Members of the Mattru on Rail Football Club huddle around their football for prayer and reflection.
By Theodore R. Warnock*
Earlier this year by invitation, I visited Mattru on Rail, a village located just outside Bo, Sierra Leone. This village is a community of people directly or indirectly affected by the amputation of an extremity during the recent civil war. Similar to many of the meetings that I attend, we opened with prayer. Unlike most, however, this small community opened in prayer from both the Muslim and Christian traditions.
Everyone was quiet and respectful. At the group’s direction, the meeting opened first with the Muslim prayer, and then the Christian prayer followed immediately thereafter. The group closed with everyone saying together the Lord’s Prayer.
For a brief few moments, all I could do was reflect upon how peaceful and in harmony were these people, who were missing arms and legs, and how they used the moment of silence to embrace us all. This display of community reminded me of our mission to serve everyone, with an emphasis on listening.
I will confess that as I looked across the table they placed before me, I began to see individuals. I noticed a person who had just one arm waiving it to emphasize a point. To his right, a woman with no arms below the elbow was leaning against a pillar. To her right, a woman was sitting at the edge of the rotunda with her artificial left leg extending into the center of the group. To my right, were still more people standing or leaning without a leg or on artificial limbs, which we, through the United Methodist Committee on Relief (UMCOR), have provided. This is a faith community brought together by the consequences of war and the indiscriminate use of landmines.
This meeting was unlike many I have attended in other ways. The group did not ask for personal assistance. Rather, they asked what UMCOR could do to assist their community. They asked if we could provide seeds for community gardens. They asked if we could help them fix a plow so they could prepare more land. They asked if we could help them lease more land so they could sow larger crops, feed more people, and generate income. They asked if we could provide assistance in finding ways to get their crops to the market for sale. Only once did someone inquire into the status of remotely operated arms (we have been seeking to find a viable way to incorporate these arms into the prosthesis program). This village has truly found community.
As we neared the end of the meeting, several of the younger men asked me if I would join them later in the week when they had a football (soccer) scrimmage scheduled. You must forget all your pre-conceived thoughts about “how could these people missing arms and legs play football.” I said I would love to attend, and I found myself wondering why anyone would want to play football without arms and legs. And, how does playing football “fit” into this community?
Saturday morning came quickly, and again I saw their faith and their community in the form of a football game. The members were about to begin their scrimmage and were huddled around the football. I stopped, knelt down and took a photo [see the banner picture above] while they were in prayer and reflection. As they prayed, I looked into the center of this group and clearly saw the football through their missing legs.
With many villagers watching, the team began to warm up, running in track-like fashion on crutches. It was not an idle walk; they were running. Lap after lap they ran until I was sure that they must now have fulfilled their coach’s expectations. I was wrong. They then sprinted across the field: Forward, and then back again. This time—no crutches. And, just to make sure they were truly ready, final preparation included laying their crutches before them and jumping from side to side and back again.
The team selected persons missing an arm to be the goalies. Then the game began. The volume among the community spectators intensified as the kicking of the ball moved from one end of the field to the other. Arms and legs extended as the players moved the ball around the field with an intensity that I seldom see in competitive play. This was serious sport at its best. With a swift kick of the ball and seeing a one armed goalie catch it and then kick it back into play, the spectators cheered.
For a while, I forgot they were playing with missing limbs. I again reflected—this is a community of strong and faithful people. Even though they were severely traumatized by an internal war, they demonstrate fortitude and creativity to meet great challenges and to be productive citizens.
Yes, UMCOR will be working with this community, and I have already started the process of seeking resources to help them meet their community goals. Program manager, Amara Lappia, works in partnership with the United Methodist Church and UMCOR.
If you are interested in becoming a partner with this program, you may direct your gifts through the General Health and Ministry Programs, Advance #3020622.
* Theodore R. Warnock is a United Methodist Missionary for Special Projects—UMCOR Global Health.