Fruit

Mehls Posted by Jason and Louise Mehl on Thu, 22 May 2008 | 2 comments | Bookmark: digg this Post this to del.icio.us Post this to Facebook

I’ve been working at Uganda Christian University almost 5 years now. It’s never hard to find something to do. When I first came I was coordinating and teaching Writing and Study Skills, required for all first-year students. Soon, I started coaching basketball on top of that. Then I started teaching a class called Understanding Worldviews on top of that. Then I started teaching European and American Literature on top of that. Then I let go of the Writing and Study Skills and Understanding Worldviews and started working full-time as Sports Director, coaching men’s and women’s basketball, and still teaching one American Literature class. That’s what I was doing when Louise and I met. We were married a little over a year later, and expecting Lily a little less than a year after that. Now, Lily’s been with us for 8 months, and I’m still full-time Sports Director, no longer teaching any classes (only helping with the odd Literature lecture here and there), coaching only men’s basketball, and I’m an executive member of FUBA, the Ugandan Basketball Federation.

It’s never hard to find something to do.

But there’s often a difference between doing something, and achieving something. When you’ve left your home to go to another country because you know God has called you to that other country, you not only want to achieve something, you want to achieve something Eternal, you want to bear fruit. The fact that I’ve been called to work at Uganda Christian University never fades, it’s a fact. But that fact isn’t always accompanied by clarity of eternal purpose. Like life following Jesus in any country in any time, it’s not always easy and it’s not always obedience. When it is, the fruit-bearing isn’t always as clear or apparent as we might like it. But sometimes it is.

Anyone working at UCU is involved in an effort to build God’s Kingdom. UCU has been raising the standard of Education in East Africa for ten years and continues to be committed to providing students quality education with a Biblical foundation that seeks to inspire as well as challenge and instruct. I’m comfortable enough in my role as Sports Director and challenged enough by the job to know that if I can build a Sports Department with quality coaches and teams that train and compete and represent UCU in Ugandan National Leagues, all on a foundation of discipline, trust, sacrifice, and faith, while trying to love and lead like Jesus, then I’ve done my job. But where’s the fruit? The fruit, I have to trust, is growing and will be fully visible when the members of UCU teams have graduated and become husbands and wives and fathers and mothers and priests and bishops and doctors and lawyers and teachers and social workers who love and lead like Jesus. But sometimes it grows faster.

Saturday, 5th April, UCU hosted a 3-on-3 Basketball Tournament. Basketball is normally a 5-on-5 game played on a full basketball court with 2 baskets for 4 10-minute quarters. The 3-on-3 game is played on half of the court with 1 basket for 15 minutes. It’s a fun and entertaining diversion from the big, and intensely competitive 5-on-5 game. Our 3-on-3 tournament was held the weekend before the beginning of the Uganda National Basketball League—a chance for the big Ugandan basketball family to come together in one place for a kind of basketball picnic and enjoy each other’s company before becoming rivals for the eight month season.

It was a nice bright day with no rain. Many players and fans came out. We were able to keep to our schedule. Ladies and men’s games were going on simultaneously at all six baskets of our three basketball courts. Music was pumping energy into the whole thing. It was a great day.

Then came semi-finals. No one wants to lose. One of the semi-final match-ups was a team of UCU guys against a team of guys from Makerere University, our rival in Kampala. Two guys who were matched up against each other started turning the game into a personal contest. One would score, then the other tried to score, one would foul, the other would foul harder. Basketball isn’t rugby, but like soccer, there’s a lot of contact that has to be controlled by referees. I was watching the game, aware of the contact. The referee had warned both players once to keep things cool or they’d be ejected. Things calmed down for a few minutes, but then started heating up again. The UCU guy, Ken, was trying to keep the Makerere guy, Joseph, from getting the ball. There was contact. The referee didn’t call anything. Joseph decided he’d had enough and hit Ken in the mouth with an elbow. Everyone heard the crack of Ken’s teeth. The referee saw it and blew the whistle and immediately ejected Joseph. I stood up and ran to Ken where he stood still, bent over and grabbing his mouth.

I expected him to stand up and spit out teeth. But as much as I was concerned about Ken’s teeth and well-being, my urgency in getting to him was more to keep him from retaliating. Ken has a history of a few big and small altercations, all stemming from his inability to control his anger. The last situation found me down at Ken’s hostel where he was chasing 4 students around the compound who had come after him over a dispute about borrowed money. I paid Ken’s debt, told him he owed me that money, and had a long talk with all of them. The whole time Ken sat there, shirtless, sweating, chest heaving with angry breaths. As I talked I was thinking, “They came with 4 guys, and Ken ended up chasing them.”

I stood in front of Ken on the court, shocked but pleased that he hadn’t immediately retaliated when Joseph hit him. Joseph was off the court. I put a hand on Ken’s shoulder, “You o.k.?” He nodded but was glaring over my shoulder at Joseph. “Listen, that guy’s a punk and he’s been ejected. He’s done. Forget him. You can’t go back at him. Show me, show everybody, show yourself that you’re the bigger man. That’s the only thing you need to prove. He’s a punk, you’re the bigger man.” He nodded, still glaring at Joseph. I grabbed his face, “Look at me. Promise me you won’t retaliate.” He looked at me, “I promise coach.”

