Thursday, August 18, 2011

Spreading the gospel through basketball

The Hill Cumorah Pageant is finally over and life in the Rochester, New York mission is back to normal.  I mentioned in the last entry that Christopher is now in Buffalo, New York and enjoying it a lot.  The city is bigger, there are more people in his Ward and Christopher and his companion have already found several new people that they are currently teaching.  In fact the Ward in which Christopher is now serving is so diverse, that on one Sunday he heard a talk and prayer in Spanish and also a prayer in French.  There are a lot of people from different cultures in his Ward, which probably makes for some very interesting meetings.

In the latest letter from Christopher, he told us a great story.  He started out by saying that one thing that his patriarchal blessing has instructed him to do is to use his talents to serve others.  Especially now that Christopher is on a mission, he has really been trying to do just that.  Christopher has always had a talent for music and has spent time making sure that he can play all of the hymns so that he can share his musical talents with the members of the Ward.  Christopher has always had a great ear for improvisation and not too long ago he told us how, on occasion, he has used this talent to "spice" up the hymns just a bit.  So sharing his musical abilities has been an easy thing to do on his mission.  Now for the harder one. 

Christopher is a great basketball player.  He has really enjoyed playing basketball with the other Elders on P-Day.  In fact there have been several times when his competitiveness has gotten the best of him and landed him in the emergency room.  But that is a story for another time.  Christopher has been looking for a way to use his talents in basketball to help in his missionary work.  So this story is about basketball and missionaries.

Christopher told us that there is a fairly large park in their area of Buffalo.  There is always a lot going on in this park especially since the park includes a zoo, a cemetery, a golf course, tennis courts, jogging trails, large grassy areas and yes, even basketball courts.  Of course being interested in basketball, Christopher had to check out the courts.  He said that their are always a lot of younger people out playing basketball everyday.  Some of them are really good.  In fact so good, that they might even rival some of the best college players or even pros.  Most of the people playing basketball in this park are black and you will see why I mentioned that fact in just a minute.  A lot of the games that are played, are just pickup games.  In other words, people show up at the courts, randomly form teams and play each other just for the fun of it.  So the other day, Christopher and his companion were walking by the park and stopped at the basketball courts just to watch some of these games for a few minutes.  At that point Christopher had an idea and told his companion that he wanted to try to join in on one of these pickup games just to see if playing a little basketball with these guys would be enough to break the ice and get some conversations going. 

Not long after that, Christopher and his companion were at a dinner appointment which just happened to be right next to the park.  After dinner they both headed over to the park to try out Christopher's new plan.  Being missionaries, they could just walk over to the park in their basketball shorts and shirts especially since they are just a couple of white guys.  The crowd would have probably just ignored them and kept on playing.  So they decided that they would show up in their suits and ties, proudly wearing their missionary name tags.  They immediately got noticed and recognized as Mormon missionaries.  Well, that may have gotten them noticed, but Christopher still wasn't any closer to getting in on one of these pickup games.  After a short chit-chat with a few of the players that were standing around, Christopher changed into his basketball shorts and was ready to play. 

So the way this works is that if somebody wants to play ball, they form a team that is made up of others who are willing to play and get dibs on the next game.  Two teams play, the winner continues into the next game and the loser is out.  Then team with dibs on the next game, plays the winner.  Once Christopher had changed into his basketball shorts he tried to get onto the team that was going to play next.  Since none of the players had any idea who Christopher was, other than the fact that they knew he was a Mormon, they didn't really want to take a chance on this Mormon white guy.  So that just meant that Christopher had to find his own players, form his own team and get dibs on the next game.  Well, Christopher did just that and before too much longer, Christopher and his team were next up on the court.

Being the challengers, Christopher's team took the ball out first.  As Christopher described it, his teammate brought the ball in and across the half court line and then passed the ball off to Christopher.  As soon as Christopher got the ball, he stepped up to the three point line and took a shot.  SHWOOSH!  What a way to start a game.  Especially for the Mormon white guy.  The game continued on and Christoher's scoring streak never ended.  He scored several more threes and a few lay-ups too.  Christopher's team ended up losing the game but only by 2 points.  But what Christopher won, was a lot of respect from the same guys who just a short time before, wouldn't really give Christopher the time of day.  In fact at one point during Christopher's scoring streak, all of the black players who were sitting on the side lines watching the game, started yelling out "Larry Bird" every time Christopher scored.  Now, if you aren't familiar with the name "Larry Bird", he was a famous NBA basketball player back in the 80's and yes, he was a tall white guy.

The most important part of this story is that Christopher was able to open some doors and start some conversations all because he has a talent for basketball.