The fires were out of control

The fires were out of control

We got the first report of the fire while we were in the bus traveling across Malawi -- a short 140 character phone message written in a hurry to say that there was fire out at the college and the call had made made to ask our students to come quickly all the way from Madisi to try to save the buildings The messages that came in on our phone were increasingly alarming; the forests at the college were burning and the fires were out of control. I felt sick at heart. The college was to be a crown jewel, a great strategic endeavor not simply to give students from villages a chance at a good college education but also a means to propel Village Schools Tanzania to even greater growth by preparing principals, teachers, chaplains and project managers for our schools. And those forests! A college campus does not absolutely have to be beautiful of course -- after all it is the learning that goes on on the campus that matters I kept telling myself as we rode across Malawi. But those 50-year old trees were truly beautiful, the acres of acres of wooded hills would make the most beautiful and peaceful of a campus, with the lecture halls, the dorms, the library, the administration hall all clustered and nestled in the meadows in those forests. For years I had images of its beauty in the dreams in my brain. And now that was all crowded out by images of charred ruins. What was the point of crying though on the bus? We would of course just pick ourselves up and we would build again. Maybe there would be some trees left, a sign of would could have been. We would plant flower gardens now and new trees and someone would enjoy the beauty of it all fifty years from now. How utterly sad. How angry I was when we learned in one message that it was the carelessness of a couple of primary school students which had caused the massive fire that had leapt over our fire breaks. It all just made me sick. What a terrible waste.

And yet we were in Malawi. And we had a job to do. It was time to blot out the fire from my mind and concentrate. Concentrate of trying to discern how God would have us proceed with our friends in Malawi to begin getting the first schools built in villages in that country so that one day kids in villages in that country would get to go to school, so that one day we would have open doors to sending missionaries to live in those villages, so that one day Village Schools Malawi would be a vibrant, growing organization like Village Schools Tanzania is. Stay focused I kept telling myself. If forests were burnt up, if buildings were destroyed, nothing I could do down in Malawi would bring them back. Don't be distracted from the prize before us.

And so we met with our Malawian brothers. We talked of plans. We shared our experiences from Tanzania. I preached in one of their churches. We ate food. We laughed. We were serious. We dreamed big dreams. We talked of little problems. We came. We returned. We crossed the border. We got on the internet and thankfully among the nearly 600 emails which had piled up in my inbox while I was in Malawi there was a wonderfully nice email from Susan and Sarah. The college buildings were all still standing; they had succeeded in stopping the fires in time. The whole place had not been reduced to the charred moonscape I had feared. And I saw once again the goodness of our students, and the goodness of the people we live with ...

... we know you're starved for details so we just want to send you some before you get back home. As we know you've heard through messages, there was a big fire on the college land today. Some of the primary school students went to burn their school farms on Thursday and left some small bits of fire still smoldering when they went home that night. Festo was at the college working all morning without seeing any signs of a fire, but when he left at about 1 o’clock, one of the government leaders in Mlevelwa called him to tell him the college property was on fire. They sent people with whistles to call people from Mwaya, Luhunga and Mlevelwa and about 200 people came on our side of the valley. Jenny said at least 400 people came on the Kidete side of the fire. They also sent their workers from the orphanage and the Fox family sent all of their workers from their farm. When we got there, we saw about 15 motorcycles, the Diwani’s car… It really was encouraging to see how the community pulled together to help! It was amazing to see pregnant women, children, so many of our friends with AIDS, government officials, all pitching in to fight the fires. The fire was big and burned most of our 2-year-old trees down the hill behind the buildings. None of the buildings were damaged and only a few of the bigger trees were damaged. It burned all of the people’s farms and their trees below our college land. Jovinus got a call at Madisi at 2pm and Mecky then took two truckloads of students in Tunda (that's one of our dump trucks) to help fight the fires. Right now, Festo and 7 of our students are planning to stay all night to make sure the fire is really finished. Good man, that Festo ...

Godfrey, Emmanueli, Justin and I slept on our side of Malawi-Tanzania border last night. If things go well we should be home at Madisi by late tonight, very thankful for all that happened in Malawi, and very thankful for all that happened in Tanzania while we were gone. It will be good indeed to be home. Susan and I will go tomorrow for a long walk out at the college and dream some more dreams together.