I first heard of “The Queen of Katwe” from my friend Bishop Beall as we prepared to go to Uganda in 2015. He was leading our team on a medical mission trip, and recommended I read this book by Tim Crothers in preparation. The book tells the story of how the ministry of Sports Outreach changed the life of one girl in particular, Phiona Mutesi. The story is so amazing Disney has made a movie of it. It was an honor to meet two of the main characters on our first day in Kampala.
In many of the poorest places in the world,
Sports Outreach Institute reaches out to establish relationships with people in order to share the gospel. As their name suggests, sports is one of the tools they use to connect with people. Several years ago, a man named Robert Katende arrived every day to a dirt “field” in Katwe with a soccer ball to play with whoever would show up. Soccer is huge in Uganda, so many children would show up to play. After they were done playing, each child got a bowl of porridge to eat. For many of these boys and girls, this would be the only food they would eat that day.
Robert saw many children didn’t participate in soccer, but he wanted to get them involved. Some of them weren’t good at soccer and didn’t want to play. Others did not want to risk getting hurt. He wanted to provide an activity for these children, and so he decided to teach chess. He brought out a chess board and dropped it in the dirt, sat down next to it and began to explain how the game was played. His group of players grew as they learned more about the game (and got food to eat as well). One of the girls who started coming was Phiona Mutesi. She first came to see what her brother was doing, and then for the bowl of porridge, but soon discovered she was very skilled at chess.
As time went on, the children wanted to play against someone other than each other. Robert entered the children into local chess tournaments. It was ground-breaking to have kids from the slums playing chess. This was a rich-person game, and the slum kids had many stereotypes to break through. As they arrived to their first tournament, they were openly mocked and ridiculed. Until the chess games started. They performed so well in that first tournament they were allowed to continue to enter chess tournaments. The exposure to tournament chess and talented players allowed all of them to improve, especially Phiona. She kept playing and became the woman’s chess champion for all of Uganda, and has played tournaments throughout the world.
She never thought she would ever get out of the slums, but God has made it possible through Sports Outreach and chess.
We were blessed to work with these two amazing people during our mission trip. Robert was with our team during the days, ministering to his fellow Ugandans and helping us communicate and provide medical care to them. Phiona worked as an interpreter during our clinics in Kampala, and she was a huge help to our providers. I can’t imagine how difficult it must be to go to a chess tournament and stay in a luxurious hotel with running water and plenty of food, and then return to the slums where her family lives and where her life is. Her heart and compassion for the people of Uganda was clear in everything she did.
If you’d like to hear more of her story, here the trailer to the movie: