Crowding out the unbelief in my heart

Crowding out the unbelief in my heart

Last week was such an incredible week! It began with Susan and I (and Jonathan!) spending two very long, very rainy days in the car traveling across the country to return home to our village. We had been in the far east of the country, at the top of the Lushoto Irente cliffs, leading a 72-hour retreat for a dozen Whitworth University students and their professors. It was a time to help those students think some new thoughts about the people who live on this continent. It was an opportunity to share with them both the joy and the heartache of being here. But mostly, it was a chance to open their minds, and their hearts, to the limitless possibilities if you choose to decide to believe that God can work through all people – even, and perhaps especially, through the poorest of the poor. I wanted them to see that as a decidedly radical choice that they could choose to make. Because all of everything around them blares at them that the poor can only be the objects of their charity and of their pity, that the poor can be nothing more than the recipients of their handouts, that the poor live in a hopeless condition that is dependent upon them and their intervention. How wonderful to share with them the reality of what Susan and I have seen and experienced these last nine years as we have watched God use a group of our former students to mobilize tens of thousands of people from nearly 200 villages to build 28 schools, enroll nearly 9000 students, and dream dreams of a future for a coming generation that will be so different from the present. We wanted them to see the poor as the hard-working, generous, people they are and to partake in the wonder of what God has orchestrated out of their hard work! We wanted it to be for them and for us a time to believe, to think, to wonder. And it ended up being beautiful.

And then it was over. As abruptly as it began it was over, and it was time to descend down from that mountain-top experience and to return to the real world.

To a real world where this last week every other reality was crowded out by the reality of the coming of six school inspectors. Six inspectors who hadn’t been on the top of the mountain with us, who were not inclined to believe that the poor could build their own schools, nor that their schools could be financially sustainable, and certainly not that their schools could succeed in providing a quality education. Six inspectors who came believing strongly in their power to say yes or no, to open or to close doors, to permit or to refuse.

Their impending arrival had pushed everything else to the side and their presence with us consumed an entire day. Village Schools is on the verge of three big, very big, new things. We’re ready to launch our first English-medium primary school in Tanzania, launch our first “advanced level” high school, and launch our first college. And that is why this last week those six inspectors had come to visit us: to wield over everyone here their mighty power to say yes or to say no.

With six inspectors sitting in on classes our teachers were teaching, pouring over office documents, asking to see this and that, there was little for anyone to enjoy about the day, except to rejoice when it was all over. Except for me. I got to see the chief inspector’s eyes get big with wonder as he and I and Godfrey took the tour of the college campus that we’re almost finished building. A priceless glimpse that I will always treasure. I’ve seen the college so many times I guess I’ve stopped being amazed by it, but this was his very first time to see it and his eyes couldn’t conceal his amazement, his very real shock. And then the words flowed from his mouth like a torrent. It wasn’t too much of a leap to believe that we could start an English-medium primary school because, after all, we have already built 28 secondary schools. And it wasn’t all that hard to believe we could start an “advanced level” high school either. For the same reason. But a college! That takes an awful lot of audacity and he had every logical reason to be skeptical. But after the drive in the mud and the rain to the new campus he had seen it with his own eyes, and he was now a believer. And not just any believer, he’s so much of a believer that he’s not only excited about it all, he actually bubbled over with saying that since he’ll retire next year he would want to come teach, and he was thinking aloud of how special classes that could be offered for continuing education for school inspectors, and he wanted to take it upon himself to figure out how to have the President of the country come himself to officially open the college. Seeing him be transformed from skeptic into believer will be one of the moments that I’ll store away in my heart and treasure for years to come, one of the details that will always be important for me.

And so we embark now on a huge new future for Village Schools. For the first nine years of our existence, we have concentrated all of our efforts on creating secondary schools, and we pretty much have it down to a science and it can just keep expanding on and on. The skeptics who doubted that the poor in villages would ever do so much work to build schools for their kids now have to believe. The skeptics who doubted that the poor could ever pay enough to keep those schools now have to believe. The skeptics who doubted that you could ever find enough teachers to teach in these schools, they too have to believe. The celebration of Easter for me, is as much the celebration of the resurrection and victory over death as it is the celebration of victory over skepticism. Thomas is in so many ways my favorite disciple because he was the one who said that he would never believe, that it was impossible, that it didn’t matter how many hundreds of people had seen the Jesus risen from the dead, he, Thomas, would not believe unless he saw for himself and unless he touched those nail prints himself. The ultimate and most extreme skeptic ended up believing.

I remember when I was a child Christmas was the time to believe in the impossible – the twinkle of amazement when all things seemed possible. It’s not that Christmas doesn’t inspire or excite me anymore, but as an adult I’ve found my focus has shifted, and it is Easter even more than Christmas that actually causes me to believe in the impossible. The belief in the resurrection isn’t just about the resurrection and salvation and living for eternity, it’s for me the belief that the resurrection and salvation and living for eternity also makes everything possible now, it is the victory over skepticism, it makes it an imperative to spend my life trying to make a difference, it spurs me on to believing in the impossible. I recall the words of Paul to the Corinthians where he said that if there is no resurrection than we of all people are most miserable and most to be pitied -- but instead of being of all people the most miserable and the most to be pitied, we are of all people the most hopeful, and it is that hope that pushes us to believe, to choose to believe that God works through all of His people, even those who are poor. My grandfather believed that, and as my skepticism over the years turned to belief, I came to choose to serve differently from how I would have had I continued to believe the pervasive lie that the poor can do nothing other than stretch out their hands to receive hand-outs.

I asked Godfrey a couple of hours ago if he really and truly believed that we should throw ourselves into a primary school, and an advanced-level high school and a college. What if we just kept on concentrating on secondary schools – wouldn’t that be enough? Why does it have to be more than it already is? Mzee, he looked at me, people in their hearts are crying out for an opportunity for their kids to go to these schools. And God has heard their cries. How can we not throw our whole hearts into this? And so I walked back to our house with a bit more a bounce in my step, with belief crowding out the unbelief in my heart, with a desire for even greater faith, and I opened up my laptop to write these paragraphs, full of energy, full of hope, full of belief.

I want to believe.