I stumbled across a book the other day while I was in Barnes & Noble. After searching unsuccessfully for about an hour to find a book that looked appetizing enough, I quickly decided on this one. To say the least, it was one of the most inspiring books I’ve read in a while.
A New York Times bestseller, Three Cups of Tea is the riveting story of a man who has done more to fight terrorism and promote peace in Central Asia than any grenades the US military has thrown, or bombs they have dropped. It’s the story of how much of a difference one man can make.
In 1993, Greg Mortenson’s attempt to climb the world’s second highest—and probably toughest—mountain, K2, was derailed. After failing to reach the top, and ultimately losing his way, he stumbled into a remote village in northern Pakistan. For the next few months, the kind and gracious people in the village nurtured him back to health. Overwhelmed with gratitude toward the people, he promised them that he would return and build a school for the village—something the Pakistani government had promised, but never delivered.
When he returned to the United States, his whole existence revolved around raising money so he could return and build the school. To save all the money he could, he had a dramatic change in lifestyle and decided to live in his car, as well as keeping his other expenses to a bare minimum.
Finally, after a year, he had enough money to return to the village to start building the school. Unfortunately, there were a number of speed bumps along the way, but the school was finally completed. Thinking that he would simply return to America and resume his life, one of his biggest financial backers convinced Mortenson to go into the work full time, and he has subsequently built 55 schools in Pakistan and Afghanistan, as well as providing aid and help to a number of other government-funded schools. All this he has done in one of the most impoverished and war-torn regions in the world.
The book is full of adventure and raises the reader’s awareness to many issues relating to that area of the world. Mortenson’s adventures forced him to cross paths with members of the Taliban, and he has had tea with some of the scariest characters on earth. He was even held hostage for a week in the region of Waziristan—the region in western Pakistan where many believe Osama bin Laden is likely hiding today. It is by far the most dangerous and unchartered region in Central Asia, torn apart by warring clans.
Three Cups of Tea has a lot to say about our present approach to the war on terror and Mortenson ultimately shows that it is love, compassion, and education that ultimately eradicates hatred in the human heart, not guns. While the United States bull-dozed through Afghanistan and then left the country desolate to pursue other demons in Iraq, the country is almost worse now. Millions of dollars of aid that was promised to the Afghani people was re-allocated to the war in Iraq, and this has left many people in the area with a bitter taste in their mouths toward America.
Reflecting America’s approach, one man said, “I’m a moderate Muslim, an educated man. But watching this, even I could become a jihadi. How can Americans say they are making themselves safer? Your President Bush has done a wonderful job of uniting one billion Muslims against America for the next two hundred years.”
He then went onto say, “Osama is not a product of Pakistan or Afghanistan. He is a creation of America. Thanks to America, Osama is in every home. As a military man, I know you . . . have to attack the source of your enemy’s strength. In America’s case, that’s not Osama or Saddam or anyone else. The enemy is ignorance. The only way to defeat it is to build relationships with these people, to draw them into the modern world with education and business. Otherwise the fight will go on forever.”
One man, Greg Mortenson, at least gets this. He has done more for the people of Pakistan and Afghanistan than any military brigade could do in a hundred years. Though he was raised in Tanzania to a Lutheran missionary family, he wears no Christianity on his sleeve. And yet he does. Because the ideals he lives for—loving people, caring for them, providing for their needs—is far more Christian than what any right-wing American who breathes war displays. And, ironically, though he does no proselytizing—and probably doesn’t even espouse to any Christian creed—the people in Central Asia call him a Christian (who, from the West, isn’t a Christian to them?).
So I ask you: which image of Christianity is better? The one that Greg Mortenson unintentionally displays, or the one that many of us violently promote? Fortunately, there is at least one person in the Muslim world who is giving the people a true picture of what it means to be Christ-follower.
He inspires me to do the same.
Quotable Quotes: “I was just an average bloak. . . I don’t know if I particularly want be remembered for anything. I have enjoyed great satisfaction from my climb of Everest. But my most worthwhile things have been the building of schools and medical clinics. That has given me more satisfaction than a footprint on a mountain” (pp. 129, 130—Sir Edmund Hillary).
“I don’t want to teach Pakistan’s children to think like Americans. I just want them to have a balanced, nonextremist education” (p. 209—Greg Mortenson).
“I don’t care where the money comes from. It’s all washed clean in the service of God” (p. 236—Mother Teresa, in response to the criticism of receiving money from “questionable” sources).
“In times of war, you often hear leaders—Christian, Jewish, and Muslim—saying, ‘God is on our side.’ But that isn’t true. In war, God is on the side of refugees, widows, and orphans” (p. 239—Greg Mortenson).
“I want to be thoroughly used up when I die” (p. 286—Julia Bergman).
“It was a very humbling victory. Here you have this Islamic court in conservative Shia Pakistan, offering protection for an American, at a time when America is holding Muslims without charges in Guantanamo, Cuba, for years, under our so-called system of justice” (p. 308—Greg Mortenson).