Tuesday Morning, A Soccer Field at the base of Morro dos Macacos - The ball caroms off the post into the frayed net. "Gol!" A solitary shout of triumph muffled by the shirt that he has pulled over his head. He totters across the field with his bone-thin arms perpendicular to his exposed torso - he's doing the airplane. The others are not celebrating, but they are laughing. This is what they have come to expect from Tangerina - the class clown who doubles as their leader.
Tangerina (portuguese for tangerine) is merely his nickname - the aftermath of a bad hair coloring experiment. His real name is Carlos. Besides his quick-wittedness and intellect, he possesses a compelling charm that makes you want to pull for him. At sixteen, Carlos is also quite intuitive. He can read you almost as quickly as you can him. Sadly, however, much of the self-assured posturing that we see from him on the field is merely an act. Underneath this façade, there's an approval-driven teenager who is terrified by the question, "Who are you?" And identity is not the only issue in question for him. Authority is also quite confusing. He has been raised in an environment that rebels for the simple reason that "you're not in control of me; you're not my dad." But when you, like Tangerina, grow up without a dad (as seems to be a given for the kids with whom we work), to whom do you feel accountable? Who is in charge?
With Carlos, our preeminent desire is that he would see God as a loving Father to whom submission would be a pleasure. Our Tuesday morning soccer class is just an expression of that. With our words and encouragement, we try to get him to see Jesus as both the means and the motive for this submission. With our discipline, we try to walk him toward the truth that freedom is secured, not threatened, by authority. With our prayers, we plead with God to confront and comfort Carlos' heart with the truth of His sovereignty and love. I think back on that day at the soccer field and consider how, one day, it could be different. I envision a Carlos that is so confident of Jesus' identity that he doesn't need others to help him with his own. It is this hope that helps me forget how absurd it is for two past their prime American guys to think that they can teach Brazilian teenagers soccer.