Turning words into metal roofing

Turning words into metal roofing

I can see myself one day much more of "an old man" than I am now, walking a bit slower than I do now, with Grace walking on my left and Little G on my right. Those two little kids will be grown up then, they'll have gone to kindergarten and primary school and secondary school, they'll be at the age when they'll be thinking about what they want to do with their lives, and I'm planning out how I'm going to call the two of them to go on a walk with me. I hope they will humor me and agree to go with me -- because I can see myself in my mind taking them on a walk to the college –the whole campus will have long been finished by then. Today's it's only a dream, a figment of our imagination, an impossibility really. By then the college will already have become a reality, and there will be hundreds of students milling around on that campus the day that I take Grace and Little G on that walk with me. The majestic trees will continue to dominate the campus, but I can see beautiful flowers and nicely manicured lawns as well. And there will be the paths that will meander through the forests connecting the different meadows making it possible to get from one set of buildings to the next. I see it in my mind and it is all so wonderfully beautiful. We'll wander around those lecture halls together, we'll go past the library, the computer center, and the whole way I'll be telling the two of them the story of how it all began a long time ago when we started to build the college. Those kids will know their father as their father, but I'll want to tell them about how Godfrey was a leader, a man of vision, someone who God used to do incredible things, how he and his friend Emmanueli used to spend hours with me as we dreamed together impossible dreams that we believed God wanted us to pursue together. In my mind, I imagine this wonderful walk with them as I tell them things of their father that I hope will inspire them -- and inspire them to greatness.

And in my mind I then see us coming to the little meadow where the administration building will have been built. Like the chapel and the dorms and the quarters for the professors, that administration building hasn't been built quite yet obviously – it is only in my imagination so I can only guess what it will look like. But even now the walls are rising steadily and so I know that a decade from now when I take Grace and Little G on our little walk that building will have long since been finished. It will be in use, it will be beautiful -- there will be professors in their offices, students lined up at the registrar's office, the college president and the deans will be behind their desks -- and the roof, majestic as I conceive it, rising high into the trees almost like a cathedral, will be glistening in the bright sunlight. I hope God will arrange it so it is sunny the day that I take them because I would love it if the roof would be shining and glistening in the sun. Because I want to tell them the story of that roof. There will be no plaque on that building to commemorate the story of that roof, we never do anything like that in VST -- but I will want those two kids to know the story of that roof and the story of their father.

I hear myself taking those kids back in time to the day in early 2011 that we sat around the table in our office at Madisi and dreamed of buying textbooks for all of our students. Emmanueli was there with his computer and we talked of how many books we would need for all of our 21 schools, plugging into the spreadsheet the prices, and having the computer spit out the incredible figure of nearly $125,000. But of course those were retail prices. Godfrey had the wholesale prices from the catalogue he had gotten from Dar es Salaam and we could get those books for just under $102,000 if we purchased them wholesale. And the icing on the cake was that with an order of that size we could get a 25% discount off the wholesale price and so we were down to talking about $77,000. A lot of money, but oh so much good that could come out of all of those books! And so with a bit of fear and a bit of faith we took a leap into the dark and wrote up our order that day, sent it off as an attached file by email to Dar es Salaam, and within a day or two everything was in order and we were all prepared to make a wire transfer of funds from our bank to their bank. Now $77,000 might be in America a couple of pallets of books, but with the low price of these books we were literally talking about two complete truckloads of books. But to send two of our dump trucks to Dar es Salaam to haul those books back would cost us probably two thousand dollars -- and we had no time to do something like that since we needed those trucks to be working at hauling foundation stones and sand and bricks for new classrooms at our schools. And so was born the idea of asking the company in Dar, in light of what good customers we were to place a huge order, if they might not be willing to pack up all of the books and take them to a shipper for us and, well, might they not consider after all paying for the shipping for us as a nice gesture? I want to tell Grace and Little G about how we chuckled at that, figuring if we tossed on the table the idea of them paying for the shipping maybe even though they would refuse they might as a consolation at least agree to do the huge task of at least transporting the books from their warehouse to the shipper. It certainly wouldn’t hurt to try!

And so Godfrey made the phone call to tell them that we had the money in the bank, and we were ready to execute the wire transfer, but there was this "small matter" of the transport that we wanted to discuss with them. Couldn't they pay for the shipping across the country to us? It would after all be a nice gesture, given that all of our funds were donated and that we were trying to do good and surely a large company could also try to do good in this country? The person we were placing the order with said it was "highly unusual" and "not standard procedure" and she didn't have the authority to do that, but she would talk with the person in charge of the company and get back to us. Well, the next day she called back and said that Godfrey could talk to the person in charge, and so there was Godfrey explaining about how all of our schools are for the poorest of the poor, the kids who would never get to go to school, and that it was through the kindness and generosity of people who had made donations for this purpose that we were able to buy these books. I can’t wait to tell Grace and Little G what it was like for me when their father got off the phone and came running over to tell me that right there in that conversation that they had agreed not only to pay for the shipping to us, but that they were sending a new pro-forma invoice, not with a 25% discount that we had agreed upon, and were ready to pay -- but instead with a 35% discount! The bill had been cut from $77,000 to $67,000. Godfrey and Emmanueli and I celebrated with three cokes that afternoon!

