I play pick up sports every chance I can, I only wish I had more time. I’ve matched up against adversaries to see who could eat more, throw further, climb higher/faster, carry more of whatever. You get the idea. So naturally competition had to be a big part of camp. We had medals for best juggler (feet not hands…check Google for “freestyle” if you aren’t sure what I mean), fastest dribbler (again with feet…), and fastest player. For our fastest player race we lined everyone up and they raced eight at a time. Werner and Jacob stood at the start line and I stood at the finish line. The top two went on to the next round. It got a little hard to determine winners when they decided to run directly at me to be sure I had a good view but all it did was make me feel like Mufasa being swarmed in the ravine by wildebeests. We got that sorted out and found our four fastest players (pictured in order 1-4 left to right).
In our race everyone stood at the same start line and ran when they heard the whistle but in life it doesn’t work that way. If life was a race, I’ve realized that we start at different points and are running by different rules. Some are born so close to victory they merely need to roll out of bed to capture it while others are born so far away they recognize the futility of running at all. Some hear the whistle that signals the race has begun yet others are surrounded by so much peripheral noise from poverty and despair that they never heard the faint whisper of that same whistle. They might not have even known a race was happening. Some are given training and equipment while others are told some lie about tugging on bootstraps and shamed about laziness. We are all in a race. Will you sprint across the finish line or will you help someone who cannot possibly get there on their own?
Reflections from Jacques Merine
This week Brent/Jacob Silliman and Werner Uhl fed more than 60 children each day from this area after finished play their soccer games. But today is the last day; they wished it could continue for a little while yet. Source of Life Ministries is not here to serve ONLY the children here in the home, but also to serve the community. Thanks to everyone who supported Brent/Jacob Silliman and Werner Uhl to make this dream become a reality for unfortunate Haitian children. I personally, want to thanks Brent’s wife Natalie Silliman and Brent’s mother and father Linda & Les Silliman for their support to Brent/Jacob. And also, I want to thank Werner’s wife Lori Uhl for her support to Werner. May God continue to richly bless you all.
Jacques Merine: Source of Life Ministries to Haiti
Here we go!! Werner Uhl, Brent, Jacob Silliman’s tournament took off today at 2:00 pm to 5:00pm. The children from the neighborhood are very exciting for getting a chance to play soccer with a real soccer ball. Also, after the game they will have the privilege to eat super tonight provide by Brent/Jacob and Werner before they go home. Please stay turn for more exciting activities for the next three days from Grassier. Source of Life Ministries is not here to serve our only children in the home, but also the children from the community. We praise God we are able to make difference in these children’s lives here in Gressier Haiti.
Jacques Merine: Source of Life Ministries to Haiti