The boy whose name we do not know

The boy whose name we do not know

The purpose of our trip was to hold meetings in the villages of Ikwega and Mayota where people were gathering, having come from miles around, to discuss the possibility of building two more new schools. Justin and I had originally talked about making the two-day trip just the two of us, but it seemed like such a great opportunity that we decided to take Yotham and Issac, two of our college students, on the trip with us. A super chance to involve them, let them observe and learn, and of course, to talk to them and to let them listen in on our conversations during those hours and hours of travel.

We're back now, and all of the students at the college are studying away -- learning computers, doing interesting science experiments with Jonathan and his friends from Colorado School of Mines, working hard on their English, trying to make sense out of the math I'm teaching. And Yotham and Isaac keep talking with me about things they learned from traveling with us and questions and ideas they have. This weekend Justin is traveling with another three of our students, taking them to two villages where we already have schools, doing the same thing I did with Justin a decade ago back when he was my student. He's talking and talking, allowing them to see what he does, involving them, teaching them by investing time in simply being with them.

I wonder what all they'll come back having learned and the conversations we'll be having in the coming weeks. Justin is such a good teacher, he's a natural, he has a gift -- and I love watching him at work as he invests his life in our students.

But I'm not with them, I'm not a fly on the wall getting to listen in, instead I'm sitting here in Susan's office, letting myself think of what Frasion and Lama and Nuhu will be learning this weekend as they're out on their adventure with Justin. I think back to the good things Justin and I got to do for Yotham and Issac two weekends ago. I can't stop smiling as I sit here thinking of how I made them stand up and speak to the huge crowds of people -- they did it first in the village of Ikwega and then the next day in the village of Mayota. Justin told them as we drove from the first village heading west to the second one about the first time I took him to a village -- it was well over a decade ago -- but he remembered every detail about how I made him get up and talk. Not like politicians who read from notes things they don't hardly understand and hardly ever even believe themselves. No speech you've spent weeks preparing and rehearsing until it's boring even to you. One key thought! Focus! What do you really want them to remember Isaac? If there's only one thing that you can have them remember about Isaac coming to their village today what would it be? What do you want to say when you stand in front of all of those people? Issac was silent so long I wondered if he was hoping that maybe I would answer the question for him! But then beautiful words came out of his mouth. “That I was never going to get to go to school Mzee. But I got to go to Bukimau Secondary School. And if you parents build a school it can be the same for your sons and daughters”. What about you Yotham? “That I came from my village in the region of Morogoro all the way to the village of Lugodalutali in Iringa so I could go to Imauluma Secondary School. And I can't believe here I am here today in the region of Mbeya looking at the land where there is no school hoping that truly you parents will build one so that from now on and forever everyone here gets to go to school.”

I think of those two frightened young men standing up in front of those crowds and all I can do is smile. I am so incredibly blessed. I see images of Justin and me sitting around eating fish with Issac and Yotham. I see images of the four of us in the car laughing away and eating biscuits Justin had bought by the roadside. I close my eyes in the silence of this room and simply rejoice. What a great life I have!

I've been sitting here trying to figure out what God wants me to speak to our students about in chapel on the 25th. And now I know! It was seemingly the least of all of the many things that we talked about in those villages, but I can't get it out of my brain. Yotham and Isaac did great for their first time -- they spoke for a few moments in those villages and their messages resonated. But those people had not walked all that way to hear a short speech and so Justin carried on a long conversation -- not a speech, but a conversation -- with the crowd, and then I carried on an even longer conversation with them. It was a theatre, and a couple of times out of the corner of my eye I could see Yotham and Issac, their eyes wide, taking it all in. My voice rising and getting louder and louder. I can see myself moving amongst the crowd, speaking to the women, then to the men, engaging the old people, and then I had the head of the village stand up and I asked him how it was that the people of his village had heard about us -- we who live so far away -- so that they could send word for us to come. How had they already made 23,000 bricks even before we had come? How had they already picked out the land for their school? Where had all of this come from?

He stared at me. We don't really know. The crowd was silent and you could have heard a pin drop as everyone seemed to be wracking their brains to try to remember. We've talked about it over these last months. We don't know his name. He was a student at your school in Sawala. He came through our village and spent the night two years ago and told us how he was going to school and then he left. And his words burned in our hearts. And the dreams would not go away. The boy whose name we do not know, he is the one who told us.

I remember all that my grandfather taught me about how to preach here in Africa. Baba never had a name for it -- I've heard that missiologists call it 'event speech' now -- but he taught me that here, where orality reigns, the three point bulleted sermon falls on polite, but deaf ears. He taught me that you have to start out with an event -- a story that a people steeped in and wired for orality can remember and hold on to -- a story not unlike the stories that Jesus told to make his points when He too spoke to peoples where orality ruled. And so I will tell my students during chapel out at the college of the story of the boy whose name we do not know and how God used him so that one day there might be a school in the village of Ikwega, so that one day hundreds of students will study, so that one day they will learn English, they will hear of the True and Living God and of the wonder of the Gospel, they will learn how not to get sick, they will learn how to use computers and start businesses, and -- I see myself standing there at our college -- and some of them will one day come to this college and study where you are now studying. All because of the boy whose name no one can remember.

Justin had coaxed me into talking a lot about my grandparents in the car so that Yotham and Isaac could learn about them, and I'm sure in the dorm at night Yotham and Issac have already talked to everyone a lot about those grandparents of mine, but it's during that chapel that I'll introduce them to all of the students -- two missionaries nearly 100 years ago now who came to this continent and never returned to the States. On Thursday I'll tell one of the things that I can't forget about my grandmother was having her tell me that many people think that they have done great things because they were the missionaries who came to Congo, but she remembers the people who made a covenant to pray for open doors and she impressed upon me the importance of the unknown, unnamed people who quietly prayed for open doors. The world seeks after greatness and fame, to have our names be known. Our call is to service and to obedience. There are no plaques around to mark all of the foundation stones that their teacher Justin has laid -- he just quietly did his service. God can and does choose to take a skinny boy from a village who was never going to go to school, one of the many, many un-chosen ones, and have him go off to college and today be their professor at this college! God can and does choose to use a student traveling on his vacation through a village where he was not known -- and we have no idea if he was a brilliant student, or an average student, or maybe even a student who ended up failing -- we don't even know his name. So surely there is not one of us who can say that God cannot use us, that we are too weak, or that we have too little, or that we aren't good enough. During that chapel I want to see their eyes opened to the wonderful beauty of 2 Corinthians 12:9-10 where Paul tells us that it is because of our weakness that God's power is all the more visible and that as a result he will delight in his weaknesses and be glad because "when I am weak then I am strong". I can't wait for Thursday!

The experts would do detailed research, conduct surveys, and perhaps pinpoint one day the villages of Ikwega and Mayota as villages that need schools. And then they would roll in the expert builders with all of their heavy machinery, and put those classrooms up as people stood around and watched. Instead God chooses to send a student whose name no one can remember to say a few words that burn within people until they, on their own, seek us out and then call for us to come. And then they themselves will build their own school for their own kids. What I want for my students on Thursday is that they might be filled with the wonder and the marvel of the fact that God chooses very ordinary people, very weak people, very normal people and delights in making His power to be made manifest through them.

I told them in the village of Ikwega that my joy will not be just the day that there is a school in their village, not just the day that their kids graduate from the school, but also the day that the God of the Universe, the True and Living God, chooses to use one of their students, a kid from right in this village, to help people in some other village, far away, to one day have a school too for their children. That will be my joy!

Wow, do I love that I get to be here!