Samuel the Soccer Player (Stories from East Africa)
Photo by Jannik Skorna
Meet Kasozi Samuel. He wears a size 9 shoe but doesn’t own a pair of soccer cleats. As a result, his soccer coach threatened to kick him off the team because he could get injured while playing in his sandals. Oh, but you should see his skills on the pitch in sandals!
I first met Sam 2 years ago when I first visited Uganda. After all the late afternoons spent playing soccer together and hearing his stories while walking back to the school after, I decided that I wanted to sponsor Sam. Arrangements were made, automatic deposit through my bank was set up, and I officially became Sam’s sponsor. Unfortunately, I suffer from the “out of sight out of mind” syndrome and often forgot to pray or write to Sam. Yes the monthly financial support was coming in but I could have provided him so much more in the way of prayer, letters, and emotional support.
So, the 2 years go by and when I return to God Cares School I try searching for Sam as soon as I walk through the gate. Other familiar faces come running up, boys whom I had connected with 2 years prior that were now young men. As we talked I scanned the background for Sam—where was he?
And then the bomb dropped.
“How come you stopped sponsoring Sam?” one of the guys asked.
Another chimed in, “Sam was so sad when you stopped sponsoring him. He would say, ‘how could a pastor stop sponsoring me?’ He was crying for days.”
In that awkward moment, surrounded by 6 of Sam’s friends, I searched my memory archives trying to figure out what had happened but I couldn’t think straight. Did the automatic deposit stop working? Unlikely. Did my wife and I decide we couldn’t afford to sponsor him anymore and I just forgot? Impossible.
I was reeling trying to figure out what happened…and then Sam walked up.
“Pastor!” he said with a smile. “Your hair is shorter.”
I started babbling over my words trying to explain that I was still sponsoring him (was I?) and that there must be some sort of mistake. He simply replied, “ready to play soccer?” Even though he had felt rejected by me, he welcomed me back with an open heart and an open invitation to resume our friendship. We played soccer for 3 hours, we laughed, we got caught up on each other’s lives. Though it was fun, I felt a searing sense of shame surrounding my entire being. What had happened?
That afternoon I checked the database and in fact I was no longer on record as sponsoring Sam. Instead, a young woman from Texas who had met him last year had sponsored him after I had dropped my sponsorship. But how did that happen? If only I had not assumed that the automatic deposit was working. If only I had written him more. If only I was engaged in his life—this wouldn’t have happened.
So, what did happen?
After a lot of digging we found out that a year ago someone by the name of Dave Sams was unable to sponsor his child. My legal name is David Sams and the accountant mistakenly dropped me from Sam’s account. My monthly support was still coming in through automatic deposit, but now it was just going to the general fund. Bummer.
Reflecting on this whole incident, I’ve realized that you cannot automate love. You cannot schedule support and set it on auto-pilot. Though it was an unfortunate oversight by the accountant to drop the wrong name from the account…I was clearly the one in the wrong. I had entered into someone’s life and then did the complete minimum amount of supporting that relationship.
I outsourced it to my bank.
I want to change. I want to go beyond automated love to an incarnational sort of love. It’s a love that Jesus modeled for us by entering into the messy reality of our lives 2000 years ago and has been engaged with us ever since. Even though Jesus ascended to heaven after his resurrection, he sent the Holy Spirit to dwell in those who choose to follow him to be our Counselor and our Comforter. Even though I have left Uganda, I want to send my love and my support in tangible ways to Sam.
No more outsourcing…no more auto-pilot. It’s time to take the wheel.
By the way—Sam’s now got some legit size 9 soccer cleats and new shoes for school.
It’s a new day for both of us.