One of those wonderful moments in life

One of those wonderful moments in life

Gradutation ceremonies are for the graduates. And, in a very real sense, for their parents.

But the all-day long graduation ceremonies last Friday at Lukima Secondary School in the small village of Maguu were all that and much, much more. It was a time not just to honor the very first students from that village to graduate, it was a time to honor all of those who had made bricks and carried stones, those who had put their necks on the line to believe the impossible could really happen, those who had refused to give up when things got tough. It was a time to remember that the land had one been a giant field of casava -- until one day thousands of people descended upon it, determined to build a school. We remembered the freak rains one day that first year that wiped out tens of thousands of bricks, the heavy winds and rain several months later that caused a building to collapse, as well as the numerous setbacks over the years that sapped the energy of those who got tired and faltered. It was a time to remember the school camradary created by making bricks together, students struggling to build more classrooms for themselves, as well as for their little brothers and sisters. It was a unique and very beautiful history they had all lived together and as I sat listening to the recounting of event after event, I smiled thinking about how that same story, in slightly different form and with a cast of thousands, all unique but all strikingly similar, was being played out in village after village where we were building schools. And yet in a very striking way the whole essence of all of that history, for me at least, boiled down to the life of one young man, Fredfas Kazembe, The Headmaster of Lukima Secondary School, and the speech that as Headmaster, he had to deliver at those graduation ceremonies.

Fredfas was my student nearly a decade ago. Two years ago when we needed a new Headmaster for Lukima, Godfrey, Emmanueli and I rather quickly came to the conclusion that Frefas was the one to send. He was honest, a man of deep integrity, someone we knew would not let us down, someone who would give his all. He was someone we could count on. But Fredfas was no speaker, and I worried really if he could even handle teaching, let alone leading a whole school of students. Fredfas was a great guy, but Fredfas was no public speaker -- the truth is that he wasn't even a private speaker. He was silent, a man of few words.

As Fredfas rose to speak, Emmanueli turned over to me and I could see the fear in his eyes; Fredfas won't be able to do this. I closed my eyes, embarrased for Fredfas, embarrased for us. Here we were in front of all of the government officials who had come from the city for this momentous occasion, and I suddenly had the urge to hide. This was going to be painful, something that simply had to be endured. Fredfas had been my student and I had genuinely liked him as a person and I felt the pain of knowing this was going to be pure torture for him. For me. For all of us.

Fredfas continued walking to the podium, the students cheering, and then chanting for him, the parents rising in ovation. I smiled. Whether he could speak or not would hardly matter I told myself -- clearly his students loved him and respected him. And then he spoke -- and he spoke with power and conviction! Our Fredfas, my Fredfas. I found my mouth dropping wide open. It was a long speech, it had depth and meaning, and he wasn't reading it from a paper. Fredfas was speaking from his heart to his students, to their parents, to the whole village assembled there that day. And I looked at him in amazement. And when he finished, the crowd stood and cheered, and Godfrey and Emmanueli were suddenly caught up in the moment, hugging each other and slapping each other on the back and cheering in our hearts. They were celebrating their graduation; we were celebrating Fredfas.

And suddenly how sad I was that Susan was not with me. The struggle to keep Fredfas in school, to keep him and the rest of them in the lifeboat, the pain, the work, everything that we had done to build Makuzani Secondary School so many years ago so that Fredfas -- and so many others -- would get to go to school. If Susan could see Fredfas now! There he was in his crisp shirt and tie, speaking in front of all of his students ...

When the speeches and the plays and all of the singing was over, when we had all eaten together in a festive outburst of joy, Fredfas received me, Godfrey and Emmanueli in his office. He closed the door and the four of us sat there in his office for a moment, just stared at each other and smiled. Godfrey finally found the words to say and he explained to Fredfas how proud he was of him, how great it was to see that he had blossomed as a Headmaster, how good it felt to see that he had become better than anyone could have imaged or thought possible.

And Godfrey turned over to me. Because we gave him the chance Mzee. I could feel the tears coming into my eyes as I stared across the room at Fredfas. It was one of those wonderful moments in life.

Godfrey continued. You gave us all the chance Mzee. None of us could speak. None of us could build schools. None of us could do any of the things we're doing together now. God has done something these past five years Mzee.

Indeed God has! Far beyond anything we could ask or think. We can, of course marvel at all that these former students of ours have done -- how could even one school get built, let alone seventeen?!? But it's what God has done in people that is the true marvel -- transforming their lives, making them into more than anyone could have imagined, confounding those who don't see much in all of these kids from these villages. And that is the Gospel coming with power, as His power is made perfect in weakness, as He transforms lives in the most amazingly wonderful way.

I'm supposed to teach a workshop in a few days in Spokane Washington on what Christian community development means. Too bad I can't just introduce everyone to Fredfas and to his students!