Guest post by Jonathan Ernst
When you’re talking sports, being the “goat” is generally not a good thing. It means you missed a tackle, you botched an easy double play — you let the other team win. The goat gets booed, and everybody knows it. But not here in Kashenye, Tanzania, on a soccer field high in the rolling green hills on the western coast of beautiful Lake Victoria. Here the goat means victory.
I’ve come to Tanzania to visit parishes participating in the Lutheran Malaria Initiative, where Dr. John Fulli and his team have trained pastors and their evangelists to spread the good news about malaria: that sleeping under bed nets, ridding your surroundings of standing water where mosquitos can breed, and seeking prompt medical attention when you feel malaria symptoms, can save your child’s life. A Tanzanian’s best defense against malaria is knowing how to avoid it and, if they get it, seeking medical help immediately.
Members of Lutheran parishes have not been content to simply educate their own members through Sunday school or from the pulpit, to get the word out they have become evangelists for the anti-malaria message. And that’s why we’re at a soccer match, sponsored by the local Lutheran congregation. The Tanzanian program coordinators say it’s hard to reach out to men and children in the community, but they’ll come to watch the soccer match and at halftime they’ll listen to a lesson about malaria.
At the start of the match the teams from neighboring villages paraded onto the field in parallel lines, one in blue jerseys and the other in green. And it sounded like a big-time match thanks to the non-stop play-by-play shouted into a battery-powered bullhorn. The call was in Swahili, naturally, but every once in a while, the words Copa Malaria popped up — the Malaria Cup.
Halftime was showtime for the malaria educators as they gathered the soccer fans. People were interested, especially the children. When the educators quizzed them on facts about malaria, hands shot up and children were happy to be called on for the answers. One little girl in a pretty pink dress paused for a second, gathering her courage to speak into the bullhorn. Some of the other children started to snicker, but she kept her composure and finally gave her answer in a clear voice. I don’t know what she said, but it must have been right on. The educators whooped and Dr. Fulli gave her a special little gift — from his own wallet.
After the hard-fought match, the teams sat together surrounded by a tight circle of fans. The losing team’s goalie, a big, strong acrobatic player, wiped away tears from a serious-looking ankle injury as he made his way up to collect second prize, a new soccer ball.
Then Pastor Joas Kahesi, the guest of honor, smiled broadly as he held first prize on a rope tether for the boys in blue. And this time, for once, the goat — the bleating, bearded, two-horned, wall-eyed trophy for Copa Malaria 2011 — was greeted with cheers.