It is a unique experience to see your life dramatized in a movie – as mine is in QUEEN OF KATWE. It is especially remarkable when the life being portrayed is not the one you thought you wanted. Choosing to step out for others and it turns out to be this amazing historic experience.
It was not my dream to teach chess in the slums of Katwe. I had been to school, to college; I was trained as an engineer. I had a wife and a family and was looking to make a living, a better life for all of us. But it didn’t work out that way. Work in what I was trained for was hard to come by. So I took a job with a sports outreach ministry, doing soccer training. And that’s where God gave me my true calling in life:
To be a mentor.
I realized, once I started working with those kids, that this is what God created me to do. As a Christian, as a man who tried to live my life by my faith, I had lost my way a little – lost sight that God’s plans are not always my plans. God gave me a purpose, and it was only after I chased after the things I thought I wanted, things for me, that I saw what that purpose was. To help others, too; as the Bible says, to lay down my life – my desires – for others. That’s what Jesus did for me. It is an honor to be called by God to do the same.
As shown in the film, Phiona Mutesi – one of the young people I coached and mentored in chess – went on to become a great champion. But giving of yourself to others isn’t really about how many awards and accolades someone ultimately receives. It’s about building stronger communities, building confidence and character, giving back to the people and places who have given much to you.
To teach or coach another, either as your job or as a volunteer, can be a life-changing experience for you and those you help – and reverberate even beyond. Phiona learned so much more than how to play a game. She learned about life, because chess is one of the most effective tools for empowerment and teaching life principles, because whatever you go through in life, you actually find it on the board.
Her achievements have helped Katwe, too – given it a positive identity after so much negative. Life is now more hopeful for children who grow up there – because they see there is opportunity for them to rise above the challenges of life. Many hardships still remain; but it has now been proven they can be overcome. What a powerful gift, as a mentor, to be able to give a person and a community.
That is the lasting legacy of mentoring: inspiring future mentors and mentees. And Hollywood doesn’t have to make a movie about your life for it to have a lasting impact. If you just commit to give of yourself what you can, what others need, you may find you inspire others to do the same. And then they meet and mentor their own Phionas. And wonderful things begin to happen.