Three Cups of Tea by Greg Mortenson and David Oliver Relin

“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 world’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.

26 thoughts on “Three Cups of Tea by Greg Mortenson and David Oliver Relin

  1. Fabulous review. I agee wholeheartedly. I shall put this on my TBR list. Thanks for the information.

  2. Hi Sherry,

    I had the same feelings. The two of them spoke (Mortenson and Relin) at our local university this spring and our community had meetings afterwards to find ways to support them. It just made me all the more eager, to support Servant Group International’s Classical School of the Medes. http://csmedes dot org . God is using that organization in amazing ways in Christian schools in Iraq.

  3. Great review! You put into words one of my main objections to the mission of Greg Mortenson – forgetting Christian morals in education. I also found it sad that he has forsaken his Christian heritage.

  4. Sara

    Unfortunately, if there was any hint of Christianity in his education, his mission would’ve been shut down by the Muslim government.

    I think his education is a lot more Christian than most, actually.

  5. Sara

    Unfortunately, if there was any hint of Christianity in his education, his mission would’ve been shut down by the Muslim government.

    I think his education is a lot more Christian than most, actually.

  6. I think you are right about there needing to be no hint of proselytizing in his educational mission, and I can understand that. However, I also saw very little commitment to Christ or Christianity in the author’s account of Greg’s personal life and mission, and I thought that was sad. And I was pointing out that the education that he is committed to giving isn’t enough to change the world, even though it’s laudable. Just like I believe in medical missions to hurting people even if the medical missionaries aren’t allowed to mention the name of Christ, I also believe in education for education’s sake. But neither physical healing nor education (mental healing?) is enough. We all need Jesus.

  7. Jacob Frary

    i haven’t read all of the book yet but i like it… and i don’t think that you should judge him for changing his religious beliefs because he is only doing what he felt right and yo wouldn’t want anyone to push you into something you didn’t like… its amazing how a culture can influence and change the lives of people and you should be more open minded about these situations!!! thatnks

  8. Dorothy Higgs

    Do you have a list of questions we might use for discussion purposes at our book club.

  9. AJ

    A – we don’t all need Jesus.

    B – historical experience has shown that educated Christians commit just as horrendous act as any other religious demonination

    C – if he included Christ in his efforts, his mission wouldn’t be education, it’d would’ve been cultural and religious imperialism

  10. Josie Grace

    A – We DO need Jesus! Jesus said “I am the way, the truth and the life – no-one can come to the Father except through me”

    B- People all over the world commit horrendous acts – that does not make the acts “right” – and because some Christians act in the “wrong” way – it does not automatically make the rest of the Christians “wrong”. Each person is accountable to God for what they have done. God hates evil acts – regardless of who perpetrates those acts. But God LOVES ALL people and wishes that ALL would come to know Him. But Jesus is the ONLY way.

    C- do we have any proof that he does NOT include Christ in his efforts? Only the Lord knows the heart of man. Pray for him – he is making a difference – how wonderful would it be if that difference he made was also on a spiritual level?

    xjosie

  11. Holly

    I agree with AJ. As a former christian, and one who has taken over 10 years to even be able to say “former” christian, we don’t all need Jesus. I am still as ethical as ever and am certainly not evil.
    Most religions teach the same ethical principles and also have warped ones too that cause people to consciously or not hate groups of people (“infidels, homosexuals, unbelievers). And look at God’s example of evil acts in the Bible. Just read in Hosea where God rips babies out of pregnant mother’s wombs and pulverizes them. If that’s not evil, I don’t know what is. Certainly, you can cherry pick the Bible both ways and if you choose, can get a nice set of standards to live by..but most people in this world are good and want to love and be loved, and would come to a similiar “good” morale philosophywithout the Bible or Christ. Most religions teach peace and love. I think going to a foreign country and giving people the tangible aid they need, such as food, water, schools..is the best thing any human can do for another. But it is arrogant and manipulative to give these things to them and then try to convert them to your brand of religion without any real regard to what their personal beliefs might be or how one members conversion might cause rifts and anger within a family unit. I bet Greg Mortenson knows that better than any of us who have posted here since he was a missionary kid.

