Tela-Made Reflections, Part 6
Dignity, Simplicity, and the Beautiful Game
It’s not called the Beautiful Game for nothing, and my eye was well and truly captured by its spell. I was walking round the grounds of a public school in the accurately named village of ‘Kilometro 17’ (it is 17 kilometers from Tela.) Some boys were enjoying a break from the classroom by doing what kids the world over do – playing soccer.
I stopped my meandering and stood behind a goal to watch the action. All but one player was dressed in school uniform and was adequately shod. They ran, jumped, kicked, with a level of enthusiasm that you’d think was impossible in such sizzling heat. There was one lad in particular who caught my eye. First, there was his appearance. He was the one boy on the field who was not wearing school uniform, and he had no shoes.
Second, his lack of footwear was obviously no impediment. This lad was on another plane talent-wise. He was short, apparently younger than the other players, and faster. He used his slight frame to dodge and weave in and out of opponents. I stood rivetted as he took possession of the ball at the halfway line, ran thirty yards and beat four defenders, before rounding the goalkeeper and tucking the ball away in the net. I spontaneously burst into applause.
That day I was wearing the Honduras national team’s shirt. This young genius heard me clapping, saw my shirt, assumed I was Honduran, and ran over towards me to receive my praise for his brilliance. He beamed as he approached me. I shouted something in English and an awkwardness descended on the encounter. He realized I did not speak Spanish and so he stopped his run towards me, disappointed that a conversation was impossible. For a moment our eyes met and our smiles merged. We gestured to each other with our hands. The barrier of language was demolished by the common love for the game and appreciation of its beauty. We shared a moment, that lad and me. I hope he was as moved as I was.
Of the many sights and sounds that touched me and changed me in Tela, the dignity and simplicity of the people are the ones that I’ll treasure most. Soccer is surely the most simple of sports. All you need is a ball and piece of ground. That’s all. The aim of the game is obvious, and the rules are so easy that anyone can learn them in two minutes (including the offside rule!) There’s beauty in simplicity.
Speaking of dignity and simplicity, at the top of the page there are two photos. One is of an elderly widow who lives in two rooms. Neither has proper roofs or walls. As you can see, chickens and other creatures (both welcome and unwelcome) are free to wander in and out of the room where she cooks and spends her day. The other photo is of a line of villagers waiting at the clinic we set up at Kilometro 17 school.
Here’s what I see when I look at the first photo:- a smile when, from a comfortable Western perspective, there’s nothing to smile about. And the second picture? Patience. The kind of patience that is totally foreign to folks from developed countries in 2023 – liberated souls that are free to wait in line to see a doctor, for hours, contentedly talking, enjoying community, with humble gratitude for God’s provision.
I am running the risk of being deplorably patronizing – the rich Western guy uttering platitudes about brave poor people from the luxury of his air-conditioned office in the spectacular church that’s insured for $22 million. Forgive me. I don’t want to be that patronizing guy. Poverty is not to be romanticized. Impoverished people are not sentimental about their poverty, and neither should we be. I’d rather be the guy who in so touched by those sons and daughters of God that I consider them better than I am, more blessed than I am. I have some way to go to get there.
“Godliness with contentment is great gain,” writes Paul to his young fellow leader, Timothy. (1 Tim 6:6.) Of all the topsy-turvy truths of scripture, this one takes the biscuit. Contentment in all circumstances. People in Tela have a lot to teach us about contentment. Let us listen and learn and change.