“The first time you share tea with a Balti, you are a stranger. The second time you take tea. you are an honored guest. The third time you share a cup of tea, you become family, and for our family, we are prepared to do anything, even die,” he said, laying his hand warmly on Mortenson’s own. “Doctor Greg, you must make time to share three cups of tea. We may be uneducated. But we are not stupid. We have lived and survived here for a long time.”
Subtitled One Man’s Mission to Promote Peace One School at a Time, this book was both inspiring and disappointing at the same time. Greg Mortenson was a mountain climber who attempted and failed to climb K2, the second highest mountain in the world found in the northern regions of Pakistan (Baltistan). While he was in this remote area of Pakistan, Greg was inspired to begin a one-man mission to build schools there, especially schools for girls, most of whom were not getting any kind of education.
As the son of Lutheran missionaries, Mortenson grew up in Africa as an MK, and even after they returned to the U.S. neither Greg nor his parents were exactly rich according to American standards. So Mortenson, living out of his car, began his campaign to build schools for girls in northern Pakistan by writing letters on an antiquated typewriter to every celebrity, famous person, or potential donor he could think to write. He explained what he wanted to do, wrote something like 600 letters, and got no response. A Pakistani expatriate who owned a copy store taught Mortenson how to use a computer and a word processing program, and he wrote more letters. Still no response.
Finally, he connected with one rich, sort of eccentric, donor, and he went to Pakistan with $30,000 to build his first school in the mountain village of Korphe. That one school was only the beginning, and that’s a capsule version of the inspiring part.
The disappointing part was that, as much as I admire what Greg Mortenson has done and continues to do, I think he is mistaken to put his trust in education alone. He seems to have left his Christianity behind in a quest change the world through education. Education is a wonderful thing. Education may be the best, perhaps the only thing, that can be done for the girls and boys of Pakistan and Afghanistan, given their cultural and religious heritage. So, I applaud Greg Mortenson and his organization CAI for what they have done and for what they continue to do.
However, I first of all agree with this reviewer at Amazon who opines that boys need education just as much as girls do. Read his exposition for a look at why educating just girls or girls in preference to boys may be counter-productive and produce civil unrest instead of the peace we all want.
Secondly, education without a Christian moral foundation produces only educated fools, according to the Bible and according to historical experience. I can name many individuals and groups of individuals who have been highly educated and also committed to evil goals and foolish ideals. An education does not guarantee peaceful intent, and neither does a change for the better in socio-economic class. No matter how much we as Americans may want to think that we can change the world by improving people’s standard of living and giving them books, it will have only limited success. Do I believe that making poor people richer and giving young people a chance at an education is a goal worth working for, and donating to? Yes, I do. However, according to CAI’s website, “The best hope for a peaceful and prosperous world lies in the education of all the worldâ€™s children.”
No, our hope does not lie in education. Without Christ, the change in a culture that is produced by education is only cosmetic and unlikely to produce the kind of lasting political change that we as Americans would like to see. People can be educated, even educated using funds donated by Americans, and still hate us. We should give and do good because it’s the right thing to do, not because we expect that a school building and classes and clean water will make them quit believing the mullahs who tell them that we are godless infidels. I know it’s unpalatable and controversial, but education is not God.
The book itself is decently written, and the story is absorbing. The idea that one person can have an idea and do something important to make the world a better place and the details of that idea working out in one man’s life are inspiring, as I said. Don’t expect great literature; do expect the story of a great life.