Nationals, tears, and fullness of life

I just arrived home to Bundibugyo from Football Nationals – what an adventure!  We traveled from Bundi to Fort Portal on Friday evening, 17 girls + 2 coaches + 1 teacher + 1 conductor + 1 driver all packed in with our luggage to a mini-bus (think 15 passenger van with a tiny bit more room).  We slept at a hostel that evening and tried to get the girls to bed early before our 3 AM wake-up call!  Then we hustled them out of bed and out to the driveway to wait for our bus…which didn’t arrive until 5 AM (we took some naps in the waiting time)!  We then boarded the bus with another girls’ team from our region, Kibiito, and hit the road.


And we drove. And drove. And drove. It took about 12 hours to reach Lira from Fort Portal, and it was a day of my girls seeing a whole new world!  Most of our CSB students have not traveled beyond Fort Portal, so to see the country from Fort Portal to Kampala to the north was totally new to them.  We had a teacher from the other school who acted as unofficial tour guide, pointing out national reserves, a hydroelectric dam in the works, rice fields, new highways under construction, and every district we traveled through (think counties…there were a lot!).  The most exciting sight was the Nile River, specifically Karuma Falls which is in Northern Uganda.  I wish I had a picture of the open-mouthed, wide-eyed gazes of my girls taking that in!!!  It was amazing for me to watch them seeing that.  They also LOVED seeing women riding {and rocking} bicycles with babies tied on their backs (little to no women ride bikes in Bundi) and women driving motorcycles (NO woman, probably ever, has driven a motorcycle in Bundi).  Eye-opening for my team. Like whoa.

Once we reached Lira we had a long registration process, as almost ALL national ball sports tournaments were converging at this same school for the same time!  Teams from all over the country were in Lira to play tennis, field hockey, rugby, table tennis, girls’ basketball, boys’ basketball, and girls’ football.  Boys’ football was a couple hours down the road (which I found out in person, another story for another time).  It was incredibly inspiring to me to see all these Ugandan athletes, their coaches, and their spirit.  There were girls with cheers and songs and dances, warm-ups with rhythm and style, and taller men than I’ve seen in a long time (the people of Bundibugyo are all about my height, meaning short!). I enjoyed watching basketball when we had off time and my girls loved watching rugby, a sport they have never seen before.

Once registered, we got our room and got settled…along with all our neighbors! We were in dorms that had no doors between the rooms, just open entryways, so we had 2 rooms of 20+ girls on each side of our room of 20 women…aka it was an EPIC sleepover all.week.long.  We ate rice and beans to last us quite awhile, took bucket baths under the stars every evening, and all got to be together tons.  We had dance parties with friends and neighbors, doing traditional Ugandan dances (which they tried to teach me!) and doing some modern dance too.  What girl sleepover is complete without a dance party?  Thanks to my parents’ generosity, we had an ice cream party one night too…definitely some of the girls highlight, as they asked me every day after if we could have ice cream again!

Oh, and we also played some football!  My girls played their hearts out and left much of themselves on the fields of Lira.  We drew (tied) four matches, every single one hard-fought by every girl on the field.  We lost two games, also hard-fought.  We even held our hardest match to only 3-0, and our opponents were warning other teams about us, “Watch out for that team from Bundibugyo, they’re tough,” and “They’re so fast.”  For some reason, at this tournament we struggled to put many goals in.  We played faster, bigger, stronger teams than we ever see on the Western side of the nation.  And yet my girls stuck it out.  They fought hard.  Our goalie played with an injury and much pain because she knew it was big time.  I heard things like, “Whatever happens, we know God knows and has a purpose” and “We came as family and leave as family” come out of my girls mouths and I could not be prouder of them.

We represented our district well, with many people asking, “Where is your school? Bundi-what-io?”, and other coaches recognizing us for training our students well, and utilizing the talent we have—many teams recruit heavily and only have students for athletics, sometimes forfeiting class time for training time.  As our Headmaster reminded the boys and girls, our goal is to train them academically and spiritually, then athletically. We play and live with integrity, and our focus is on them and their future and their knowing Jesus and walking with character—not succeeding in a sport versus true life success.

We had some high emotions (what teen girls don’t?) and I had some sweet conversation opportunities about how we choose to love and engage even when we’re frustrated and upset.  How do we communicate truth but not be hurtful and mean?  Who is it okay to express frustration to and when do we apologize for blowing up at others?  Good for my girls and good for my own heart too.  There was so much laughter.  And there were tears and brooding after losses and after no wins at the end…and I saw myself in these young women, my own tears at the end of CPA soccer seasons, my own passion that lays everything on the line and wants the victory, my own desire to see what I expect and think of as good prevail rather than a trust that all is good, even if it looks differently than my own expectations or plans.

One of the most beautiful moments was before our third match.  A couple of our OG’s (OG=Old Girl=alumna of CSB) who played football a few years ago at CSB are in nursing school in Lira.  They came to as many of our matches as they could.  Before the third match, they joined us to pray with the team before we started, a tradition before every game.  Our OG prayed for us, and she prayed in Lubwisi—the local language of Bundibugyo, my girls’ heart language, a language no one else outside our small district has any idea how to speak or understand.  And here we were on a soccer field in Northern Uganda, with our alumnae, our coaches, and our team, being prayed over and blessed in our heart language, speaking to the God of the universe who is the same from corner to corner of this globe, the God who these OG’s know and follow as their Lord, the God my students are learning about, the One who is my purpose for being here in Bundi, for being there in Lira, the motivation of my heart and the Savior I love.  The same God from America to Bundibugyo to Lira to China to Timbuktu and back.  Major tears on the football field y’all.  A beautiful, rich gift of Jesus, amongst many others from this tournament.

The laughter, tears, bucket baths, dance parties, wonderful conversations, rice and beans forever, and so much more made this an experience I’ll never forget and I think my girls won’t either.  My life is so full—of Jesus, of moments of such dependence on Him, of fun and friends, of learning, of need for grace and receiving of it, of adventure, of goodness.  I am feeling richly blessed…and very thankful for a place to come home and find rest after all this fun!

For those of you who supported our team this season—THANK YOU!  We could not have done it without you.  From socks to cleats, uniforms to bags, shin guards to water, you have been a part of this season.  You have helped our team get all the way to Nationals and be fully equipped to do so!  We even had another team borrowing our shin guards and cleats when we weren’t playing (a totally African thing to share whatever resources you have with friends who are without, even if it means you then go without)!  You helped outfit my girls, protect them, give them balls to practice and play with (every game the other teams wanted to use our nice footballs given by Cilla Crane!), and support them in prayer and action.  Your giving to boots and jerseys and balls spoke LOVE and DIGNITY and WORTH to my girls.  Even when we got to Nationals and teams with many more resources had all kinds of things we did not, these girls held their heads high.  They took it all in, and they walked with grace and confidence.  And they’ve come home and continue to walk that way.  In a community which sees women as objects and less than, these 17 women carry themselves differently than most.  They know their worth. They know they are loved. They know they are supported. You may never meet them, but know that our entire team knows of you and says thank you for all you have done.  And I say thank you for teaching these women about love and giving generously in a way I never could.  Thank you for your partnership and love for me, and for believing in me to love these precious women towards the King.  Keep praying for my relationship with each of them as we move into post-season and more normal school life.  I look forward to how He will use this sport to continue to build His Kingdom here.

“The thief comes only to steal, kill, and destroy; 

I have come that they may have life and have it to the FULL.” 

– John 10:10

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