They would normally be on tour. They have turned down multiple gigs to be here. The time is non-negotiable. These children are a priority. They said they want to do it for ten years. This is year six.
To play basketball, you need a court. We didn’t have one. After the earthquake, one of the young Port-au-Prince refugees staying with a pastor showed up with a basketball and was dribbling all over Passe Catabois. All the boys in Passe Catabois followed him for a chance to hold or dribble that ball. Pretty soon, a five-gallon bucket with a hole in it, a two-by-four and some concrete disappeared from one of our construction sites. Using the rim of a plastic bucket, they created a makeshift hoop six feet off the ground.
Being mesmerized by a basketball is better than dwelling on the immediate trauma or the aftershocks still ongoing. The news from Port-au-Prince was horrid. Basketball is much better than thinking about the earthquakes that keep happening.
Not long ago, the church elementary school in Passe Catabois started the outline for a basketball court. Compassion, the child sponsorship agency, decided every school needed a court for an obscure game people vaguely knew about. The construction hadn’t gotten very far and things happen. Sometimes the ground shakes and things are very different afterward.
I tell the boys about the remains of a basketball court foundation buried somewhere in the schoolyard. With the pastor’s blessing, I promise, if they will dig it up and get everything ready, we will pour fifteen feet of the basketball court and put up a goal.
By 10 am the next morning, the work was done. It was now “put up or shut up” time; and the perfect time to divert attention from the earthquake. Shortly, we had a fifteen-foot concrete basketball court and a half court in packed dirt.
Over time, we got the half court done in two pours. And then someone said: “Let’s just pour the other half of this basketball court.”
The Boca Raton youth group came to basketball camp that first year afterward and brought two Haitian Americans who have played a lot of ball.
By the third year, we had a second court and a second program at the Poste Metier church five miles away. The two Haitian Americans increased to four and formed a music/ministry group. Local boys are more familiar with soccer. We had to convince them to quit hitting the ball with their head…use hands only and don’t kick the ball. This is basketball.
A bus pulls up. There are 60 cheering boys inside and 60 cheering boys outside waiting for them; all in reversible “Upward Basketball” jerseys. The home team is blue; the visitors, cream.
This is the big day. For a week, these boys have been learning basketball fundamentals and Bible lessons. The Poste Metier ball players travel to Passe Catabois for a ‘tournament.’ This is a competition involving basketball drills like dribbling and shooting. Then they let the older (11-13 year-olds) play some full-court sessions.
“K4C” (or Knights for Christ) is a ministry and a musical group of first-generation Haitian Americans with a heart for at-risk young people in America. They do concerts in schools and churches wherever they are invited, investing in youth, telling them about Jesus and trying to help them stay out of trouble. The leader of K4C says that Jesus saved him, but basketball kept him out of trouble.
They just put out an album: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=alaxH0YEXQ0&feature=youtu.be. Footage from basketball camp is on the video. A friend from Georgia is with them who last played competitive high school basketball and comes out of retirement to coach and organize the camp. I wasn’t sure he was going to make the video. He did, but it was basketball coaching that got him in and not singing. Along with the 120 boys are a dozen volunteer coaches from the two churches, some parents, a sound system and a lot of excitement.
Deb and I don’t know much about children’s ministries. But we receive the teams and provide the venue. Over recent months, we have been shipping everything necessary for a basketball camp: uniforms, basketballs (many children win their own ball either in the daily competitions or when they graduate at 13), peanut butter for breakfast before camp and other paraphernalia. For the past two weeks, boys in faded uniforms from previous years have stopped me on the road and asked if Sammy, Dee, Lucson, or Hobbs are coming for camp this summer. You can feel the excitement building.
One of the beauties of the Passe Catabois basketball court is that it has trees all around it. I sit in the shade watching the two teams’ race up and down the court. Most of these children are natural athletes and have caught on amazingly fast to this recent addition to Haiti sport. Over the years, many have come to Christ during basketball camp while listening to the story of salvation.
One of the eleven year-olds is blocked by a bigger player in front of him. Without missing a beat, he does a behind-the-back pass to a teammate and they press in toward the goal. Another amazement is seeing them pass – a lot. Watching local soccer is painful. When one guy gets the ball, too often he tries to take it all the way to the goal himself. It is one against eleven. When someone on the other team takes the ball from him, he runs the other way – one on eleven -without passing.
That doesn’t happen here. This is a profound change and something to take to other parts of their lives: teamwork. They are passing it off, keeping it, moving around and looking for an open man rather than personal glory.
I see all manner of sneakers patched up, sewn up or otherwise improvised. More than several have feet jammed in shoes that are way too narrow and no laces because there isn’t room. Some have street shoes or work boots. Who knows what sacrifices the parents made to find something for their boys to put on so they can attend camp? And someone at home is covering for them collecting firewood, carrying water, or tending to the animals so they can be boys for a week to do basketball and Bible study. And it is all forgotten in the excitement of these boys on the court.
Deb and I just got the new K4C CD. One of the songs is called ‘So Extra.’ For those who, like us, may need a translator to communicate with the younger generation: in rap/jive/hip-hop, it translates to ‘so blessed.’ As I sit in the shade watching these boys play basketball and have fun, I am feelin’ “so extra.”
We are so thankful for you, your friendship, prayers, and support.