By Onochie Anibeze
Two days after we left the Upper Room in Emmanuel Town, Emeka Amadi was named one of the coaches of the national Under 17 squad. He is to handle goal keepers’ training.
One free evening while still there, Emeka came into my room and we went down memory lane. We discussed life, the challenges ahead and our mission to the Upper Room. When two men with sports background meet it is only natural that sports will be part of the discussion. Was it wrong to discuss sports in the Upper Room? No. It is a place conducive enough for one to discuss any problem.
It is a place you may be in communion with your maker. Therefore, if sports is your life, you can discuss it, work it and pray it but only to the One who made Heaven and Earth. And wait for it, the founder of Upper Room himself surprisingly spiced our sports story when he threw up a question on our last day there.
Our Prayer Retreat at the Upper Room in Emene, near Enugu was one of the BEST things that ever happened to me. I thank God for discovering a solemn place you can only find peace, a place so quiet and close to nature that even sitting down and meditating will transport a great feeling of grace and divinity into you. And when you pray either in the garden, the chapels, Grotto or during mass you feel the Holy Spirit coming down and you can only wish for more. It is my prayer that God blesses us with the grace to always love Him and follow His ways daily more and more.
I’ll come back to the prayer retreat. Let me return to Emeka Amadi and our evening discussion. Emeka left Nigeria few years after the U-20 World Cup in Saudi Arabia. He lived in Germany for over 17 years and just returned to Nigeria this year. He is home for good and just like other members of our group needed to find God.
Anselem Eze, another Flying Eagles player of his generation who still lives in Germany made the contacts with Father Stephen U. Njoku, the founder of Upper Room Ministry at Emmanuel Town. Anselem, a devout Christian has known father Njoku for years. He is one of the testimonies of the things that happen in Upper Room. Little wonder he wanted us to share in them and organized the retreat from Germany. He led our team and it was a huge success.
Emeka made name keeping for Nigeria, playing for Rangers and Insurance. The story of Damman Miracle came up while we discussed. Nigerians had gnashed their teeth when Portugal, with the likes of Luis Figo, denied Nigeria the World Youth Soccer Championship title in the final.
Nigeria had miraculously reached the final by beating Soviet Union in a penalty shootout. Flying Eagles were 4-0 down before they powered back in what has remained one of the greatest comebacks in international football. Emeka was Nigeria’s goal keeper. Everything about the match entertained. The post match press conference became an interesting topic when Nigeria’s coach, Tunde Disu told the world that his players played to instruction.
The international media wondered how a team that conceded four goals before rallying round and being lucky to equalise would have played to instruction. Were they on instruction to concede four goals before equalizing? Did Disu mean what he said or didn’t he understand what he meant? Was it possible that he was merely cracking jokes to add to the entertainment? Whatever it was, his post match talk became one of the high points of that memorable match that Nigerians still refer to as the Damman Miracle. It was played in the city of Damman in Saudi Arabia.
“I applied for the Under 17 job but I know where I’m headed,” Emeka told me in our discussion. His interesting story continued: “You see, the defeat by Portugal in 1989 still hurts me badly. Many people blamed me for the defeat. They said I conceded cheap goals. The first goal was not my fault but I could be blamed for the second one. After rising from the death in the semifinal many expected us to win the cup. We were close to doing that. It really hurts and that’s why I’ve applied to coach in the U-17 team. I want to graduate to the U-20 from there and have a chance of being in the technical crew that will win that cup for Nigeria. That’s my ambition. I want to make up for the loss of that cup…”.
I cut in to ask if it was true that he asked the coach to field Angus Ikeji, the reserve goal keeper then.
“Yes, it was true. I had the premonition that we would lose if I kept the goal in the final. I had the feeling and I told the coach to field another person. The coach ignored my suggestion, went on to field me and we lost. It appears that when something wants to go wrong all factors will facilitate it to the wrong path otherwise why didn’t the coach heed to my call? Many years after that final I still feel bad and I want to make up for that defeat and turn a Nigerian hero. We were heroes after the Damman Miracle but in the final we made Nigerians sad. I want to change all that.”
On our departure date, we walked up to the ground floor of the main Upper Room Chapel and Father Njoku hosted us to a farewell chat. Before then were prayer sessions and Bible lessons. Father Njoku’s teachings can make you understand life well. We learnt a lot about faith, about love, about serving God, about nature, about, prayers, about flowers and herbs. We learnt lessons. The true way of life. Among those in our group were Professor Brando Okolo who flew in from Egypt where he is based, Dr KUK Ekwueme, came in from Dubai although he is based in Lagos, Martin Ibekwe who is based in Germany, Rev. Sister Nneka Onyia in Ebonyi, our leader Anselem Eze and his three sisters and Rev. Father Hilary Mgbodile who had to leave for pastoral duty after the first day. Father Njoku chatted with us all and had some words for everybody. When he got to Emeka Amadi, the chat revealed that he had actually taught Emeka at the Junior Seminary. Emeka dropped out of the seminary and we were all knowing this during the discussion. Then the surprise from Father Njoku came: “During the penalty shootout in Saudi ’89, did you cheat? Was it true that you stepped out of line in one of the saves you made?
“I moved along the line and not beyond it. I didn’t cheat,” Emeka answered. We all wondered how Father Njoku still remembered the details of a soccer event that took place 22 years ago. Father Njoku seemed an all rounder to us. His knowledge of medicine and humanities marveled
It was really fun at the Upper Room. You can have fun while worshipping God. There, in the Upper room, God performs miracles on believers. There, people pray for healing. Even the Psychiatric Hospital sends patients to Upper Room. They have partnership. There, at Emmanuel Town, they have farms rich in herbs that can boost immunity, herbs that cure malaria etc. I saw Artemisia (Herbal team for malaria) and three months since I started taking it I have never suffered malaria which before then attacked me every month, sometimes two times in a month. There, they have the famous Muringa, one of the greatest immune boosters of the 21 century. It is large in their farms.
They have a lot at the Upper room. But most importantly they have God. But Rev. Father Njoku, the author of many books, is the quiet type and even teaches about silence in prayers. “When silence meets silence, there’s action”, he says.
Two days after we left the place Emeka Amadi was appointed one of the coaches of U-17. He had trained as coach in Germany and hoped to pick up a job after many challenges abroad. I wish him good luck. But may they never win with over aged players.