The day starts off well

The day starts off well

The day starts off well!

I had been quite displeased with myself over my inability the last couple of days to settle on a sufficiently inspiring speech for the group who will be gathering here at Madisi next week for a big leadership conference and planning meeting. To kick things off on Monday morning, after Godfrey gives his “State of Village Schools” speech to welcome, he wants me to bring something inspirational to the group and to set the tone for the three days of meetings we’ll be having. We’re all in a celebratory mood – it’s been ten years now since all of this started – and so it should have been so relatively easy for me to come up with something truly befitting the occasion – which is why failing to come up with something good was all the more troublesome to me.

And then this morning I got an email from my uncle who was asking me about something that my grandfather had told me over three decades ago, and I was taken back to a scene in the living room of their house in the little village of Kama in eastern Congo. I remember that I was working that evening on preparing a calculus lesson and he was sitting in his chair reading a book by the great missionary statesman E. Stanley Jones. I can see it all again. Baba quoting from the book – “A Christian is someone who cares.” And then adding in a booming voice, and writing with his blue marking pen on the pages of that book -- AND WHO DOES SOMETHING ABOUT IT. That was another one of those nights that we ended up talking for hours …

I know now what I want to do at the big meeting Monday morning when it’s my chance to speak! I’m going to recreate for them that scene there in my grandparents’ home, and use it to open all the doors to thinking together about how different God’s ways are from ours.

We can sometimes think that the church that is good is the one that has the great music and the perfect sermon and where we enjoy the fellowship; James tells us that the religion that pleases God is the one that takes care of the widows and the orphans.

We can slip into believing that God is only interested in the big things that Village Schools does – the opening of 31 schools, the work on a college, the spreading of things across the borders into Malawi and Zambia. It’s the book of Matthew that brings us back on track when we read in his gospel that it’s the feeding of the hungry and the visiting of the sick, all of the so-called “little things” that we do for the “least of these my brothers”, that Jesus counts as us having done lovingly unto Him.

Everyone in Tanzania has heard of those fancy preachers on TVs in the city who oftentimes try to subtly (and not so subtly) convince us that it’s all about doing whatever we must do to get God to bless us more and to make our lives better. Jesus tells us to focus on storing up our treasures in heaven and turns everything upside down by telling us that it is more blessed to give than to receive.

Godfrey had to sit through a meeting in town on New Year’s Eve day where government officials tried to spur charities on to more and better fundraising, and to create an umbrella organization to help them to tap into the “goldmine” of overseas funding. Our in-boxes on both his computer and mine are filled with appeal after appeal from consultants who want to help us to better fundraise. How all that sounds so off-key when we read Paul telling us to focus on praying for open doors, and when we hear Jesus telling us to focus on praying for more workers. I listened to Godfrey telling me about the meeting and all I could think of was my grandfather telling me that Paul never once told the churches to give so that God’s work would get done as he advised me (almost pleaded with me) to reject any emphasis on money. It made me smile when Godfrey told me that the government official asked him to share with the group what was Village School’s fundraising strategy for 2015 -- and he told me he said that it was to do good work and to serve God well. I wish I had been there to hear the long seconds of awkward silence that followed his answer!

And so now it is finally all coming together in my heart what I want to say to the gang. I’ll be free to take my time and build up to it, to take them back to the living room where I sat with my grandfather, and I’ll be able to watch their eyes as it starts to make sense and we’ll be able to enjoy ourselves having a grand conversation together as I speak to them. And then after the tone is set, we have three full days to enjoy each other, to eat together, to think together and plan and pray and seek to know and discern all that God would have us do in this coming new year. I can’t wait for it all to get started!

The heads of our 31 schools will be there along with 24 teachers Justin has carefully chosen who he thinks might have leadership potential. They will be getting to taste a hint of what it’s like being in leadership in this organization. The expansion of the work here has no end in sight, so we see the need for more and more leaders. As Justin said, on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday, while everyone is focused on the agenda of planning for the future, we’ll have our eyes on a special agenda of asking God to show us the new leaders who He wants to help us go strongly into that future. I’m hoping my words Monday morning will set the tone and then that everything we talk about will inspire this group of young men and women to dream even bigger dreams all as we celebrate together the wonder of what God has enabled us to do these past ten years. My big hope and prayer is that it will embolden everyone to believe that He has even more things, even bigger things that He wants to work through all of us to accomplish in the next ten years.

My heart is filled with a sense of real wonder at how very fortunate we are that we get to be here to see all of this happen.

In His service,
Steve