Their fathers

Their fathers

As the years have gone by and our lives have changed and everything here has grown, Susan and I have acquired a lot of names. I remember the years when I was known as Mkongo (“the man from Congo”), Fundula Mtonto (“the one who reveals all that was hidden”) and then Mr Vinton morphed into Mzee Vinton and then just simply Mzee (“the old man”) or Msee by those of the Hehe people who can’t pronounce z’s. Susan went from being Mrs Vinton to Mama Joshua and Mama Yona and then Mama Vinton, Mama wa Wingi (“the mother of many”) and then just Mama to everyone. But as our former students have grown up and married and our little hillside here is now filled with another generation of little kids, we’ve acquired new names as Babu and Bibi (Grandfather and Grandmother). A lot of these kids are too young now for me to get to tell them things that matter, so we talk about the little things of life when they come around. But one day the day will come when I’ll get to sit all of the kids around the fireplace here at our house and let the rest of the kids listen in as I tell Ahazi & Tumaini and Gladness & Greyson the stories of the great trip that their fathers made to the far away land of Zambia in May of 2015 ….

By then those kids will have studied about the continent of Africa and learned of many great nations, among them, the nation of Zambia. But I want them to hear about the kingdoms and the chiefs who still inhabited that land at the time when their fathers went there a couple of weeks ago. I want them to know that their fathers were pioneers, that their fathers answered a call to go to a place that neither of them had ever before visited, to meet a man named Austine who would take them to meet the great chiefs Kalunga and Ishinde. And that it was their fathers, Justin and Ntula, together with Austine who worked with thousands of people to begin building our first two schools in those lands. Now I say our first two schools with no small measure of faith, because down the road a bit when the moment is right and I get to tell Ahazi & Tumaini and Gladness & Greyson about their trip, I don’t actually know how many schools we will have there! But if the wide-eyed stories that Justin and Ntula tell me now are true that there are no schools in these remote areas -- that you travel from village to village and see not one school building at all -- and if this is indeed the time in history when God has decided people’s dreams for schools are to come to pass, then we’re going to be seeing a movement, a huge movement, started down south in Zambia.

Of course, I’ll have to take those kids way back to 1928 when my grandfather Baba Vi first went to Congo, to the land of the great chiefs Mshabaha and Moligi. And I’ll tell them some of the stories of the things he told me around the fires in the villages of Luyamba and Bikenge and PeneMagu and Kakumbu when I traveled with him when I was just 16 years old. And then I’ll fast forward nearly 8 decades later to January 2005 when I came with their uncles, Godfrey and Emmanueli, to the little village of Igoda. They’ll need to hear how we met with the people of five villages and together we all decided to build a school on the Madisi hill, the hill where we all live today. And then I’ll tell them the stories of how ten years later their fathers, Justin and Ntula, went with Austine to to talk with the people of 33 villages and the decision was made in May 2015 to build not one school, but two schools -- and how the two villages of Chikenge and Chivombo would race each other to see who would finish their school first.

I will tell them how I sat with their uncles Godfrey and Emmanueli and told them that while I was convinced that we would not go hungry, that I had no idea where the money would come from except that I believed that God would provide. I’ll tell them the things my grandfather taught me about money, and how I shared those things with their uncles. And I will tell them how Justin and Ntula sat down with Austine and those chiefs and said that we do not have money, but after ten years of seeing Him provide in Tanzania we can believe that He will provide.

I will tell them the stories of how in 2005 the people of the villages in Igoda built the school in 70 days and how we began classes with 183 students the first day. And whether it takes 70 days or 170 days it really won’t matter, but the truth is that those people in those villages in Zambia are moving very fast at building. They’re going to do all this work, and they’re going to do it fast, because they want their kids to go to school, and because there is no time to lose. I think the best way for them to understand it will be to paint a picture for them of the village meeting I remember from some five years ago when an old grandmother stood up in front of everyone and raised her head and her hands to heaven and prayed that God would give them strength when they got tired so that this great chance to get a school would not slip through their hands. I’ll tell them that parents in Zambia are just like parents in Tanzania, just like parents all over the world – all we all want is for our own children to get a chance in life.

And then I will tell them about our great plan to pray that God would send teachers for all of our students. I’ll have the kids pull the Bible off the shelf and let them read from Matthew 9:37 those words of Jesus when He said that the harvest is plentiful but the works are few so we should pray unto the Lord of the Harvest to send out workers into his harvest field. I want them to know that when their fathers were asked that question of where we would get teachers for Zambia, they answered with that same answer. That we will pray to God that He will provide teachers. Teachers who will teach English, which will open the doors to understanding everything about the world – its history, its geography, the God who made it all, everything about the sciences about this world He made and we live in, mathematics (the queen of the sciences), and computers, and how to drive cars and electricity and everything about health, and how to start businesses. I want them to know that their fathers not only traveled a long distance to villages they had never been to before, but they went with great faith and conviction that in places where there had never been schools that one day there would be schools -- in places where missionaries had never gone to live that there would one day be missionaries -- in places where kids had no hope of going to school that one day, everyone – boys, girls, orphans, the poorest of the poor – everyone, would get to go to school.

Of course ten years from now, no matter how many schools we have in Zambia, I want them to look at their dads with a bit of awe – not because their dads are particularly spectacular people, even if as their sons and daughters they think they are – but because God chooses to use really normal people to do extraordinary things. So I’ll have to tell them that their dads were born in the little villages of Nankanga and Msanda, that they grew up in those village never thinking they’d get to go to school – because at that time no one from those villages got to go to school. But they did get to go – and it was Bibi who taught them both English, and that it was me, their Babu, who taught them Math, but more than that it was us who taught them to be ready and on call for whenever it might be that God might desire them to do something, something big or something small. Their dads are doing small things all the time – it’s that way with God’s servants. They do all kinds of small things – and then sometimes God gives the special privilege to get to do something really big.

I’ve saved the messages in my computer of the friendly game of “ping pong” that I remembered playing with Justin and Ntula over emails while they were down in Zambia. Justin telling me about what they were saying about Village Schools on TV, how there were no secondary schools in any of those villages, how they were brought into the presence of the chief and given a place to stay in his home. And so I wrote him back in a moment of emotion to say how proud I was of him. And he wrote me back to say, but Mzee, it is God who is doing all of this. And I hit the ball back over the net, yes indeed it is God, but is it you that He is using. But God could use anyone, and indeed who are we? -- isn’t that what you taught us? I want the kids to know that their fathers won playing “ping pong” with me because they were right. That’s why their Bibi always says that it’s a privilege that we get to serve here, that’s why their Uncle Godfrey always says that it’s gotten so big that no one can possibly take credit for it, that it has to be God, that’s why their fathers might serve faithfully but they serve with the right attitude of a mixture of wonder and awe and, yes, even reverence, because it is a fearful and mighty thing to see God at work.

I want them to respect their dads not because their dads are well educated, even though they are -- not because they are good husbands and fathers, even though they are -- not even because they are smart and handsome and strong and good and honest and full of integrity, even though they are all those things -- but because their dads told God they were willing, willing for whatever it is that He might ask them to do. And when He asked them to go to the far off lands of Chief Kalunga and Chief Ishinde in the country of Zambia, they went. And that was the beginning of something wonderful – as schools got opened in those villages, as missionaries went to those lands to take the Gospel to those people, to teach, and to show love and care and compassion.

And I want all of those kids to dream of where God might one day send them.