When People of All Walks of Life Come together to Serve as One
Having just returned from our humanitarian soccer mission in Morocco, I began to sift through my memory bank. I couldn’t help but to think of all the wonderful blessings that emerged as a result of our willingness to serve. While some elements were out of place, a bit disjointed, and not exactly as we had envisioned them prior to the trip (some better and some worse), the experience was “perfect with all of its imperfections.” What made it perfect was the people—all those who served the needy, the underprivileged, the burdened, and the less fortunate. Together, we united to provide of our time to children, young adults, local coaches, local administrators, and community leaders. We spoke of peace and cooperation, and we stressed the importance of dignity, tolerance, respect, self-esteem, and non-violence. Our messages were absorbed and incorporated by the local communities in the cities of Marrakech and Safi, and those local leaders also became part of our mission and message to make sure that the children and young adults attending our camps would go away with a feeling that they—the children—were truly loved and appreciated by so many people.
Early this morning, as I awoke from a deep slumber ahead of schedule (and because of the six-hour time difference between Kansas City and Casablanca), I thanked God for the experience. I was also thankful to all the amazing people who donated their time to making our soccer mission a success in so many spectacular ways.
See, the beauty of using soccer as a diplomatic tool is that it is a unifying sport for children, young adults, coaches, and parents around the world. Soccer helps to break down so many barriers—from culture to gender, and from religion to race. When people of different backgrounds are on the same field together, and when they are united in their message of peace, cooperation, and understanding, then extraordinary results come about. The goodwill that is forged between peoples in these cooperative settings often becomes a bond that endures for years, decades, and even generations. Soccer truly becomes a transcendent tool for diplomacy. However, it is not just soccer in and of itself. It is the people who make all the difference.
Soccer is a vehicle that allows good people to unite on the same pitch, and to share a unified message of hope, dignity, decency, respect, anti-violence, and love. Soccer is a mechanism whereby people of dramatically different religions, cultures, and races can combine to deliver the same message of peace and cooperation around the globe. That is what makes these humanitarian soccer missions so special—the people and the message that we are sharing.
It is also important to note that the soccer campers themselves come away with an almost indelible mark—one that is extremely positive, that has penetrated their souls, and that is lasting throughout time.
No, the sport of soccer is not perfect, but neither are people. However, both soccer and people can become greater by the love we share between and among us.
Also, a large part of our mission in Morocco was to feed the children. That, too, becomes an incomparable gift for both the person serving, as well as the person being served. I would argue that the person serving receives blessings far beyond what he or she had ever anticipated. I would say that the person serving receives a special grace that can only come from above. For as in the Prayer of St. Francis: “It is giving that we receive.” When we come together to cut the bread, spread the cheese, place the lunchmeat on one end meticulously, and fold the sandwich together, that becomes a spiritual experience. Then, of course, when seeing the endless and countless smiles on the faces of children—some of whom may have missed a meal that day, our joy is complete.
We were also blessed to have the U.S. Embassy officials join us during the first week of camp in Marrakech. That delegation was headed by Lawrence Randolph, the U.S. Charges d’Affaires. During the second week, April Hayne, the Acting Consul General was our guest in the city of Safi. Little did we know, April is also an avid soccer fan and former player; so, it was great to “talk soccer” with April. Our many thanks go out to the spectacular staff at the United States Embassy in Rabat and the U.S. Consulate in Casablanca for their support of this humanitarian soccer mission.
Overall, we served about 280 youth soccer players in week one in Marrakech (male and female alike), we incorporated over 45 local coaches and administrators, and we addressed countless parents—in excess of 120 in week one only. Our post-camp highlights involved and included personal dinner invitations at the homes of our two of our local friends and administrators, Said Benara and Mustapha Bouygzouane.
Week two in Safi was even more amazing and enlightening. Our host in Safi, Achraf Dandoun, made sure that our visit was special. In fact, Achraf exceeded all our expectations. In Safi, we coached and served over 200 youth soccer players, we interfaced with hundreds of parents, and we had the help of at least 15 local coaches.
Even the drivers of our coaches’ minivans pitched in to help feed the children. A big hug goes out to Abdellah Fougnar, a former soccer player who put his own soccer boots on and helped on the field, too.
Countless other friends in the U.S. and Morocco made this is a success. We are forever grateful to those people, especially our coaches who came on the trip.
All in all, we had so many amazing people unite on our soccer front in Morocco, from Muslim to Christian alike, and from former pro soccer players to current college soccer players. We gave of ourselves for the benefit of the children, and that invariably pays great dividends across the board. While on the field of play, we became united as brothers and sisters. While on the field, we joined together to let children, coaches, and parents know that “peace is the only way.”
Blessings to you.