September 11, 2013 Update

 

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My family and I are blessed frequently by getting to listen to some really great sermons -- but that’s because we carefully seek out and choose really good preachers.  Sometimes though exceptionally good sermons come from the most unexpected of sources.  What will certainly go down in history for me personally as one of the most inspiring and convicting and thought-provoking sermons I’ve ever been touched by came to me eleven days ago, very early Sundaymorning, when I turned on my phone and it chirped at me that I had an SMS message.  It was from my former student Justin.  The afternoon before he had completed his several hundred mile journey to the north and he was now in the village of Dotina.  After having spent his first 8 hours there, just before midnight, he sent a short message that I woke up to that Sunday morning and that has stuck with me every since:  In all of the places that I have done work, there is no place where I have been happier and no place that I should be more than this place.  Truly let me serve God here for never have I seen a people in such great need. 

 

Justin’s words were far from cheap exaggerations.  I have been to Dotina, I have slept in that village, I have eaten food with those people, I have spoken to them in two village meetings, I have seen their land and their homes and their children.  I could find no words to accurately capture the reality of that place, neither when I wrote about it after my last trip there, nor when I talked with Justin before he left on his journey to that village.  Godfrey and Emmanueli and I had shared with him that we felt that he and Richard were the ones we should send on that long journey, hundreds of miles to the north, to go to work with those people, so that one day there might be a school in their village. 

 

There had been no question in our minds that Justin was the right person to send.  He has served faithfully for many years and the odds were poor that he would abandon the work and leave us in an embarrassing lurch.  He has a gift for being able to draw out the best in individuals and to inspire crowds of people to go beyond themselves to achieve great things.  And his successes over these past 7 years are indeed numerous – among those who serve in Village Schools, he is almost legendary.  So there was no question in any of our minds that if we wanted to truly help the people of Dotina to have a reasonable chance of success we ought to send Justin.

 

And yet as he started out on the journey my faith wavered.  We were sending him off literally with nothing more than what was packed in his small suitcase.  I have known Justin for over a decade now.  He was my student, I have worked on projects with him in many different villages around the country, and I have grown to admire him, and to love him, and to be so proud of all that God has done in his life.  And yet I braced myself for a phone call that Saturday night, a phone call that would say something along the lines of -- Mzee we really just simply can’t do this.  I had stayed in that village for a mere night – for Justin it would be night after night, week after week and it would stretch into months – and as I thought of him arriving there tired after the long three day journey, my fears only grew. 

 

And yet what did I get from Justin?  No message that said send me somewhere else.  No message with a list of things that we needed to do to make it more comfortable for him.  No message of complaint and no message seeking my pity.  Instead it was the words: let me serve God here.  Let – me – serve – God – here.  And why?  For never have I seen a people in such great need. 

 

My mind raced to verse after verse in Paul’s letters.  My thoughts went back to all of the years I had spent investing in Justin’s life.  His words were a sermon to me.  He was a sermon to me.  And he has given me the foundation of the introductory talk I need to give tomorrow to our new missionaries who have just arrived, who are tonight spending their first night in the village with our students, who are ready to begin two weeks of training before we send them out to villages far away from here to live with their students.  I think it has been said that imitation is the best form of flattery and so tomorrow I will flatter Justin by trying to imitate his sermon.

 

What has happened in the last ten days since Justin arrived at Dotina truly has been beyond even the highest of any expectations we could have had.  It took a mere 48 hours for Justin to work his way into the hearts of those people and for God to use him to stir those people to action.  We had hoped for 6 classrooms by Christmas, and planned for maybe four.  Well they’ve already dug the foundations for 14 classrooms.  And the foundations for two science laboratory buildings.  And they’re almost done digging the foundation for huge administration building with the library and the chapel.  And already the foundation for one teacher house is done, with a promise of more to come in the next couple of days.  The soil is like a rock in this dry season but he says it only seems to spur them on to work harder.  I thought we had seen everything in these past 8 years since Village Schools started, but clearly we have only seen a glimpse of the incredible things that God has been planning. 

 

Cement?  We thought that wouldn’t be needed until next month at the earliest.  Well it was needed now – right now.  Justin talked with a merchant from town who was visiting family there in the village and convinced him to transport 120 sacks of cement to the building site for us.  At a discount.  With free transport.  And on credit.  Because everyone should do what they can to help get the school built – and you can’t leave your business in town to come help make bricks or haul stones so do what you can do so that all of the kids in this whole area get to go to school.  So get the cement from the city for us so we can build the school.  I can imagine the guy looking at him long and hard before he said yes.  And I can imagine everyone cheering.

 

When Godfrey and Emmanueli and I were last there in Dotina we saw the foundation stones and the bricks that people had either carried on their heads or that had been dragged to the site by their cows.  They had done enough for four classrooms and perhaps more.  Well turns out what we saw was only the tip of the iceberg.  They took Justin all around the village to see an incredible amount of foundation stones, more bricks that you have ever seen in your life Mzee as Justin said to me.  He calculated that it would take those people 12 months, or even longer, if they continued using their cows to drag everything to the school site.  And so Justin called Godfrey and talked him into having Gipson drive our truck Baraka (Blessing) on that same long journey that Justin had taken a few days earlier.  If we give the village that truck for 30 days, and the whole village works to load stones and bricks into that truck they could get it all done for the whole school in one massive burst of energy.  The truck is two days into its trip and should be theretomorrow night.

 

At the end of his first week in the village, the elders came to Justin and gave him a ceremonial fimbo to carry in his hand and told him that he was their son, that he belonged to them and that they belonged to him.  He was one of them – he was a muaraki.  And he is today one of them because he did not run away – he didn’t run away from the hardship or the inconvenience, instead he exuded to people confidence that the impossible was possible, a sense that he believed in them, and most importantly, he was willing to make himself to be like them

 

I remember Justin back when he was just a kid in my algebra class, when he crawled out the window in the back of the classroom when Susan was teaching him English.  I remember not too long ago when he graduated near the top of his class at the university – this kid who wasn’t ever supposed to even get to go to the 8th grade because he wasn’t among the chosen ones.  And I remember early this year when he was offered a very wonderful job with a very high salary and he came to see me for advice -- and I told him very pointedly that he was free to go, that he owed us nothing, that we had prepared him to do great things and he should consider himself free to go wherever he wanted and to do whatever he wanted.  Before we talked again, he made the trip to the village to tell his mother that he was turning down that job because he wanted to serve God instead and he wanted her blessing.  And then he returned and came to tell me his decision -- that he would throw his whole heart into serving and that we would not look back.  And he hasn’t looked back.  In only a few months he has worked with the people at Imauluma to build six more classrooms.  At Bukimau he inspired them to build 6 classrooms and 2 teacher houses.  And now he’s off working with the people at Dotina to build 14 classrooms!

 

What the kids who will study in those classrooms will have in common with Justin himself is that they, like Justin, will be among the wasiochaguliwa – the unchosen ones – the hundreds of thousands of kids every year who finish the seventh grade and who are told that there simply is no room for them in any of the government schools and that they’re never going to get to go to school again.  We’re going to get hundreds of kids from the village of Dotina and all of the surrounding villages into those classrooms. 

 

I can’t help but ask myself what if Justin had not ever gone to school.  And I can’t help but ask myself what if all of those kids in the village of Dotina don’t get to go to school either.  And that’s why we’re going to make sure that they go to school.  Every boy.  Every girl.  They might be the unchosen ones.  But they are going to go to school anyway.

 

Steve & Susan Vinton

Village Schools International

Box 1929 Tomball Texas 77377

www.villageschools.org

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