Soccer, providence and the love of his ‘American mom’ helps former refugee find his footing following a war-torn childhood in Africa
Athletes draw from all sorts of emotional wells to ready their minds for competition. UC soccer forward John Manga taps into an ocean of emotion from a horrific childhood.
Waiting for UC’s No. 9 in the undertow are memories of kidnapped parents, an older brother thought to have been murdered and unspeakable acts — rape, beheadings and suicide — that he witnessed as a child.
Manga, a 19-year-old sophomore, was born in the Democratic Republic of Congo in central Africa in 1994 just a few years prior to the First Congo War. By age 6, the war would reach his doorstep.
“When I was very young, things were pretty normal,” recalls Manga in a still-thick accent. “I went to school like every other kid. All my uncles played soccer at the professional level, and I was starting to pick up on it a little bit, too.”
During those calm years, before rebels invaded his hometown of Bunia, he and his three older brothers — Philip, Pierre and Jacob — shared a six-bedroom home with their parents Jonathan, a missionary, and Christine, a French teacher at the nearby school.
“We were a pretty wealthy family,” Manga says. “But when the civil war came, we pretty much went from having everything to having nothing.”