Sixty thousand shillings -- it's not much more than thirty five dollars these days -- and yet, in many respects in this place and at this time, it is truly an unbelievable amount of money. It is without a doubt a tremendous amount of money for the pastor of a small congregation of believers in the little village of Taweta. A incredible amount of money for that pastor to bring to Anyisile, and together with the elders of the church, to say that we have taken up an offering and want to bring this money, as our offering unto God, for the building of the school for the children of this village.
Over the past seven years, we have seen so many things that have surprised us and left us in awe. With people from 184 villages partnering to build all of these schools, and with 21 already open and another 10 under construction, it might be possible after a while I suppose for it all to seem so easy, for it all to become so routine, for the "magic" of what is happening to fade away. I suppose it's even like that with Christmas -- after years and years of hearing the story over and over the miracle of what happened can be lost. Well, we're seven years into this work God has given to us to do in Tanzania, and I have to say that I still am in awe every time I see hundreds of people in a village hauling huge heavy foundation stones for the classrooms for their kids. Every time I see people making bricks, every time I see kilns of bricks being burnt, I get a little lump in my throat if I think too much about it. It is such hard work and it requires such a huge commitment. If I allow my mind to wander, I can remember Emmanueli telling me of the pregnant woman in the village of Bumilayinga carrying a heavy stone, pointing to her womb, and telling him that she was carrying that stone because her child would one day go to school. I cannot forget the man who gave the foundation stones meant for his own house to be used for the building of the school in Sawala. I can still see the face of the old grandfather in Malindindo who gave land for the school. I remember the woman in Lipaya who vowed that she would sell her whole field of potatoes if only it would mean her daughter would get to go to school. What a joy all of these treasures I hold in my heart from these past seven years. And just when I thought there were no more new treasures to add -- that somehow we had "seen it all" -- now comes this word from Anyisile of what this small group of believers in the village of Taweta have done.
Pastors of even large churches in villages are men of rare courage and commitment. Weekly offerings seldom are more than a few dollars -- and so they faithfully preach and they faithfully serve, and they get by by farming their fields, struggling as everyone else does, and the offerings of those they minister too are never enough, even all of them put together, to take care of their families. I haven't met the pastor in this little village yet -- although Anyisile tells me he was in the crowd of people the day that we spoke in their village and we all talked together of the dream that one day there would be a school in village of Taweta. I don't know this man, but after all of these years in Africa, I think of all of the many pastors I have met in small villages and I imagine that his life is like all of their lives. The people of his village have worked hard this past year. The stones came from far away, the bricks were a huge labor, sand has been a problem -- it was all back-breaking labor, month after month. When I wanted more details, Anyisile told me that there are only about 30 adult members of that little church -- and yet, this pastor, rather than thinking of his needs and the needs of his family, he spoke to his congregation about doing good, about our responsibility as Christians to give of what we have been blessed with to help those in need, and about his conviction that in their village right now there was no greater need than for the children of the village to get to go to school. The school will be built of course with or without their sixty thousand shillings -- indeed when we are talking of thousands of dollars which are needed for the metal roofing and the cement, their sixty thousand shillings is but a drop in the bucket -- but he exhorted his people to seize the opportunity to have a part, to show God that they had faith in Him that their offering would be an acceptable sacrifice, a fragrant offering, that it would please Him. And so they gave. And they gave exceeding above and beyond what anyone of them could have imagined, so much so that there is no doubt that even the pastor had to have been surprised in his heart.
My thoughts of course race to Jesus talking of the widow's mite that she gave as her offering to God. I think of Paul speaking of the people of the Macedonian churches who gave out of their extreme poverty and urgently pleaded for the chance and the privilege to be able to give. I read of how God loves a cheerful giver. Those teachings are all treasures too, and they make a lot more sense to me now than they ever did before.
The people of the villages of Taweta, Tanganyika and Ipinde have set for themselves a goal that their school will open for their children on Monday, January 23rd. A mere 33 days from now. Sometimes people want something so badly that they make the impossible happen. Sixty thousand shillings from a very small group of believers has once again made it clear for me just how badly people here want the impossible to happen for their children.