And no one could have predicted the ...

And no one could have predicted the ...

It was very late Friday afternoon, almost evening, while we were stuck in a horrible traffic jam in Dar es Salaam that we got a message from Festo that was as perplexing as it was angering: the director of the primary school met with the 22 people whose farms and forests had been destroyed in the fire which had consumed 20 acres of our forests on the college land -- and basically announced that it had been decided that there would be no compensation for anyone -- that the primary school had nothing to give in the face of such enormous destruction. That was, of course, true, but it was his attitude that was beyond infuriating to everyone. It was time, however, for me to put it all out of mind. I had just arrived on the midnight flight into Dar Wednesday night -- Godfrey, Emmanueli and I had stayed up half that night talking -- and then we worked all day Thursday. We didn't get nearly as much done as we had to, the clock ran out before we finished and so we were stuck an extra day in Dar, and all I wanted to do was get home. We finally were ready to go at 6 Friday evening, and so we were stuck in rush hour traffic that crawled. We made it to Morogoro by midnight and after trying five hotels and finding them all full, we gave up and decided to drive all night and to surprise Susan and Vero and Halima and make it home in the early morning.

The weekend was wonderfully relaxing. We celebrated Thanksgiving a little late, but we celebrated with a real ham that we got from an English farmer, made some real whipped cream and even had pumpkin pie. When Monday rolled around, though, we had to confront the reality of what to do about the problem of the fire at the college. Everyone everywhere was ready for the fight to begin of course -- and when you lack movies to go see -- a rip roaring fight can provide a lot of good entertainment. We lack newspapers and TV news reporters to entertain us here in our village -- but on the editorial pages of people's lips everyone's every move was analyzed and commented upon.

There would of course be no compensation.

Oh, it might be possible to take them to court -- and we would certainly win -- but it would take years and years of every cent the school had in its budget to pay back the damage done by that fire -- and what would making them pay accomplish? Six hundred kids in that primary school would pay the price of compensating us for the loss. Money that would be used to buy chalk would instead be used to buy trees. But the law is the law and justice is justice and compensation is what is right and proper -- so even if no compensation would ever occur -- the sport of the argument was uppermost in everyone's mind.

No would could have predicted the letter the leaders of Village Schools Tanzania chose to write to the director of the primary school. "We want to let you know that we believe it was an accident and that no one intended for it to happen. Therefore, we think it is best to forgive you and to tell you that we will not require you to compensate us for the damage that was done. We don’t want to ask you to pay us back for the trees lost, or to ask for compensation of any other type. We know that it would be completely reasonable for us to ask you to pay for the 12,000 trees that were burnt or at the very least to ask your school to find seedlings and to reforest the 20 acres that were burned. But because we are neighbors and we know that in both the Igoda primary school and in Village Schools Tanzania, we are doing our work as a service to society, we think it is best not to demand our rights but instead to forgive you and free you from any debt to us for the loss of our trees."

And no one could have predicted the letter which today our students are taking to the pastors of all of the little churches in all of the villages in this area.

To the Christians in all the churches in Igoda, Luhunga, Mkonge, Mlevelwa, Ikaning'ombe and Iyegeya,

Our brothers and sisters in Christ,

We believe that you heard about the fire that started on the Igoda primary school farms last month which destroyed 20 acres of trees where we are building our college. We decided to forgive those responsible at the primary school because we understand it was an accident and it was no one’s intention to cause such destruction.

We also thank God for the way so many people showed up to help and gave of themselves to put out the fire before it destroyed even more trees or especially the college buildings. We are writing to you all in all the churches in Igoda, Luhunga, Mkonge, Mlevelwa, Ikaning'ombe and Iyegeya in order to let you know that we have planned the following:

From now until 2 February, we are asking all those who feel that they want to help us to do so by contributing tree seedlings of any type (pine, eucalyptus, indigenous trees or fruit trees). Our building supervisor Festo Lunyali will be collecting them and we will be grateful for any amount given, if it is 10, if it is 100, if it is more than that, so that we can work together to reforest the land and make it as beautiful as it used to be. With all of us working together and everyone pitching in, we believe we can succeed.

Thursday morning 3 February, it is our plan to plant all the trees that have been collected on the 20 acres that were burned. We will be happy if many of you will be able to join us at 8:00am that morning to help us plant all the seedlings that have been collected. We believe that if many people come to help, we will be able to finish the work by noon.

Later that afternoon 3 February, we also plan to invite you all to a special thanksgiving service at 4:00pm to thank God for our college. At this time, we have already put the roofs on four lecture halls and our builders are currently working on the library and computer lab. We expect that they will have already finished roofing these new buildings and perhaps they will have begun to build the administration block. On 3 February, we hope that all of the Christians from all of the churches in the area will be able to come together to tour all of the college property, to see the buildings that have been built and to see where we plan to build others. While we are there, we want to give thanks to God and to ask all of the pastors of the various churches to pray together in unity to thank God for His faithfulness and to ask for His blessings on the plans for our college. We believe that this college is a very special way to bring great development to our villages. God, who is enabling and will enable Village Schools Tanzania to build this college deserves our praise and thanks. We will use the special service on the 3 February to praise Him and to give thanks to Him together.

You are all very welcome to come to share in our great joy and to give praise to God for His goodness and power.

Now I know that none of you who are reading this letter can show up on February 3rd to be a part of what we hope will be a huge crowd of people working together to try to plant 12,000 seedlings in four hours, and I know that none of you can make it out in the coming weeks and carry your contribution of a couple of saplings out to the college land and give them to Festo, and I know that you also can't be with us on February 3rd as we join together to say thanks to God and to ask His blessing on a truly impossible task. But even if you can't be here, we still do invite you wherever you are in the world on February 3rd -- it will be a Thursday -- to join with us with prayers of thanksgiving and praise for what God is doing here in Tanzania. I remember countless times over the past six years that I have marveled at how God had chosen to use a bunch of our former students from a few obscure villages to do what seemed so incredible. After all, even had they built a single secondary school it would have been truly a marvel -- but to dream of building secondary schools all across the country -- and then to succeed in getting 19 schools open in the few years since -- it is indeed a marvel that God is working amongst us. All these schools. And now they are dreaming an even bigger and more impossible dream -- building a college. But seeing is believing and I see the buildings being built. Many thanks to all of you who have already joined in this latest great effort partnering with us -- we rejoice in those who have labored here in Tanzania, we rejoice in those who back in America and Canada and Europe who have given funds for this college, we rejoice in God who has put this vision in the hearts of people here to believe in the need to try to do the impossible. February 3rd. Do mark it on your calendar.

And when the history of the college will one day be written, I trust someone will find in the archives a copy of the letter which has today been sent to all of the churches in this area ....