Last week in Alaska, I had time to sit and read “Three Cups of Tea: One Man’s Mission to Promote Peace….One School at a Time,” by Greg Mortenson and David Oliver Relin. This is my new all time favorite (takes my breath away with hope) book. It tells the story of Mr. Mortenson helping to build schools in rural villages in Afghanistan and Pakistan, learning from those who know their needs, their culture, and know how to proceed with wisdom appropriate to their communities. It gives me hope that more of us in more ways can make creative partnerships like this. We in America have been hugely blessed with resources, but we have SO much to learn from listening to those in communities and cultures we do not understand and that are unfamiliar to us. Seems like I always learn more by listening than by talking….asking, “How can we serve you?” gets some amazing answers. Coming into places with our plan of how it’s going to be leads to those we’d like to “help” being left cleaning up our messes behind us. (At one point in the book the village headman lovingly comes to him in the midst of a mutual project and says, “You’re driving us nuts! Slow down!) He has the grace to listen and learn. The other cool thing with this book…all the experiences of his life that maybe didn’t add up in a conventional way, or fit the average “career path”….. but they all helped him (a mountain climber familiar with places where people ordinarily wouldn’t go who ends up where nobody in their right mind would ever be), to do what he ended up finding to do that mattered. I’m a real sucker for those kinds of stories!
An example of how this works in another context is the Karen Teacher’s Working Group. These folks provide teacher training, curriculum and school supplies to IDP schools in Burma. Not an easy task. Some of the videos on their web site, and the links to the reports from last year’s material distribution, where people are walking days through enemy territory to get to the mobile trainings or to get supplies for their schools, and very humbling. It’s worth a look. Education is hope in contexts of violence, oppression and poverty. Reading “Three Cups of Tea”, and having had the privilege of meeting some of the folks at the Karen Teacher’s Working Group, convicts me to look for ways to support what they do in a greater way. The Seattle Burma Roundtable does a raffle every year (this fall) to raises money to help support purchasing school supplies for IDP kids in Burma. Two dollars buys school supplies for a child for one year. Pretty good bargain, huh? For less than the price of one well-loved latte, I could help educate a kid? Sounds like an investment to me, and I really love coffee. (Will post more when the raffle starts….)
PS Before I read “Three Cups of Tea,” actually, ever since I was a kid, my favorite book has been “Hinds Feet On High Places,” by Hannah Hurnard. Amazing allegory about the “Chief Shepherd” leading “Much Afraid” on a journey to become more like Him and to grow in faith and grace, in spite of her past, her failures, her present circumstances, her inadequacies, her relatives, her financial situation, or her disabilities….(anyone see where I’m going with this?). I didn’t know ’til I did a web search on her tonight that she’s considered to have gone off the theological deep end later in life. But, since I’m not a theologian, I think I’ll still treasure the hope that book has given me for years, that God knows my weaknesses, and has a purpose for my life anyway-that I’m not the sum total of my failures. I’ll try to pay attention to how the journey unfolds so in case something good happens, I don’t miss it. (Her actual life story proves God is bigger than our fears and that you can do some things for the love of God or of a group of people that you wouldn’t even consider doing for any other reason!)