The sun is beating down on the red soil, which is kicked up in clouds as the ball lands and feet scramble for a last chance. The whistle blows. The match is over. A massive cheer goes up from the stand and Lazaro and Abdou* – hot and tired – shake hands.
This may not be a national final and there may be no media coverage, but it is a match of great significance – a match with the power to bring broken communities together.
Nelson Mandela once said: ‘Sport has the power to change the world. It has the power to inspire, it has the power to unite people in a way that little else does.’ And so it is with this football match, organised by Tearfund in Boda, Central African Republic (CAR).
A previously peaceful community, Boda has been shattered by conflict over the last four years – ripped apart by rival armed groups demolishing houses and killing civilians.
Stability is slowly returning to Boda. However, relationships within the community remain strained; fear and mistrust pollute the atmosphere. But Tearfund is still here, bringing hope of restored relationships and peaceful communities.
A sporting chance
The two players, Lazaro and Abdou, are from rival communities. Since the conflict, they have been separated and taught to fear the other group. But they find common ground in their passion for the game.
‘Through sport we can come to understand each other more and have a common goal – to win the match,’ says Lazaro, a player in his twenties. ‘We all meet up between matches to train together and plan our tactics.’
During half time a drama group, employed by Tearfund, share an amusing sketch focusing on peacebuilding and community relations. While the crowd and the players were laugh along, they are able to reflect on the deeper meaning of the performance.
Abdou still feels traumatised by the recent conflict and worries about his family, yet he enjoys playing with his new team and feels less rejected as a result.
‘We want to heal and we want to live in peace,’ he says. Through activities like football, Abdou and Lazaro and others like them are beginning to build relationships. They can break down suspicion and mistrust and bring about a better future for themselves and their communities.
* Names changed to protect identity
Praise God for bridges like football and drama that give common ground, bring people together and help open up challenging conversations.
Pray for the Tearfund team in Boda, and for Lazaro and Abdou and their teammates to build strong relationships, understand one another and find healing for themselves and their communities.
Bitter conflict has left thousands dead and driven nearly half a million people from their homes in CAR. Pray for peace in the nation and for reconciliation between different communities.
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