[Introduction] [Part 1] [Part 2]
The story in brief: After being deported by the Thai border police 11-year-old Chickenbone makes his way back to Bamboo School. But when the police appear again, he’s so afraid that he decides to return to the refugee camp where his family lives. Principal Momo Cat wonders if the students will ever be able to live without fear.
Part 3/3 - Volleyball Showdown
"Momo! They’ve asked us to play volleyball for Bong Ti!" Fifteen-year-old Ehler’s face was beaming as he told school principal Catherine Riley-Bryan - called Momo Cat - the exciting news one day in early December.
"If we win, we get to play in a tournament," added 16-year-old Wilter.
"We’re calling our team the "Bong Ti Blues," added Ehler. "Could you drive us to the games?"
Momo looked into the shining faces of Ehler, Wilter, Wayldee, Yo and Leelee. "Sure," she said. She was happy the boys were finally getting a chance to play after all the hours they’d spent on their makeshift volleyball court - a stony patch with mosquito netting.
"Do you think we’ll win?" they asked her.
"Just pray, do your best," she replied, "and leave it in God’s hands."
There had been lots of things to leave in God’s hands in the last while, Momo Cat reflected. Her mind went back to the raid by the border police in May, the week before school had opened. That day Pastor David had been arrested. When 11-year-old Chickenbone tried to distract the police from beating the pastor, they had shot him and taken him away too. Pastor David was still under arrest, and though Chickenbone had found his way back to school in October, he’d left again a few days after he came. She breathed a prayer that he was safe.
There had been good things too - the trips to Bangkok with the school choir, the new school building just completed by visiting Australian missionaries, and now this unexpected sports honor.
A few days later, on December 5th , Bong Ti played their first game against Wong Po. As the nervous team members spilled out of Momo Cat’s dusty green Toyota Twincab after the drive, she wondered, would the Bamboo School team be any good?
At first they were nervous and their play was full of mistakes. But Somgrit, the Thai man from Bong Ti, who had volunteered to be their coach, never gave up.
"Now we’ll get them!" he encouraged the team, as the Blues regained the serve. "That’s okay!" he shouted when one of the Blues misjudged a serve or dropped a volley. Even when the team was far behind, he kept on telling them, "We can do it!"
And they did! A few hours later the jubilant winners piled back into the truck. By the time they were back in Bong Ti they had decided how they would use the 100 baht each had won. They would buy blue t-shirts for the team.
A few days later the boys played in Kanchanaburi and won again. With this win they made it to the championship tournament. Again they pooled their winnings, printed their t-shirts, bought an ice bucket, some cups, a new practice ball and lineament rub.
Then it was the week before Christmas and the three-day provincial volleyball tournament. It would be played Amphur Sai Yok, only 28 km. from Bong Ti. "Can we please go along to cheer?" the other students begged Momo Cat.
"You’ll be missing a lot of school," Momo objected. But she quickly gave in. And so the first day of the competition found everyone making their way - by truck, motorbike or songtowel (a type of tin truck) to Sai Yok and the volleyball tournament.
On the first day of the competition, the Bong Ti Blues won their games. On the second day, they won again. On the morning of the third day they won easily. For the rest of that day, they watched other teams trying to size up the remaining opposition.
One team was particularly tough. Made up of older, stronger men, they had no trouble beating every team they played.
"They’re all bigger than I am," said Yo, the team’s tallest player.
"So good," groaned Ehler.
"That guy who’s serving..." said Wilter, looking hard at him, "I think he was at the school the day Pastor David was arrested."
So that’s who they were ! Quickly word got around. This unbeatable team was made up of border police.
"Hope we don’t have to play them,"muttered Wayldee. He automatically rubbed the scar on his face - one of many he’d received from soldiers.
Finally, by late afternoon, the competition was down to two teams- the Bong Ti Blues and the Border Police.
"Hardly enough daylight hours left to play another round," someone said.
"Maybe they’ll just give the prize to the Border Police," another person suggested. "They’ve won every team by so much."
Momo Cat felt torn. She saw how nervous her players were to face the Border Police and she understood why. None of them had I.D. papers. Playing against the police would draw attention to the school and its students. Even a loss could make them a police target. On the other hand, if they should win - unimaginable as that was - Bamboo School could be an even bigger target, but God would get great honor.
A few minutes later the decision was made. The final games would go ahead.
The Bong Ti players were tense, their eyes downcast as they paraded in front of the net before the game, touching fingers with the police team. Only Somgrit’s eyes were up and blazing!
Though Bong Ti played hard, they lost the first game 10 to 25.
"Pray! Pray hard!" Momo Cat encouraged the cheering Bamboo School students.
The second game got underway. As the Blues began adding up the points, onlookers noticed a change in the players. Their early nervousness had disappeared, replaced by Somgrit’s courage.
The whole town and hospital staff had come to watch. Every time Bong Ti scored, a cheer went up from the crowd. At each break in the play, Momo Cat and the students prayed. Finally the game was over. Bong Ti had won 25 to 22!
As the third game began, the setting sun shone straight into the players’ eyes. It was almost impossible to see but they squinted against the glare and continued to play with everything they had. When Bong Ti pulled ahead by one point, someone called a time out.
"Please, God, give the boys strength," Momo Cat and the students prayed.
Play resumed as the Bamboo students chanted, "Go! Go! Go for God!"
Then Bong Ti was ahead by three points. Another time out was called.
"Please, God, keep us humble," Momo Cat prayed.
"Go! Go! Go for God!" The chant rose again. "Go! Go! Go for God!"
In rapid succession Bong Ti scored one point and then another. It was Bong Ti 15, Border Police 10. The game was over!
Cheers were deafening. Players were ecstatic. Ehler, fell to his knees in praise and exhaustion.
Quickly Somgrit called them to order and both teams paraded past the net for the final finger-touch. Never had the boys been so proud. Never had they been so thankful to God for victory.
After the trophy was presented, the crowd pressed in to congratulate the winners. Someone offered Ehler and Wayldee money to get their I.D. cards and make it possible for them to get more education. Representatives from other schools went up to individual players to offer them a spot in their school for next year.
Back at Bamboo School all was tense as Momo Cat and the students waited for the border police to get back at them. But after a few uneventful days, everyone relaxed. It seemed reprisals wouldn’t come –– at least not now.
It’s been a while since these events. I wondered, as I dug this story out of my files, was Bamboo School still in existence? And what about Momo Cat?
Google to the rescue.
On the Church Mission Society website (UK) I found this January 20, 2006 article about Catherine Riley-Bryan.
And on the March 27/06 WVI Newsletter blog, Allan Weatherall tells of a recent visit to the school. He ends:
It was inspirational to see how one woman’s faith and willingness to live humbly among the people can make such a huge difference to so many needy children, and how her Christian witness of love and good works continues to impact a whole community.Amen to that!