Back to sending me messages again

Back to sending me messages again

It has been nearly 72 hours without any word from Godfrey and Emmanueli. It was three days ago that I got their last rushed text message to let me know that they were beginning to descend the mountains, Yatima (our car) in the lead, Tunda (one of our dump trucks) following slowly behind. We all knew we would probably be without any contact for a long time. But then the hours dragged into a full day, then into two full days. And as time stretched into a third day, I remembered baci to when I was a young boy, fascinated by the astronauts going to the moon and I thought of the time when they were on the "dark side of the moon" and they could have no communication with anyone on earth. The scientists at NASA had done all of the physics and the math to calculate when the Apollo spacecraft would swing around the moon and communication would be restored and I remember once being in school as we all were glued to the TV, watching the estimated countdown, and there was clapping when they came around the moon again and NASA, and the rest of us, got that first bit of communication with them. But I had no physics calculations now to tell me when Godfrey and Emmanueli would make it to some place where they would once again be able to communicate with the outside world. And so it was that just a few minutes ago I finally got a first quickie message from Godfrey to let me know that they were in the town of Ifakara, that it was nearly midnight and that they would sleep in that town. Everyone would have thought me strange clapping there in the airport lounge where Susan and I were sitting, but in my heart I was clapping. They had made it! And they had succeeded, they were safe, their mission was accomplished, a school was indeed going to get built in the little village of Taweta lost in the Morogoro region at the bottom of those steep mountains. A few minutes later his message was followed by a longer email with all of the details ...

Godfrey started out by saying how he was thankful for the decision we had made to have Emmanueli help Mecky drive the dump truck full of cement down that mountain road and then over to the village of Taweta. We had made that decision for reasons that truly weren't all that important, but four weeks of horribly heavy rains had left thousands of people homeless in that region and had also destroyed the road even more than we had been led to believe. Godfrey said with all seriousness that Mecky was trembling when Emmanueli took over the wheel and finished driving the truck down the side of the mountain and then over some of the worst washed out roads they have seen in all these years. Emmanueli has been driving our trucks for six years now and all of that experience paid off for us wonderfully. The world over people make decisions as best they can, weighing alternatives, trying to choose the best option they can. What we often talk about is how blessed we are to see time and again as we ask God to give us an extra measure of wisdom how He then guides us to make decisions that we know we didn't have enough information to make correctly on our own. It's our trump card. Would Mecky have made it safely down the mountain and to the village of Taweta? We'll never know, but Mecky is convinced that he would have frozen in panic and that he would not have made it. And so Godfrey's letter begins with an almost Davidic psalm of the goodness of God in helping them get to their destination against all odds. And in my heart all I can think is how blessed Susan and I are to be working with Godfrey and Emmanueli, what quality people they are, how fortunate we are to be in this work together.

Godfrey went on to tell me how the people of the villages of Ipinde, Taweta and Tanganyika received them with great joy, and how they swarmed over the truck to unload the sacks of cement and then took them to where they would sleep the night. It was good that Godfrey and Emmanueli had both come -- Emmanueli to navigate the truck down the mountain and over those roads, and Godfrey to navigate through the minefield of a crowd of deeply divided people. The people of the two villages of Taweta and Tanganyika were in a tug of war over where the school would be built. For me hearing this brought back memories of the very first time we visited those villages in 2010; I remember the pastor who had taken us there telling us of the dissension over which village should get to have the school. I remember joking then that it would take the wisdom of Solomon to decide that question, because you could no more cut the baby in half than you could cut the school in half and there was no way we could give one piece to each village. Godfrey hasn't told me how he solved that one yet, but at least now I know why they were so many days there in those villages and couldn't communicate with me! They needed time to seek to bring unity of purpose to all of those people so that the work would begin. And the work has indeed begun! Hundreds of people turned out to cut down the tall reeds and brush and the trees in order to prepare the building site they had decided on. And plans are under way to make maximum advantage of that truck of ours to haul as many stones and bricks and loads of sand as they can as they work towards their goal of building that school for the kids of those villages.

Months and months of hard work lie ahead for the people of these three villages. The task of organizing and leading these people will fall to Staniley. This was supposed to be Anyisile's job, but his father died a few days ago and he in his home village burying his father. Our plan had been to send Anyisile, one of the most experienced members of our team to launch this new work in this new area. He has an amazing track record having started 8 schools in the Rukwa region. His ability to deal with government officials and hold town meetings is well known and admired. An he is indeed a worker. And yet the story of Village Schools Tanzania, as Godfrey reminded me again in his email, is the story of God choosing the weak so that His power might be seen and be evident. Now of course none of us would call Staniley weak, but he is indeed young, he doesn't have a lot of experience under his belt, and he has yet to start a new school all on his own. But he is willing, and when Anyisile could not be sent, he was the one that Godfrey and Emmanueli felt God would have them send. And that -- being the one God would have them send -- is infinitely more valuable than experience.

Godfrey and Emmanueli both wrote that they know that one day I will want to go to Taweta again, but that the heavy rains have completely destroyed the roads this year and they are worse than anywhere we have gone in seven years together traveling all around Tanzania. As Godfrey put it, maybe there are roads like this in Congo Mzee, but there are no other like these in all of Tanzania. Riding over these roads will break all of the bones in your body so we won't agree to take you there until they fix the road. It's interesting that those roads won't break their bones but they're worried those roads will break mine, and once we're all together again I'll have fun discussing that matter with them. The Old Man isn't yet quite as fragile as they think I am! What I know is that work in Taweta is under way and the day will come when the first of the kids in that far off and very remote village will get the chance to go to school. You can't say that your dream is that one day every child in every village will get to go to school and then say that there are some villages that are just too far or too hard to get to. And you can't ask people to pray all the time for open doors, and then when people in a village open their hearts and show their willingness to receive you, you turn away and say it's too far, or it's too hard, or we don't really have the time ...

And yet there is no denying that compared to Morogoro, the first four regions where we have worked have been relatively easy. Morogoro is the furthest east we have ever gone, it is the first region where we have been invited to go which is largely Muslim and we imagine that will present us with interesting and unique challenges, and as each of our trips there have shown, it's going to be hard even getting there. It took us nearly a year to get the permission of the government officials at the distinct and the regional levels so that we could work with the people of these villages to start a school. The people were discouraged by all of the set backs, but they never gave up. And indeed it was the words of the District Commissioner speaking to all of the government officials in his office, with us present, who wondered aloud "who else would be willing to go to such a difficult place" and insisted that we should not only be permitted to go, we should be encouraged to go, and we should actually be thanked for even being willing to go. In the end the people got what they wanted -- permission from the government for us to partner with them.

And thus begins our new work in the Morogoro region.

And Godfrey and Emmanueli are back to sending me messages again.

I'm so glad.