The trip was more than just exploring the island’s beauty and its unique culture as a Tanzanian archipelago. In fact, I flew over to intentionally interact with the people of Zanzibar, more specifically, the lovers of the beautiful game.
This trip was my second time in Zanzibar. My first trip was an ordinary family trip in which I did not have any specific expectations. The island, however, left me with an extraordinary impression in my mind’s eye of so many people in love with football. It was then that I knew I needed to come again with a different purpose.
Three and a half years later, I was given an opportunity to coach five middle schools and a women’s team. It was a great opportunity for me to go again, interact with the Zanzibaris, and share the passion for the game.
The reality of coaching was way beyond my expectations and I was challenged each day with a series of hurdles: the field condition, weather conditions, not enough balls, too many players, and worst of all, COMMUNICATION. It was tough for both players and me with my poor Swahili. The translator was not as helpful and I was very limited in what I wanted to say so it was discouraging not being able to give more helpful advice and share how football impacted my life. It was not easy trying to adjust and improvise my way out of the day, everyday.
Football is very popular in Zanzibar. The island upholds an unique football culture of its own. Any flat landscape is a field to any age group or gender. You will not go a day without seeing people playing football. Football jerseys of nearly any club in Europe are found in almost any store you run into. During the weekends in local pubs, you will witness the supporters take part in rituals before, during and after a match to support their favorite teams. All these things prove that football occupies an unique culture in the island. Amidst the issues of poverty, diseases, corruption, warfare, and misgovernment, football seems to provide a way of life and hope not just in Zanzibar, but all over Africa. Perhaps, this is why football is called the beautiful game and challenged me to continue to question the concept of football ministry. How can these people learn about the gospel through this beloved sport?
I recently read a short booklet previewing a forthcoming book “On Becoming Generative: An Introduction to Culture Care”. Fujimura, a contemporary artist, introduces an interesting theory of Culture Care. He writes,
“Culture Care restores beauty as a seed of invigoration into the ecosystem of culture. Such soul care is generative: a well-nurtured culture becomes an environment in which people and creativity thrive.”
The word ‘generative’ refers to something that is bearing fruit or originating new life. As Fujimura would say, when we are generative, we draw on creativity to bring into being something fresh and life-giving. To me, ‘Culture Care’ sounds more like the gospel, the stewardship of His creation, or the journey to His Kingdom — it’s a generative approach to culture that brings resourcefulness, patience, and creativity into a culture bereft of His fruits. During my stay in Zanzibar, I saw a new vision to gather a community of people committed to generative living that identifies and models the conditions that best contribute to a good life and a thriving culture. Specifically, I saw a need for developing coaches in East Africa through my experiences in Zanzibar and as the African countries represented in the World Cup are more from the West and Northern African regions. I ask the Lord for His guidance, but it would be my dream to establish an organization focused in forming quality African coaches in East Africa. Hopefully, the outcome will see the nations develop a healthy football culture and ultimately lead to World Cup qualification.
Just as we are increasingly finding ways to take care of our environment for future generations, I hope we take importance notice in caring our culture as well so future generations can thrive. Culture and gospel go hand in hand in ministry.