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Sunday, February 13, 2011

Outcasts United

Outcasts United is the story of a refugee soccer team, a remarkable woman coach and a small southern town turned upside down by the process of refugee resettlement.

In the 1990s, that town, Clarkston, Georgia, became a resettlement center for refugees from war zones in Liberia, Congo, Sudan, Iraq and Afghanistan. The town also became home to Luma Mufleh, an American-educated Jordanian woman who founded a youth soccer team to help keep Clarkston’s boys off the streets. These boys named themselves the Fugees -- short for refugees.

Outcasts United follows a pivotal season in the life of the Fugees, their families and their charismatic coach as they struggle to build new lives in a fading town overwhelmed by change. Theirs is a story about resilience, the power of one person to make a difference and the daunting challenge of creating community in a place where people seem to have little in common.

My friend Amy gave me this book for Christmas and the plane ride to Arizona was the perfect place to get started. She said it looked exactly like the type of book I would like and she was right. The story was compelling and inspriring. The author had a nice mix of background on Luma the coach and the refugee families, and the current struggles everyone was facing. It would have been very easy for him to have painted some of the key players in a very bad light, but he really didn't do that. In an interview he said "I generally go into most situations assuming that people are doing the best they can and I challenge myself to try to understand the motivations behind actions that I disagree with or that strike me as wrong...there are no simple answers in Clarkston."

There were some great lessons to be learned, one of my favorites was from the preacher of the perviously named Clarkston Baptist Church. He felt that if the church changed and welcomed the international refugee community, they would be following a great plan that God had for them. they renamed the church the Clarkston International Bible church and had a main service as well as numerous small meetings. Phil Kitchin, the pastor said "Jesus said heaven is a place for people of all nations, so if you don't like Clarkston, you won't like heaven".

Luma, the coach, not only mentored the kids in soccer, but in all aspects of their life. At one time there was an issue with one of the kids being involved with a gang. She had a discussion with the team about gangs and some of the concerns of getting beat up for being in the wrong area. She finally told them "If you keep getting beat up on the same road, take a different road." What an amazing life lesson.


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