On Saturday May 20th, our pastoral school took a field trip to the Catholic mission of Ngi upriver from Kikongo.We have been having soccer practices all year and finally decided to take a trip.
About two months ago, our Kikongo first string soccer team went to Ngi to play a game.The Kikongo team was intimidated by one player who refused to play barefooted like everyone else.When this player refused to remove his cleats, Kikongo decided not to play and came home.This experience was not good for the relationship between Kikongo and our sister Catholic mission.When the people of Ngi heard that Kikongo again wanted to play a game, they refused, until the Priest explained that it was the pastoral school who wanted to come for a friendly game rather than Kikongo's best team. Ngi accepted our offer to play them.
The Kikongo youth were not very pleased that the pastoral school was going to Ngi.The team at Ngi is a great team.Kikongo was sure we were going to lose terribly.Kikongo even offered us some of their best players so that the score would not be too lopsided.We politely declined and said we wanted to take the trip for evangelism and reconciliation.
We set off in our boat about mid-morning with 37 passengers.I had put a limit of 35, but two hospital patients showed up.Three people bailed water the whole trip.Ngi is about three hours away by river.When the Ngi port was in sight, we stopped at a fisherman's village for lunch.We had bought and prepared a goat before hand.After lunch, we were warmly welcomed by the Priest and all the children that ran down to the river to see us.
Since our students are all older than the high schoolers, we asked to play against the teachers.They did supply the high school principal, who is my age, but who was a professional in his younger years, the priest, and two teachers.The rest of the team was their first string "leopard" team.
We soon realized that we were playing against a real good team, and not against some slow older teachers like we had imagined.Anyhow, we managed to limit them to only one score in the first half.
In the second half, our goal keeper began to get warmed up.He was a flamboyant acrobat in his younger years.I did not like him doing his fancy moves because he could miss the easy ones if all he cared about is thrilling the crowd.The more shots the Ngi team got, however, the better our goalkeeper became.People on the side lines were wondering where we had "rented" such a keeper.As the game progressed, the crowd became more thrilled with our keeper than with their own team.Our offense also managed to score in the second half even though they were outplaying us.The referee did his best to prolong the game as much as he could to give Ngi a chance of getting one more score and pulling ahead, but it was to no avail.We managed to pull off a tie - a major upset especially at their home field.Our goalie could have owned the town.He was the one that was mobbed and lifted high by Ngi rather than their own players.
I told our team that it was only by God's grace that the score was a tie.If I had been a believer in magic, that game would have convinced me to not waste my time with magic, but to turn to the Living God.
The priest let me have his own bedroom for the night.He moved somewhere else.In the evening, we thrilled the crowd by replaying some of what I had filmed that afternoon.We also showed some world cup action.I showed the first part of the Campus Crusade JESUS film in the local language, then finished up with all two hours of "The Passion of Christ" with French sub-titles.We ended at mid-night.
In the morning, we attended the Catholic mass.The Jesuit priests built an enormous church at Ngi in the 1930s.We were present for a very lovely service.The priest preached about love and forgiveness, making reference to the suffering of Christ that we had seen at night.It was a great message for the weekend of reconciliation.
After the service, we had some lunch and floated back home to Kikongo.There was so much excitement in the boat, so much "esprit du corps", so much enthusiasm for the weekend, I had to calm everyone down for fear the boat would split apart.
In a month, our family will have left Kikongo.In a month, the third year students will have returned to their church centers.What a closing activity and experience for all of us!People at Ngi told us "We thought the pastoral school was just for old people".They were surprised to see a team full of young men having fun.Two men at Ngi declared that they too wanted to come to kikongo and apply for pastoral training.
I think that the experience was good for the image of the church universal, good for the image of dedicated Christians who in spite of the challenges put their trust in God, and good for the image of the Kikongo pastoral training school.
I am taking the students down to the river this afternoon to put the boat on the sandbar for maintenance.I also want to teach them a new sport:Swimming!