How beautifully said

How beautifully said

So much has been crammed into the last seven days that the memories of last week's Saturday night already seem to be fading. But I do remember that Susan was wearing a beautiful dress that night, and I actually had a tie on for a change. We were in a wonderful dining room on the second floor of the elegant Kimpinski Hotel in Dar es Salaam, and there I was standing up and addressing a gathering that included the former President of Tanzania, Cardinal Pengo of the Catholic Church, and table after table of interesting people. Certainly it was an honor to get to speak to them and to talk of the impossible dream that we have that one day every child in Tanzania will get to go to school -- no matter how poor their parents are, they will still get to go to school -- even if their parents are already dead and can't help them, they will still get to go to school -- even if they come from a remote village and all of the odds seem totally against them, they will still get to go to school. In the magic of that wonderful evening -- before the coach turned back into a pumpkin -- it was good to speak of impossible dreams.

But it was also good for me to get to honor those who were at that banquet that night.

Good to honor friends of ours who had come all the way from America and to explore with people why they had been so generous as to care that kids way off in Tanzania got to go to school.

Good also to honor President Mkapa, whose very presence spoke volumes of the importance that he personally attached to education. I got to share with everyone there that night, and to remind him, of the kindness that he had shown to my son years ago when, as President, he had come all the way to our village and yet took time out to speak to a young boy and to let him get his picture taken with him. I got to share with him the book that I had seen on the corner of the desk of the governor one day when I was in his office. A most interesting book -- Following in the Footsteps of Mr. Kurtz -- which describes in detail the horror of the war that I lived through in Congo -- a book which that night I shared with everyone had President Mkapa's handwriting in the inside cover, inscribed with the words -- "Let us pray that this might never happen to our country."

And good to honor Cardinal Pengo for the passage in Mark 5 that he had chosen as his text when he had spoken earlier. The cardinal had told the story of how Jesus had cast demons out of a man, freed him from years of bondage, and drove the demons into a herd of swine who plunged off a cliff and died. It was a familiar enough passage, but he drew an interesting conclusion from it. One would have thought, he said, that the people of that village would have rejoiced at the man who was liberated, but instead they worried over the pigs which had been lost and they implored Jesus to leave their village. The pigs were of more value than the liberation of that man -- and it was there that Cardinal Pengo drew the sad conclusion about mankind. Build a school for poor people and there are those who will wonder if the money couldn't have been better spent. And I wanted to honor the cardinal for showing so clearly the difference between the way the world sees education for the poor and the way we as Christians are compelled to see education for the poor.

And then on Monday it was all over and Susan and I were racing across the country together so I could get to Ruaha University in time to give a speech there. This time I wore no tie and there were no dignitaries where we met. But instead I was meeting with over 60 college students who had chosen to give of themselves to come teach in our schools for two months. Every one of them could have taken the easy wayout. They could do their two months of practice teaching in a city school with electricity and running water and all of the trappings. But intrigued by Justin's talks on campus this past semester, they had petitioned the academic authorities to be allowed to go to villages and teach in our schools. I wanted to honor them, but I also wanted to make sure that they had no illusions of what they were getting themselves into. It's so romantic to want to help the poor, but in the end the actual doing of it, it is hardly romantic. Going to villages and teaching these students, giving of oneself sounds so nice when you're sitting in a classroom on a university campus and it's all theory. But when it comes time to actually sign on the dotted line and put your own name on the paper and to say, "I'll go" -- now that's hard. And then it's really hard when you actually go and you're there and you wake up the first morning and realize what you have chosen to do. It was an honor to speak to the likes of them. They had chosen to do what was hard and as I looked out at them I had to also speak of our dream. Our impossible dream. The dream that one day every child in this country will get to go to school. And I honored them for choosing to give of themselves.

And then after speaking it was back again in the car and another long drive back here to our village. At Godfrey's insistence we made a covenant to concentrate on the pile of paperwork that had piled up during the past weeks while I had been traveling and he and Emmanueli had been traveling, and so we resolved to do nothing other than get the paper work done. Except for yesterday. Godfrey was going to be starting a seminar to train those we would send to villages to lead people in building schools, and he wanted me to pull myself away from the computer and the documents and come to talk to that group of young men. This was the beginning of their boot camp training program to somehow get them ready to head out to villages and to start the building of more new schools. They will go to Lipumba and Amanimakolo, to Ichesa and Taweta, and other villages whose names they've never heard of until now, and so I wanted to excite them and inspire them and help them to understand the magic of it all. And so we talked of the history of VST, the amazing things that God had done -- we talked about how it was truly far beyond anything that we could have ever imagined. They were all former students of ours, so they had lived much of it. But then I wanted to address a whole different issue.

So I told them about my last seven days. How easy it is to respect the former presdient of Tanzania -- because everyone knows that we should do that. How easy it is to respect the teachers and the service they will provide -- because everyone knows that they are deserving of our respect. But what of the poor woman who carries water to build the school? What of the old men who come to make bricks, two bricks at a time, hundreds a day, in long, hard monotonous labor? Is it only former presidents and cardinals and teachers and those of wealth and power and influence who are deserving of our honor and respect? And since they were all my former students it was easy to stare at them until they wanted to turn away. It will be easy, I told them, when you get to the village to respect the Chairman of the Village. But what we want you to do is to show respect to the woman who carries the water, the men who make the bricks and quarry the stones, those without whose sacrifice no school will ever get built. So teasingly I asked does that mean now that you are no longer students, now that you finally have a job of honor and privilege and power, that there really is no one that you are allowed to lord it over, no one you can denigrate, no one whose life you get to make difficult as you show off the power you have? They all laughed, but the point that was made was a serious one. No, there really isn't anyone that you get to lord it over. You just can't do it, even if that is the example that you have seen time and again and often chafed under yourself. Because you are going out to represent Village Schools Tanzania, you are going to these villages to represent all of us here in this office, you are the face of this organization that people will see day after day after day, and so when you go out, you must respect people. All people.

And it was then that Godfrey chimed in -- and asked of them so wonderfully the question I was just about to ask of them. Why? Why is it that Mzee asks you to be different and to show respect and honor not just to those of position, of wealth, of power but to everyone in the village? And he slowly for emphasis answered his question for them. Because this is a Christian organization, and we represent the One who has sent us, and this is what He has taught us.

How beautifully said. We represent the One who has sent us, and this is what He has taught us.

Without knowing it, I had saved the best of my speeches for last, and I had not given it at a grand hotel, nor on a university campus, but in Godfrey's office. And there were no dignitaries in attendance, nor any teachers, but instead there were a handful of very young men, ready to be sent out to villages they had never before even visited, told to go to work with people, to live with people, to become a part of those people and to inspire them to build schools.

I sure do like what we get to do here!