I lived in St. Charles county, Missouri for several years before my journey to Nicaragua. Because of sheer proximity to St. Louis, I have adopted the local sports teams as my own. I will always have a soft spot for Reds of the “Big Red Machine” era and the Tim Horton and Dave Keon Toronto Maple Leafs. They have been, however, mostly supplanted by the Cardinals and the Blues. Side note … I used to follow both the Colts and the Rams before an owner of the Rams, who shall remain nameless, bolted for the bright lights of L.A.. Now I only root for the Colts.
Also, many people do not know that Nicaragua is really a baseball country. While most Central American countries follow their “futbol” (soccer) teams with unrivaled passion, baseball here in Nicaragua regularly trumps the “beautiful game” in terms of enthusiasm and team support. So when I tell them I have been to several Cardinal and Reds games, they want to know all of the details and are keen to listen.
Great lessons can be drawn from sports. I often use sport’s references as a tool for getting through to some of the young men and women in my classes.
Recently I had the opportunity to touch the heart of one kid by the analogy. Paulo (his mother preferred the Italian version of his name to the Spanish Pablo) comes to classes intermittently. He is a sharp young man and uses his brains for good endeavors as well as bad. When he is in class, he is often disruptive. Unfortunately he has a keen sense of humor and I find it difficult not to laugh at some of his comments.
Three weeks ago, I knew that I needed to have an old fashioned heart to heart with him. His commentary during class has become so pervasive that he was preventing the other students from concentrating on their work. So I asked Paulo to stay after in order to speak with him. He told me that he had a baseball game and he couldn’t stay.
I had a dilemma. Allow this boy to go away without the talk or force him to be late to his precious game. I compromised. I asked him if I could go to the game as well on the condition that afterwards we would have a conversation. He agreed.
So I went to the game. It was pretty good. He was the second baseman and performed well in the field. He is fast for his age but he has the same disease suffered by many young players in that he chooses to swing for the fences instead of using his speed to his advantage. That’s a whole other story. They won so he was in a good mood. After I said it was time for our talk and I bought him a “fresco”, the Nica version of sugary Koolaid. Then I confronted him about his behavior. I gave the typical speech about being a team and even a star player has to work with the whole team in order for everyone to be successful … yada, yada, yada … Blah, blah, blah.
He didn’t seem impressed and I was pretty disappointed that I had resorted to banal cliches in trying to reach Paulo.
The next day, I heard that his father was ill. He had contracted dengue. His fever was high and he was not very healthy to begin with, so he was in pretty bad shape. I visited the family and brought some mosquito repellent and food. They were grateful.
After a bit of time Paulo asked me why I had come. I told him that when you join God’s team you have a lot of teammates. And teammates help each other. I read him some scripture and we prayed together and that was that.
He came to the next class only to tell me that his dad was still not well and asked if I would come over again. I said that of course I would because “we are a team.” He nodded and left to go back home.
I returned to his home, prayed with the family, and talked a long time to the family about God, comfort, and hope.
The good news is that his father has recovered. The whole family came to church last Sunday and said that they wanted to be a permanent part of the community. Paulo was beaming with pride. God once again used a few minutes of time and a few prayers to begin writing a regenerative chapter in this whole family’s history.
But wait. There is more. The next class Paulo was one of the first to arrive and did not interrupt once. During class we had a lesson where each student had to write 3 full sentences describing themselves. I then noticed Paulo had gotten up and assisted 4 of the other students. When class ended I stopped Paulo again and thanked him for his help. His eyes twinkled and he smiled that smile and replied, “of course coach… we a team.” Bad grammar not withstanding, I admit there was a tiny bit of pride welling up inside of me.
I then looked at his work from the day’s lesson. I teared up. He had written:
“I learn English.
I play baseball.
I love Jesus.”
What more can be said. God is good!
Thanks, as always, for your prayers and encouragement. God is doing great things here in Nicaragua.
Dios los bendiga