Last night I saw the picture of the bricks

Last night I saw the picture of the bricks

Last night I saw the pictures of the bricks.

I was still mentally and physically and emotionally exhausted from the leadership conference we had just held with 40+ of our leaders who had gathered from all around the country to come to Madisi, and I was sitting there in the comfortable corner chair in Susan’s office, playing over in my mind the words Godfrey had spoken to close out the conference, as well as the words I had spoken from my heart when he had invited me to speak. The words just seemed to flow that night and ten minutes turned into a half hour, and when I was done we prayed together and you could have heard a pin drop, and then person after person rose to speak and share and it was personal and wonderful and I wished it would never end. But it had to end – they had to go back to their schools, to their students, to the people in those villages. But for a few minutes in the quiet of Susan’s office I just wanted to savor the memories of it all. We all agreed. There was simply no way that anyone could look at what had happened these past eight years in Tanzania and try to take credit for it, or try to explain it away because our group had somehow found some great formula to build schools – this was God’s work, and He was willing and purposing to accomplish His purposes and somehow He had decided to let us be a part of what He was doing. I had to play it over again in my brain one last time before I forgot it all -- what it was that Justin had said, the words that Anysile had spoken, Ibrahim’s uncharacteristic eloquence that night ….

But my thoughts were interrupted by a ding on my phone and as I read the email that had come in I excitedly went to get my computer so I could look at the attachment and see for myself the pictures of the bricks. I’m nearly 54 but sometimes I still surprise myself. I looked at those pictures and realized that that I could feel my eyes welling up and I could feel tears streaming down my face. We have 26 schools open and we’re building another six and over the last eight years I guess I have seen countless bricks.

But these weren’t pictures of bricks here in Tanzania.

These were bricks that had been made in the neighboring country of Malawi, in the little village of Mbembesha, made from the soil of Malawi by hundreds of people from 46 villages. Thirteen days ago, Godfrey, Emmanueli, Justin and I had sat down with the chiefs of those 46 villages and listened to their determination to build a school for their children. I had to make sure that this man Davies, this man who had welcomed us to his home a few years ago, this man who they told me had visited their villages and had helped them to believe that they could build a school, I had to make sure that this man had told them the truth, and that he had not sugar-coated in any way that truth. They had to fully understand. They had to have no illusions at all that we were going to come to build a school for them. That had to know that they would have to make all of the bricks, haul all of the foundation stones, and carry all of the sand and the water, and that it would take months and even years. I was glad that Godfrey was there to tell them how what had started in 2005 in one little village in central Tanzania had now spread to six regions of the country. I was thankful that Emmanueli was there to tell them about the hundreds of teachers who were teaching in villages in Tanzania in our schools. It was pure joy to listen to Justin tell them about how he worked with students and their parents to build classrooms. My fun was in telling them about how my grandfather first came to Africa in 1928 to tell people about the true God who had created the whole universe, and to bring schools and clinics and a whole host of community development projects because he believed that that true and living God cared about people and loved us and wanted our lives changed and made better. I told them how he taught me to respect people and to respect their leaders, and that the best way I could respect them was by telling them no lies. Building a school was going to be an incredible amount of work, and very hard work – but if we waited for someone else to come do it for us, they simply will never come, and if they do come, they will never build a school for our children that will be as good as the school we can build ourselves. I showed them my empty hands and ritually showed them my empty pockets – I was coming to their village with nothing. Nothing except a firm belief in my heart that the God who made the whole universe wanted every child in every village to go to school – and that I would pray with all my soul that He would give them the strength to make bricks as He had given people in Tanzania that strength, that He would provide the metal roofing for their school as He had provided for all of our 26 schools in Tanzania, and that He would send teachers, excellent teachers, to come live in their village and teach their children. It was a beautiful day.

But speeches do not make bricks. And that night down in Malawi as I laid in bed I tried to discern if God really and truly wanted us to try to open schools in Malawi or not. I wanted to believe. I wanted somehow to have enough faith to take the leap with these people. You know, it takes so little faith to believe anymore in Tanzania when another group of villages decide to build a school with us – because we have everything in place, Godfrey has a huge team of people and they’ve done it over and over and over – and so I need only a normal measure of faith every time we start a new school in Tanzania. But here we have nothing. Davies is a determined man who believes this is his call, he has persevered for more than two years now, he speaks with passion and conviction – but he has no team and this is his very first school. The people of these villages have no one else’s school to look at as a model. It will be like starting all over like when Godfrey and Emmanueli and I started with nothing back in 2005. And so it is such a leap, such a leap into the dark. I remember wavering that night for hours, alternating between faith and unbelief and then back again to believing it could actually be possible.

Emails don’t make bricks either. And so when Davies wrote me this last Friday that he had gone back again to the village and that their decision was to begin making bricks in earnest on June 10th because they wanted to have their school opened in time for the new school year this September, I read it all with joy, but I also read it with a great measure of skepticism. So I shared with Davies that my favorite of all of the disciples of Jesus was Thomas because he was the one who said that he simply would not believe that Jesus had really come back from the dead unless he saw Him himself and got to touch his hands and feet where they had pounded in those nails. And I told him that he should assure the people that there would be no shame at all if it took them a year or even two years to build their school -- that they should feel totally free in their hearts to go as quickly or as slowly as they desired.

Well their answer has come loud and clear. Six thousand bricks made in a single day. Nineteen more days of work and they will have their 120,000 bricks made.

I remember in 1976, a Sunday morning in March when I read In a small insert in our church bulletin that told of big changes happening in Congo and that “there was probably going to be a need for French-speaking Christians to go to Congo to teach” – for years I carried it folded up in my wallet until I lost it somehow in the war in Congo two decades later. I am sensing that that there is probably going to be a need for metal roofing, that there is probably going to be a need for desks, and that, very wonderfully, there is probably going to be a need for some missionary teachers to go to Malawi. All these years of praying for open doors in Malawi – now the doors are open – and so now is the time to pray for workers. And may God give the people of those 46 villages strength when they get tired, so that this great opportunity might not slip through their fingers. I invite you, as our friends and partners in this work, to pray, but before you do, to feast upon some of the pictures of those bricks. Bricks made in the village of Mbembesha where one day, and hopefully one day soon, we will have our very first school.