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Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Following the NCAA Tournament from Africa

My heart just is not in the NCAA tournament this year.  Usually, I love men's college basketball and especially the tournament.  This year, my favorite team, the Michigan Wolverines, have had a good season.  They were even ranked #1 one week.  Yet, I cannot get myself up for the tournament.  

Every year, I invite my church members to turn in their brackets.  It is not gambling because no one turns in money.  Whoever gets the highest score (scoring is based on picking correctly and in the later rounds, you get more points for correct picks) gets a free lunch, courtesy of the pastor (me).  Last year, I won the pool and treated myself to Mexican food.

I am doing the pool again this year, but with very little zeal.  Like my overall interest, my energy in the church bracket pool is low.  Why?  Why am I so apathetic about this?

There are two reasons.  First, I just returned from 9 days in Ethiopia.  We made our second annual trip to the Children's Hope Chest care point ( and spent 4 days with the kids at that care point.  Without going into details, I will say it was immensely frustrating and rewarding all at the same time.  The frustrations included just a small bit of tension within the team (I emphasize, this was small, but present) and lost bags.  The usually reliable Ethiopian Airlines failed to deliver 10 of our bags, many of which were filled with items we needed for the Bible camp we were going to run for the kids.  Those bags finally came, but by then I was into hour 72 of the same outfit (same underwear, socks, etc).  

Then the care point itself, which is undergoing transition, was also frustrating.  We probably should not have come until the children had been at the new site for another month and the transition was farther along.  But we did not know the transition schedule when we set the trips dates a year ago.  So, we ended bringing a group of Americans at a particularly bad time for the care point.

Still the week went well and new friendships were formed (both among team members who hail from 7 different states and with people in Kombolcha, Ethiopia).  The children were beautiful, loved seeing us, and we enjoyed them right up to the teary-eyed goodbyes last Friday (3/15).  On the flight back to the U.S., all our bags made it!

But, adding to the (very minor) team-tensions, lost bags, and on site frustrations, I picked up  an annoying cold on the return flight that is exacerbating my jetlag.  I know I am whining here, but isn't that what blogs are for?  My heart is not into basketball or preaching or reading or studying.  I want to lay down and sleep.  But when I try, all the Ethiopian coffee I have consumed keeps me awake.  I feel I am walking in an emotionless fog.

There is emotion though and much of it relates to those kids (about 80% of whom are Muslim, probably 75% undernourished, and 100% below any poverty line we might draw).  Will the sticky issues at the care point be resolved?  Can we actually take a team from here and not have unresolved issues clouding our purposes next year?  Are we doing any good?  With these questions on the mind, it is very hard to care about basketball.

And did I mention preaching?  Yes, next week is Holy Week.  As a Christ-follower, I am acutely aware of the importance of the crucifixion and resurrection.  My attentions to this is heightened as I ponder how the resurrection informs evangelism and apologetics.  When I think of Jesus on the cross and then the empty tomb, and I think of what that means for the world, and I think of intelligently, persuasively making the case for Jesus in conversation with Muslims and with atheists, it becomes hard to care about basketball.

Don't misread any of this.  I love basketball.  I love, love, love the NCAA tournament.  If Michigan wins the whole thing, I will enjoy that.  But then again, this year, I might sleep through the whole thing.  Or, I might be wide awake but with my attention elsewhere.  I just have weightier matters on my mind and I don't think basketball merits that much of me right now.

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