American dream is alive and well for Moses

By Jenni Carlson
Updated: July 4, 2009

OKLAHOMA — Moses Ehambe never removes the stainless steel cross unless he’s playing basketball. The rest of the time, it hangs around his neck.

His father wore it for years. Wore it as a struggling immigrant from the Congo. Wore it as a minister preaching the gospel. Wore it as a father providing for his family. It was always around his neck.

Ehambe remembers seeing it there as his father mowed the lawn, shirt unbuttoned in the searing Texas heat.

Now on the weekend that Americans celebrate freedom, Ehambe has a constant reminder of the dream his father chased and the one he now seeks.

He wants to play in the NBA.

“It’s been a dream of mine for so long,” said Ehambe, a former Oral Roberts standout who now plays with the Tulsa 66ers in the NBA Development League. “God said in his word that he would give me the desires of my heart as long as I follow Him.”

That is what his father did in coming to the United States almost three decades ago. Now, millions of residents from the country formerly known as Zaire are fleeing because of bloodshed and war crimes, but when Lufile Ehambe made the decision to leave the Congo almost three decades ago, the battle was an internal one.

Lufile was raised in a loving home, a Christian home, but after graduating high school, he rebelled against his family and his faith. He turned to witchcraft.

He did whatever the witch doctors told him to do, which included drinking perfume. Mental illness, chronic insomnia and cancer followed. With his condition deteriorating, he was taken to the United States for medical attention but was told that little could be done for him.

Returning to the Congo, Lufile met a Christian missionary who shared her faith and changed his life. She said not only that he would be healed but also that he needed to go to the United States.

“That’s where you’re going to get your ministry,” she said.

Soon after that, Lufile became a Christian. His body healed, and his heart felt the call to ministry. The missionary had mentioned a place — Christ for the Nations Institute in Dallas — and he decided that’s where he needed to be.

Lufile and his soon-to-be wife, Fariala, left Africa for the United States, seeking a better life.

He started classes and worked as a janitor at the school, and she stayed at home with their children. Sarah came first, followed by Moses and three more.

The Ehambes lived in a one-bedroom apartment that didn’t always have electricity. Moses remembers times when his mother would light charcoal in an old coffee can to be used for cooking.

“But the Lord always provided for us,” he said. “To this day, He continues to provide for all our needs. Just by the glory of God, we are where we are today.”

Ehambe believes that even more now. After finishing at Oral Roberts, he went undrafted and unsigned by NBA teams. He knew about the D League and about the 66ers, but he believed his basketball future was overseas.

Then one night, he had a dream about playing in a 66ers jersey.

The next morning during his devotional, he again saw himself in that uniform.

Ehambe told his family, his friends and his agent that he wanted to pursue the D League. They told him that it wasn’t a good idea, that he should stick to his plan of going overseas.

“But I didn’t let that shake me,” Ehambe said. “The D League’s where God wanted me to go.” He signed with the 66ers, and last season, he averaged 10.1 points a game.

Then this summer, he got a call from the Oklahoma City Thunder.

No, not that call.

The Thunder, the 66ers’ NBA affiliate, drafted Serge Ibaka last summer, but he spent the past year playing overseas. This summer, he came to Oklahoma City to work with the team, but there was a language barrier.

Ibaka is from the Congo.

The Thunder needed a translator and asked Ehambe if he knew anyone who could speak Lingala. Of the dozens of dialects spoken in the Congo, it just happened to be the one that Ehambe knows.

“I’m like, ‘Wow, what are you doing, God?’ ” Ehambe said, shaking his head in wonder.

Ehambe has been working out in Oklahoma City all summer, and earlier this week, he was invited to play on the Thunder summer league team.

He will play in Las Vegas and Orlando. After that, who knows?

“It’s like I’m living the dream right now,” he said.

Ehambe knows that he is a long shot for the NBA. Even though he is already a youth leader at a Tulsa church and plans to go into full-time ministry some day, he wants to follow his basketball dream and see where it leads.

His family is behind him.

“They just think it’s the work of God,” Ehambe said of his father, who pastors a church in Irving, Texas, and his mother, who leads the praise and worship. “God is opening so many doors.”

The cross hanging around Ehambe’s neck reminds him of that.

Reminds him, too, of the sacrifice and triumph that allowed him to have his own American dream.