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Erica Galindo
Celebrating Food, Faith and Family
Last edited on: September 30, 2016.

Christian missionary work is a field often overlooked by mainstream media, but Disney’s ‘Queen of Katwe’ is now bringing it to the big screen. This eye-opening film allows us to see missionary work from the perspective of a young girl in poverty and an educated man hoping to change the world for our Lord. In this heartwarming letter, Robert Katende, whose missionary work inspired the film, shares his heart for mentoring and the story behind ‘Queen of Katwe’ movie.

paying chess in queen of katwe - the story behind 'queen of katwe' movie

Golden Globe Award Winning Actor David Oyelowo (Selma)  portrays missionary Robert Katende, with Academy Award Winning Actress Lupita Nyong’o (12 Years a Slave) as Phiona – engage in the strategy of life and chess in ‘Queen of Katwe’. Photo Courtesy of Walt Disney Pictures.

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.

Robert Katende whose life inspired Disney film Queen of Katwe mentors boys in African village - the story behind queen of katwe

The real-life Robert Katende, whose missionary work inspired the film ‘Queen of Katwe’ mentors a group of children in a village in Uganda. Photo Courtesy of Walt Disney Pictures.

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.

Still from Disney's Queen of katwe film - story behind 'queen of katwe' movie

A triumphant still from ‘Queen of Katwe’, starring David Oyelowo, Mandina Nalwanga and Lupita Nyong’o. Photo Courtesy of Walt Disney Pictures.

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.

Still from Disney's Queen of Katwe film - the story behind 'queen of katwe' movie

Actress Mandina Nalwanga, who stars as the child prodigy Phiona, kisses a chess piece in this poignant still from ‘Queen of Katwe’. Photo courtesy of Walt Disney Pictures.

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.

Movie poster for Queen of Katwe disney film - story behind 'queen of katwe' movie



To learn more about this inspiring new film, please visit Queen of Katwe

About The Author


is a life coach using sports (chess) as a platform. He serves as general secretary for the FIDE Social Action Commission, a commission of an international organization for chess dedicated to using chess as a tool for social improvement, and is director of Sports Outreach in Uganda, a division of the U.S.-based ministerial program Sports Outreach Institute. Katende was born in Uganda and became a refugee during Uganda’s civil war. He never knew his father and lost his mother at an early age. His skill as a soccer player, along with a dedication to improving himself through education, brought him an opportunity to earn a university degree in civil engineering. He married his college sweetheart, Sarah, and they had their first child while he was searching for a job that could both support his family and fulfill him personally. In the interim, he worked as a soccer coach at a local church organization in the slums of Katwe. He found that some of the children were reluctant to play soccer for fear of getting hurt because there was no money to pay medical bills. For these children, he created a chess program at Agape Church. This program became his passion and his profession. He called the first chess group his “Pioneers” and they blazed a trail of championships across Africa. His outstanding work earned him a position on the Uganda Chess Federation executive as director of development.

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