“Ba Coach! Ba Coach!” As OMer Noel Zulu passes through the streets of Kasama, Zambia, wearing his distinctive ballcap, the children and youth all greet him with excitement. 'Ba' is a term of respect in the local language. But for the children to call Noel 'Ba Coach' is not because of a culture requirement, it's because of genuine appreciation.
Kasama is known for sports and vulnerable kids; two subjects that Noel is passionate about. He moved to Kasama in 2017 specifically to share the hope of Christ Jesus through sports to youth. “Sports bring people together and it’s a great tool to reach out to the young ones,” explained Noel. Three times a week, he has devotions and football practice with his two teams. God put 30 young people into his hand and the number is still growing.
Noel is still fairly new in the area; however, he is already famous within the sports circles. Training his team with biblical principles and treating them as friends, the youth all notice Noel is different. “There are even players from other team wanting to join our team because we do things in a different way,” said Noel. Renting a house near a township, Noel opens up his home for the youth to watch football. “I don’t want them going to bars for the match. Besides, this is a great opportunity to build the relationship,” he said. Almost every day a few boys visit him.
Seeing a difference
Though he has been with the team for less than a year, Noel can already see a difference. “Sometimes I am surprised by how openly they share with me and the testimonies after I encourage them,” admitted Noel.
Ken* is 22 years old and lives with his grandmother and five siblings. Dropping out of school in grade 5 to help take care of his family, Ken’s relationship with his grandmother held a lot of tension and he felt bitter towards his background. Ken opened up to Noel about his situation and feelings. It was hard to find a job for him, but Noel helped him discover his knack for cutting hair. Now Ken has a barber shop that Noel helped set up and is able to provide for his family.
Another boy confessed that he used to steal from his stepfather as revenge. After joining the football team, he stopped stealing and learnt to forgive his stepfather.
There are many challenges as Noel ministers to the youth with tough backgrounds. In his team, there are boys facing jail sentences because of drugs. He also deals with difficulties from guardians who see the children as tools. “Some parents send their children to the street to pick up bottles or beg. [At] the same time, I am trying to teach them the value of education,” said Noel.
The game is not easy, but with God as Ba Coach, it’s going to be a win for the team.