The cursed boy, the better Muslim and THE LONG GAME

Young people are finding a sense of worth in Guinea through the beautiful game.

BMS World Mission worker Ben is a better Muslim, but not in the way Sir Mo Farah might be.

He’s also a great manager, but only partly in the way Sir Alex Ferguson is. Ben is a football manager in a mostly Muslim country in West Africa, and the club he’s started is called Blessed Boys FC. It’s a space where boys who’d otherwise be left behind can learn the lessons that the beautiful game can teach – lessons about goals and how to strike them – and learn that they are valuable to God.

The Blessed Boys Football Club in Guinea train and play.

Ben is a committed Christian (so committed, he’s moved from Angola to Guinea to serve with BMS here). And ‘better Muslim’ is not a reason to write to the editor. It’s just what the people call him in the little town where he and his wife (also a BMS worker) now live. It’s a compliment, particularly to a known Christian who never worships in the mosque. A recognition of the difference he’s making; taking deprived kids, angry young men and ‘cursed’ boys under his defending wing.

Boys like… let’s call him Joao. Joao was born cursed. His mother died while giving birth to him and all his life Joao was told it was his fault. Told that, from the moment of his first breath, the evil power that killed his mum was attached to him. And as he grew, the label stuck. Ditch school to kick a ball around the streets? Of course you would, cursed boy. Never make it to the top of the class? Not surprising, really. Cursed boys can’t amount to much. Get involved in silly, maybe illegal, things? Nobody expects better, least of all you. Cursed boys do not have a future. Why would boys like Joao think beyond tomorrow?

Individualism wins trophies, teamwork wins championships.

Then one day, a stranger came to Joao’s town. He was as old as Joao’s father might have been had he still been around. And he called Joao blessed. He started to teach Joao the long game. Not just the game of football, but the game of life. Ben brought a vision of a God who sees no child as cursed, no boy beyond redemption, and he spoke a language boys like Joao could understand: the poetry of corner and cross, the syntax of the team. And things began to change.

While other managers would beat their boys, berating them for failure and modelling violence to get results, Ben did not. That’s not how a Blessed Boy behaves, he’d say, and boys like Joao would listen. Rules and boundaries as clear as white lines. Discipline and consequence for fouls and straying offside – but never vicious, insulting, condemning – Joao would sit out games and come back determined to do better, be better. When parents weren’t able or available, Ben would advocate for boys at school. He set up summer classes with his wife – a passionate teacher – identifying academic weaknesses and tutoring his boys (and other kids, their sisters, too) so that athletes became achievers in their schoolwork. Football and education.

Boys of the Blessed Boys Football Club in Guinea play football.
You're helping the players of the Blessed Boys Football Club in Guinea by supporting BMS.

Today they’re model students, many of Ben’s boys. The BBFC rules are clear: no cutting class to practise – school comes first and no Blessed Boy should be on the pitch outside of scheduled training times. They’re learning structure. Learning formal rules and tactics, the techniques that separate the game they love to watch on TV from the scuffling madness they’d all be playing on the street if Ben’s club wasn’t there. They’re learning self-control, self-worth and that nobody is cursed into their future. BBFC boys respect themselves and their team. “Individualism wins trophies, but teamwork wins championships,” says Ben. And 54 boys in his club are learning that is true.

He actually thought that he was done. That there was no hope for him in life. Now he’s doing well.

Blessed Boys Football Club in West Africa

“The sense of hopelessness here is vivid sometimes,” says Ben, “and one can either be repelled by it or try to do something.” Something is being done. If you support the work of BMS you are doing something beautiful here, through the beautiful game. Boys robbed of any sense of choice by poverty are choosing to be better. Boys told by broken homes, polygamy and economics that they might as well give up are looking to the future. They are learning: think about the long game.

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Boys like Joao. Joao is not one boy. Joao is many boys, and almost any boy in Blessed Boys Football Club. Ben talks about a boy like Joao, top of his class and captain of one of the BBFC teams: “He actually thought that he was done. That there was no hope for him in life. Now he’s doing well. We’re working on his skills and employability. I’m offering him career guidance. I’m trying to help him see that he has in himself all that it takes to become somebody.”

Joao is not one boy, but he is not nobody. He’s 54 strong, he’s getting better every day and he is somebody.

This article appears in the new issue of Engage, the BMS magazine. Subscribe today by hitting the button on the right to read more about how your gifts are transforming lives like Joao’s around the world.

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Posted on: January 11 2018

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