And there we were with $77,000 in the bank ready to make the transfer of funds to buy those books, and we needed only to give the order to transfer $67,000 instead of $77,000. And we didn't have to worry about the shipping which we had set aside another $2000 to cover. And so it was that armed with an extra $12,000 -- money that had come as if from thin air, a gift from God as he turned Godfrey's words into wealth -- Godfrey placed an order for the metal roofing (got a discount on that too!) for the administration building for our college. The metal roofing hasn't gone up yet -- it only arrived last week -- but in only a few more days the roof will be on that building, and a decade or so from now when I'm going to take Grace and Little G on that walk on the campus, I will want them to know how it was that God provided for the roofing for that beautiful building!

But I want them to see more than the roofing, and I want them to know more than the story of how their father got it all "for free", for the price of a phone call. I want those two kids to hear again the things that we talked about, the lessons that were impressed upon us, because I want the lessons impressed upon them as well. With real joy, Godfrey reminded me that day of something he wrote once to a donor who had given a huge donation so we could buy construction supplies to build more classrooms, telling him that Godfrey saw it as his role to stretch those dollars, to get the best price that he could for everything, to make sure that the money could do as much as it possibly could and to build as many classrooms as possible. Their father didn't say something like, I wish I were wealthy enough so I could give money like that. He didn’t say, I hope one day I'm wealthy enough so I could one day make a donation like that. Godfrey was simply going to use what he had right here and now, the talents God had given him, to stretch those funds and the extra pieces of roofing and the extra sacks of cement we would have as a result, well, that would be Godfrey's contribution. And that's what I want to tell Grace and Little G -- that their father is a good man who never looks at what he doesn't have, wishing he had something he doesn't have, so that then he could maybe contribute to God's work. Instead he is a man who looks at what he has been given, and does with that what he can, in order to give all that is possible. God gave Godfrey the ability to speak and to share from his heart, and God decided to turn those words into metal roofing for our college.

Turning words into metal roofing. I love the way that sounds. I've planned out how I want to just be silent after I say those words to them and to let the words just sink in.

Of course I want those kids, after the walk, to go back to the house and to have a greater appreciation for their father for the great man of God that he is. But I don't want them to just say wow. I want them to see and understand and appreciate that God works through us with what we have, and that God delights in working through our weaknesses. Those kids call my wife "Bibi" (Grandmother) and I'll remind them that when Bibi reached out to help so many women in these villages who were dying of AIDS, she went into their homes telling them that she was no doctor -- "I'm just a mom". She didn't say, I wish I were a doctor, or I wish I had gone to medical school so that I could possibly do something to help you. She didn’t say if only I were a doctor I would be able to help you. Instead she just said that as a mom she understood that they didn't want to die and leave their kids behind and she was going to fight with them to stay alive, and they would pray together, and they would find a way to get to the hospital, they would find a way to get medicine and food, and they were going to live, and they were going to take care of their kids. By the time Grace and Little G will be grown up I imagine we'll a hundred or more schools dotted all across the country, and I'll remind them that Godfrey and Emmanueli and I didn't wait until the experts had come with their millions of dollars to solve the problem of education in these villages. We started out with nothing, armed only with the belief that God wanted schools for kids in villages, and He provided for it all in the most incredible of ways, far beyond all that we could have asked or thought possible. And I'll want Grace and Little G to look into their hearts and to ask God what it is that He wants them to do. It'll be my little sermon for my special little audience of two.

But having worked out in my brain what I want to tell the two of them a decade from now, I now know what it is that I'm going to speak in chapel at Bukimau on Wednesday. My son Josh, five of Josh' students, and Josh's cousin Kyle are going to be traveling with me and Godfrey and Emmanueli to Bukimau on Tuesday. Josh and Kyle and those students will be doing science experiments -- not with fancy equipment from America -- but with materials available here in Tanzania -- showing them how to do everything from electrolysis to pendulums and everything in between. I’m going to show them in the Old Testament the story of David and his stones. We’ll look in the New Testament and read the story of the kid whose name we don't even know who had his two fish and his five little loaves of bread. I'll speak of Josh and Kyle and our five students and their little trunk of science materials. I’ll talk about my wife and her students and their AIDS clinic. And I’ll speak of Godfrey and his phone and how we ended up with the roofing for administration building at the college. The day will come when I hope these stories will inspire Grace and Little G to let God do something beautiful with their lives. In the meantime, I'll use all these stories to inspire the kids at Bukimau, and Mtinyaki, and Lukima, and Malindindo, and all of the other schools I'll be traveling to with Josh and Kyle and Josh's students this summer.

It should be easy for these stories to inspire them. They sure inspire me!

[The college, by the way, is our latest big project. If you'd like to know more about what we're dreaming of, just send us an email and we'll send you the write-up that explains what we are all working towards. It's all a bit surreal -- who would believe that on a hill in the little village of Igoda a beautiful campus is being built, that our former student Festo is the one who is supervising the building program, that it was our students who hauled the stones, that the first lecture halls were built with money that seemingly fell from no where, that God would turn words into metal roofing for the administration building. There will be stories as yet unknown to be told of how the chapel will one day get built, how the dorms will get built, how we'll have houses for our professors. The race is on to complete the building by next year because we do want to open our college soon...]