June 17, 2014 at 1:00 am

One game, two allegiances

Refugee learned love of soccer in Ghana, and life in America

Moses Yankson keeps his Christmas tree up room year-round. 'It's Christmas every day' here, he says. (Neal Rubin / The Detroit News)

The Lord handles the important stuff. Soccer, probably not.

The Lord has blessed Moses Yankson with many things. Escape and refuge. Faith and prosperity. Three smart, accomplished children.

In Moses’ time of need, the Lord even sent the Boblo boat.

“God has showed many mercies to me,” he says, and in return, he has offered gratitude and perspective.

He is always thankful and always vocal with his thanks. He is vocal when he watches soccer, too, but that World Cup game Monday night between Ghana and the United States?

The one between the country of his birth and the country of his salvation? U.S. 2, Ghana 1? How could he choose?

Well before the start, he had his plan. He would go upstairs to his bedroom in Grosse Pointe Farms, to the wide-screen TV in the house he and Christiana bought after the three kids moved on from the bigger one.

He would perhaps bring a beer. He would bring his expertise, as well; he turns 60 on Thursday, but as a young man, he roamed midfield for the University of Ghana. And he would cheer for ...

No. That is the end of the story, not the beginning.

The Gideons at work

The beginning is Ghana, the first country in Africa to shed colonialism and become an independent nation.

Yankson was born into relative privilege there, he says. He went to a good Anglican school and then the university that trained him to be an accountant.

It’s a Christian country, mostly, but he did not take religion seriously until he was 24. Until then, he says, “All I did was get drunk, and wake up in the morning with a headache.”

He quickly became an evangelical speaker and a favorite of the Gideons, the group known best for distributing Bibles.

It was the Gideons who spirited him out of the country after the coup.

The story is complicated, and keep in mind that Jerry John Rawlings has supporters still. But the former air force pilot took over in 1979, and Yankson fell out of favor.

The U.S. had closed its embassy, so there were no visas. The clever Gideons somehow arranged for him to go to a conference in Indianapolis for 10 days, and 10 days became 32 years.

Officially home

He is a U.S. citizen now, not a political refugee. With time and new regimes in Ghana, he has been able to visit the homeland often.

But he remembers the wonders and the benefactors across three decades. The first snowfall that was so astounding he saved some of it in the icebox. The Gideon who moved him to Battle Creek, helped find him a job at Kellogg’s and took him shopping for clothes: to avoid arousing suspicion, he’d brought no luggage to America.

There’s an immigration lawyer named Jack English who assisted in countless ways and became godfather to his children. And yes, there is even the amusement park.

Christiana left Ghana after he did and made it to Canada. With their visas, he couldn’t leave the country and neither could she.

They could both go to Boblo, though, and every other week, they did. They would ride some rides and eat together and then — and here he laughs, long and loud — “you find a spot. Where there’s a will, there’s always a way.”

With her visa issue solved, Christiana has been a nursing assistant on the overnight shift for 27 years. He’s certified in computers, as well as numbers, and these days he’s a consultant in search of a client.

They are not rich, but they keep their Christmas tree in the living room all year long, “because here, every day is Christmas.” And every four years, there is the World Cup.

So who to root for?

“I owe my life to America,“ he says. He owes his love for the sport to Ghana.

Choose sides? He can’t.

It’s enough, he says, to revel in the game, and in the blessings that placed him here to watch it.

nrubin@detroitnews.com
(313) 222-1874
@nealrubin_dn