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Monday, April 06, 2009

Crowd Chaos

In the filter of Easter week, yesterday's football (soccer) match gave us a taste of the scene in front of Pilate's court, as the crowds were whipped into a crucifixion-demanding frenzy.

Hundreds (?a thousand or more) of people came to the semi-finals yesterday afternoon. The first game pitted Semliki, the winner of one zone, against Simbia, the number two team and our neighbors. Though the teams were fairly equal, Semliki pulled ahead 2 to 1 on a penalty kick. The fans were, by game time, loosened with alcohol and passionately protective of their teams' rights. Since the nationals are in Fort Portal, for the first time any team would have a realistic chance of raising the travel costs to actually attend, so competition is the fiercest it has ever been. Several times groups spilled onto the field. At one point police had to beat people away from the goal, using sticks. I saw another group fighting back with police who tried to remove a disorderly man. By the second half, the rain was pounding down, which cooled tempers somewhat as people huddled under trees and play went on. The boys were slipping all over the field. I stood for a long time in the CSB girls' kitubbi where a drum reverberated through the posts and the girls danced in a shuffling circle, psyching up for game 2 in which we were to play Bubandi. Eventually the missionaries watching withdrew to the Pierce's porch, except Jack who watched soaked on the sideline . .

It was near the end of the game, Simbia had a good drive towards the goal, and a Semliki player touched the ball with his hands only a few feet from the goal, deflecting it out over the end line. His team mates started to yell at him for his error, and the Simbia players all signaled for a penalty kick. But neither the line ref nor the main referee saw it. They called for the ball to be put back in play as a goal kick (Semliki kicking it away from their own goal). At that point all hell broke loose. Men supporting Simbia mobbed the field. I called Jack back to the porch. The ref was engulfed, and he's a big guy. The players withdrew. For almost an hour, it went on, arguing, gesticulating, grabbing the ball, refusing to let play go on. When it would seem to calm down, the core of trouble makers would rile the crowd up again, running around waving their arms. Knots of organizers tried to meet and find a solution, David came out too, and Nathan tried at one point to get control of the ball . . . Eventually the referees called the game over, and refused to hold the second match out of fear for their own safety.

It was a graphic picture of how a restless mob can be agitated by a couple of dozen men into a dangerous beast, capable of destruction. I try to imagine Jesus standing quietly in the midst of the chaos, not answering, aware of His own impending death and of the superficial passions that will storm him to the cross.

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