Priceless

Priceless

Everyone -- all our students, people in the village, really everyone -- is just thrilled that last night the big D6 bulldozer arrived! Work has begun in earnest at the college clearing out three additional meadows -- we have a lab building to build in one meadow, 4 new lecture halls planned for a second meadow, and in a big meadow way to the back of the campus we're going to put in three more houses for professors. Once that's all done, we're going to use that bulldozer to put in a serious firebreak -- a huge road -- that will completely surround our entire 55-acre campus. We've cancelled classes for the day and our students are loading logs on the truck from the few trees that we've had to cut down and everyone is truly in a jovial mood. What I've been thinking about though is what no one sees -- what no one will ever see -- what those who study at this college ten, twenty years from now will never know of. I'm thinking of the quiet work that went on behind the scenes, the negotiations that Justin pulled off to get the bulldozer. What I celebrate in my heart is not just that we got that company to agree to bring their bulldozer here. What I also celebrate is that after all of the negotiations were done and we had gotten what we knew to be truly an excellent price, I was left simply stunned when I saw the final actual contract. After all of those hard negotiations and discounts and everything that had been talked through, the price was a full 20% less than what we had agreed upon. Godfrey was down in the south of the country and had approved the final deal, so I called him up to ask him how it was that the price in the contract was 20% less than what Justin had negotiated and what we had all agreed was a perfectly good and fair price. He said that when we had agreed, he told Justin to go sign the contract. When Justin got there the guy told him that the 20% that was Justin's would be paid to him when the whole job was done. Whatever these big construction companies call that payment -- the finders fee, rushwa, the money that is just normally and customarily paid under the table -- didn't matter. Justin told the guy to rip up the contract and start over and take that 20% off the price. Justin never said a word to me of what he had done. He never came back and told me what an honest guy he was. He didn't brag or even try to get anyone to say that he had done the right thing. It was Godfrey who explained it all to me. Godfrey laughed -- the guy had told Justin he was nuts. Justin told the guy that this is a Christian organization and we just don't do that. But you're a fool, everyone does it this way. Lakini sisi, hapana -- But us, no. Everyone is so proud of this college campus, the beauty of it all, the wonderfully built buildings, the new construction ready to start. I'm proud of all that too. But I'm even more proud of what will never be seen. Justin's three words. Lakini sisi, hapana -- But us, no.

Just thinking about it makes me feel good inside. The same way I felt yesterday when we got the first email from the little village of Dotina with the excel spreadsheet all filled in with all of the financial information and the grades and everything from our new school there. That was the last of our 32 schools to succeed in getting hooked up to the internet. For months and months every bit of data had been sent by SMS message on the phone and dutifully filled into a spreadsheet in the office. There was a cheer when the email came in. The guys had gotten a modem, and after a ton of SMS messages from headmasters of our other schools telling them how to configure things and get all of the settings right, they had actually succeeded. There is real joy in that kind of success. Since it was the first report of the year, I looked deeper than I normally would. On the summary page you see all the income, and the breakdown of expenses by category and you can get a good feel for how things are going. It wasn't until I had dug down further that it suddenly occurred to me that almost all of the receipts in that entire village were for very small amounts. In the three months since school had opened there were already kids who had come and paid a half dozen times. The whole village was full of people who were paying in dribbles. We had said from the very first time we had visited that village that it was surely the poorest village we had ever been to in the whole country. But it was only in going through that financial report that I came to appreciate just how really poor those people are. I thought of those parents who were finding little bits of money and bringing it to slowly pay for their kid's education. One day down the road, people will celebrate the buildings that everyone has worked so hard to build. People will celebrate those students when they graduate and do well on the national exams and go on to college. But probably no one is going to celebrate or even remember those parents bringing their crumpled up bills and paying those school fees. No one will know. It was only because I was so curious that I even stumbled upon that reality myself. I hope I never forget what I discovered yesterday.

And all of this makes me think of the truly beautiful thing that is happening right now in the United States. We are feeling so blessed to have a wonderfully large group of people ready to come out to serve with us this summer, more people are planning to come in September, and there are even those who have already contacted us about coming next year! It's a huge job for Vicki, Sue, Marisha, Rebecca and Matt who volunteer to contact their references, arrange their visas and their airplane tickets and help them to get prepared to come. Everyone is going to celebrate all of the great work they are going to do teaching at our college, teaching in our secondary schools, helping out at our new primary school. And, if they are anything like all of the other 169 people who have already come and served, they are going to do a wonderful job. Families will go to airports to see off their sons and daughters. Whole villages will come out to receive their new guests. Kids in classrooms are going to see their teachers. But what no one is going to see is what I just marvel at right now. How does a little organization like this one end up being blessed with so many volunteers willing to come live in these villages and work with all of our students? If we had just done something special -- anything at all! -- we could point it and say, wasn't that a brilliant strategy. We could congratulate ourselves for having come up with a good idea, and for pulling it off so well. If we had fixed those key-word tags on our website and suddenly we had tons of people contacting us we could say to ourselves what a brilliant idea it was that we did that. If we had placed a great advertisement in some good Christian magazine, we could point to that. Instead as I sit here thinking of it, all I know is that last November I wanted to write an end of the year letter to everyone to say thanks for everything -- and I decided to say thanks and also ask to ask people if they would earnestly pray for us to get a lot more missionaries to serve here. And then I started getting a lot of emails from people saying that they would indeed pray that God would send more missionaries to serve here with us. Most people just probably silently prayed, unknown to me or anyone else, and in the quietness of their homes and offices that asked God to grant a gracious favor to all of these kids and send even more missionary teachers to work with them. And God has clearly decided to do it.

The visible, tangible things that are a part of the reality of Village Schools cause us all to marvel and be in awe of what God has decided to do here. We just can't help ourselves but be amazed at it all. The things that are unseen though are equally priceless. I celebrate Justin's integrity, I celebrate the parents who want so much for their kids to go to school, and I celebrate every person out there who is praying that God would send out even more workers to come to serve here. My heart just celebrates!

I'm so thankful that I get to be here and be a part of all of this.