Darhan's version of Men's Basketball March Madness has begun. The Sprite League this year is regionalized, so I don't have have to travel three hours each way to the capital city to play in games. And thank God I got picked up on a better team this year for games in Darhan. It's fun to play with people you know and like. Friendship off the floor helps you trust on the floor which results in better play, performance, and enjoyment. I love this game, the excercise benefits, and the things it teaches. I hope the trust relationships that God is giving me with my fellow players will allow some of them to entrust their lives to Jesus like I have.
On Easter, we had a game, and we were getting ready to do a cheer before starting the game. Sometimes I'll suggest "defense!" or "rebound!" as the cheer. Mongolians love to try to speak English even if they don't know much. Saturday many of the guys learned a new word on the fly as they yelled it the best they could. Sunday, I decided to suggest that we chant "Jesus", but in Mongolian. When I did, my player-coach friend, who knows I'm a believer, looked at be and said, "huh"? But there was no time to discuss it, so we chanted "Yaysoos", with varying gusto. Undoubtedly it was a first for many in that huddle to call on His name.
After playing a game on Saturday afternoon, missing one in the evening, playing again Sunday afternoon, I was told the next game would be around 7:30. I said I would be there because I figured Easter dinner would be over by then. But the phone rang as we were about to sit down to dinner. I explained about Easter festivities and asked if they could get by without me, but they said we needed me to get this win.
After eating rather quickly and less than usual, I arrived just as the game was about to begin. We went down by ten in the first quarter. By half time we had tied it. It was a close game all the way.
The most trying thing about game was the refereeing. The league is well organized with good refs. But for some reason on Sunday there was only one ref, and it began to become obvious even to me, that this lone ref had been drinking. I could really tell he had when he started unashamedly explaining his calls to me in English. It's amazing how good people think they speak English if they have had a few drinks. It got a little more embarrassing when I saw a fan in the front row handing him him a coffee cup which certainly was not holding coffee. I was amazed that the whole gym of more than 100 people knew he was drinking, but no one said anything. Maybe they were too ashamed to quietly say..."hey, you've been drinking", or yell out "drunk!" I asked him "what are you drinking" in Mongolian. He acted like he didn't hear and gave me a look like he could make things difficult for me and my team if I pushed it. So when he would miss calls or make non-sensical ones, you got the idea that if we wanted to finish this game, we had to just put up with injustice and play.
It was a shame to have a public show of drunkeness from a man who sober is pretty good at his job. But games are supposed to reflect real life and teach us to play it better. This experience gave me empathy for a society plauged with this problem. Now I know why they tend to just tolerate, excuse and even at times deny the problem even when its right in front of them. The ref was feeling shameless, but everyone else in the arena felt ashamed, too much so say anything. He will bear his own shame when they mock him sober.
In the end the game was not decided by bad officiating. It was decided by the players. Our team maintained composure enough to still have some laughs while on the bench and enjoy the game. We wongly fouled one of their guys from three point with 3 seconds to go, down by three. Their player could have tied it by making all three free throws. But he missed the first one and then another. Then we were fouled and made both free throws to win by four. It was a good game, despite the shame.
Before leaving I told/taught my friend/player-coach a new English phrase: "Happy Easter". He couldn't guess what it meant so I told him in Mongolian: "Happy Jesus' came back to life day". His response? "Ok."