Joseph was off on the sideline, their 4th player came on to replace him. Ken kept adjusting his mouth and jaw. The game resumed. Ken’s team was losing, they were putting pressure on the Makerere guys, Ken was playing against Ben, the guy who’d come on to replace Joseph. Ben is a great player and a great person. I coached him when he was on the national team two years ago. His older brother works in the office in Kampala where Lousie used to work. I’d say Ben is one of the nicest guys in Ugandan Basketball, and there are few who’d argue with me. The first time Ben got the ball and Ken was guarding him, Ben made a move to go to the basket. Ken punched him right in the face. Ben went straight down like a bag of bricks. No one went after Ken. Ben’s teammates and buddies went to him to revive him. I was out of my mind with disappointment in Ken. I saw a couple of our UCU guys walking with their arms around Ken, leading him off the court, so I went to Ben first. Then I heard a girl scream. I turned and looked and three girls were running after Ken who was walking away from them. Two UCU guys were holding the girls back. I got there quickly and asked what was going on, though it was pretty obvious. One of the girls, the one who’d screamed was wearing a white t-shirt, that was splattered everywhere with blood. The girls were players, also from Makerere University, watching the men’s semi-final, waiting for their own semi-final. Ken had hit Ben and walked by them while walking off the court, they said something to him and he went over and spat on them. An absolute disgrace. I was disgusted.

While Ben was revived, I grabbed ken, again grabbed his face and made him look me in the eye. I knew it wasn’t going to do any good to yell or show anger, but I had to show him disappointment. I told him we’d talk more later but that he needed to know that his decisions had ruined the tournament and that I was going to have to clean up his mess again, and I sent him back to his hostel with one of our captains.

Ken left.

Ben was revived. His nose and lip stopped bleeding and he was able to play in the final game. Another UCU team beat his team in the final to win the Championship of the 3-on-3 tournament, but all I could think about, all most people could think about was the semi-final scene caused by Ken. I apologized to Ben constantly the rest of the day, called his brother the next day to apologize, called him the next day to apologize again and check on him. He was fine. I had all day Sunday to figure out what kind of consequences Ken should face. That night he sent me a text message, apologizing for betraying me and ruining the tournament and begging for my mercy.

Monday at practice I told Ken first, then the team, that Ken would be suspended for the entire first half of the season-from then until the end of June. It was an internal decision-had nothing to do with the basketball Federation. If Ken had punched someone like that during a League game, he’d be automatically suspended for a full year. Ken’s a good player and a really hard worker and I new my decision was harsh, but I thought it was necessary. In addition to the suspension, Ken was to continue practicing with us every day, and it was his responsibility to bring the drinking water from the dining hall down to the court every day for practice. Ken and the team accepted this and we didn’t talk about it much.

The next day was the beginning of a Level II Coach’s Clinic in Kampala that lasted 10 days. I had to attend the clinic in order to gain the required qualifications to coach in the Ugandan League (to date, I’d never had any training in coaching or sports management or anything, only a Master of Fine Arts Degree in Creative Writing, and 4 years of playing college basketball). So the Clinic kept me in Kampala everyday until 4:00 when I’d leave to drive back to Mukono and get to the court just in time for training at 5:00. We train from 5:00 until 7:00, then I go home and shower and eat and try to get some good Lily and Louise time. So I wasn’t able to get time to really sit and talk to Ken about what had happened. He just knew he wasn’t going to be playing and that he was getting water for us everyday.

The first day after the clinic was over and I was back in my office, Ken dropped by. He knocked on the door and walked in sheepishly. “Coach. You said we needed to talk about what happened at the 3-on-3 tournament. I don’t know when we can talk.”

“How about now? Close the door and have a seat.” Ken sat. I asked him, “You texted me that night and apologized. Tell me what exactly you were apologizing for.”

Ken then went on to narrate the whole thing, apologized for telling me he wouldn’t do anything and then breaking that promise, apologized for ruining the tournament, apologized for hitting Ben, told me he went back to the hostel that night and showered and locked himself in his room and cried. “Coach, I’m not from a pagan family. We’re Christians and we know what’s right from what’s wrong and I did wrong.” Ken is Kenyan. He came to Uganda to finish high school and play basketball with the hopes of continuing on to University. He told me about how every time he goes home for holidays his mother takes him aside the night before he travels back to Uganda and reads to him from the Bible. “So I know what I’m supposed to do. And she always says she wants me to come back with two things: Education and Salvation.”

I asked him what he had to do to accomplish coming home to his mother with Salvation. “I need to pray in the morning and at night, and go to church, and I need to fix my life and stop doing things I shouldn’t do.”

I told him, “No. You need to talk to Jesus and tell him you can’t fix your own life and ask him if he’ll do it for you. I promise, he will. All that other stuff will fall in place.” I told him God uses all kinds of things to make us closer to him and to sometimes wake us up. I asked him if he thought this whole 3-on-3 thing was one of those things. He said it was.

I got up and walked around my desk and sat in a chair next to Ken. Ken and I prayed together. Ken prayed and asked Jesus to change his life.

Lot’s of work, lot’s of patience, lot’s of hurt … but, fruit.

God bless it all, please.

Jason and Louise Mehl

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Comments

rory said Tue, 17 Jun 2008 11:00AM
Keep up the great work up in the big smoke guys....but don't forget us wee guys out in the sticks! R
Bill Vega said Fri, 27 Jun 2008 09:41PM
Jason & Louise & Lily, God Bless your Family. It's great to hear how God is working in your lives. Nothing like feeling that you are following God's call to your life. I remember, Jason, when we used to talk about your future plans and the direction God was taking you. He knew that Louise was waiting for a godly man and a caring husband. His unconditional love for us are overwhelming and hard to see sometimes. Let's stop there, because you know that. Here at Tyndale things are the same. Except that I'm working with the Spanish department and traveling to Puerto Rico twice a year. I'm a gradfather of two beautiful boys, Benji - 2 yrs old and Sammy - 3 months old. God is Blessing my life and helping understand His will in everything I do. God is awesome! God Bless you and keep you in His will. In Christ, Bill Vega (6-27-08)

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