  12. Passerby

    Holly, how do you know what good and evil are without Christ and the Bible? There is no basis for morality in atheism because it makes no assumption of any basis for morality let alone human rights. Without an assumption (read: faith) it is impossible to say there is any such thing as right or wrong. See atheist philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche, for example:

    “What is good?–Whatever augments the feeling of power, the will to power, power itself, in man.
    What is evil?–Whatever springs from weakness.
    What is happiness?–The feeling that power increases–that resistance is overcome.
    Not contentment, but more power; not peace at any price, but war; not virtue, but efficiency (virtue in the Renaissance sense, virtu, virtue free of moral acid).
    The weak and the botched shall perish: first principle of our charity. And one should help them to it.
    What is more harmful than any vice?–Practical sympathy for the botched and the weak–Christianity”

    No atheist has any reason to say Nietzsche is wrong. You can only pretend to have morality and ethics out of habit, out of imitating the culture built on Christianity which you now reject. If you really took your atheism seriously, you’d reject your good/evil thinking as leftovers from Christianity, or root your ideas of good and evil in any false, failed religion found in the rest of this barbaric world.

    Faith in Jesus Christ is the only hope for us to be saved after death and saved from ignorance and wickedness in life as a bonus. Jesus Christ is the only hope for the Muslim world. Thank you, Lord for your salvation!

  13. MED

    I cannot say I agree with this. I just finished the book for school and now have to write a paper on it and cultural imperialism. The thing I loved about him and his mission was that he didn’t try to bring Christianity to a non-Christian nation. Just as you love Christianity and feel it needs to be taught here, they love Islam and feel it needs to be taught there. The two religions conflict in ways that make in nearly impossible to teach both in one school. Would you want someone from Pakistan to build only Islamic schools over here?

  14. JESUS FREAK

    I see some points in every post, however, Islam…. I am amazed that he can build any schools! The point of Islam is keeping them dumbed down and brain washed! Like America is trying to do to American schools by taking out God! I believe once they start to become educated they will develop a hunger for the truth of God and it will be bloody! Like JESUS, John, Andrew, so on they will die for the truth! I find if your life is comfortable you THINK you don’t need GOD, JESUS WILL RETURN AND EVERY KNEE BEND AND EVERY HEAD BOW… I love Jesus and thank the Lord for all my miracles, health, wealth, well, I just plain thank GOD for EVERYTHING! THERE IS NOTHING BETTER OR WORTH WHILE ON THIS EARTH COMPARED TO GOD! I LOVE YOU GOD!!

  15. Ralph Taite

    There is extreme naivete by the author of this blog. We are not talking about building a school in the heart of America. We are talking about building a school in the heart of a Muslim tribal culture. There are no Christian schools in the tribal regions and to build one would mean harassment for the teachers, the school and possibly death. Islam is not a religion of tolerance at least insofar as proselytization is concerned. The Qu’ran teaches that People of the Book (i.e., Christians and Jews) are to be respected but not trusted because they are infidels. They have not accepted that Muhammad is the final messenger of God (Allah). There are also penalties proscribed in the Quran for converting to Christianity from Islam (death!) and there is a tax to be paid by non-Muslims to the Muslim rulers (“jizya”) until the infidels convert. I don’t really think teaching explicitly Christian values is going to further Greg’s mission to build schools in Pakistan. However, there are certain values which are shared among the faiths which can be emphasized in these schools to remind us of our shared Abrahamic traditions. That should be the focus to avoid destruction of these bulwarks against the spread of further Islamic fascism.

  16. If Greg was a Christian and could not build schools in Muslim country in the name of Christ, he at least, when asked, could say he was doing it because he loved Christ. They already considered him an infidel…may as well go the whole way to glorify Jesus!

  17. Clay

    As to whether Mortenson should be building Christian schools — no, for the many reasons state above. But if you disagree, please consider that one can always preach to the illiterate, but one can give Bibles to those who can read, and *that* has a multiplier effect like nothing else.

  18. APF

    To blindly believe in something with no proof such as religion and “god” is one thing. To force it on people with their own beliefs and culture is another. It’s sick. Islam is no better or worse than Christianity. The ignorance of people spreading Christianity is alarming.

  19. Codie

    I wholeheartedly agree with this post–while teaching Christianity in an Islamic nation IS difficult, no question about that, it is still something Christians are called to do. I am NOT questioning his salvation here, I have seen him speak, and he seems to be a great, humble man; his heart is God’s to judge, not mine or yours. If he’s a Christian, he has some rethinking to do. If he’s not, he’s “off the hook” so-to-speak. HOWEVER, what he is doing is undeniably great, and I will definitely be praying not only for his organization and their efforts but for him personally also. I would also say that with all of the Biblical prophecies that have already come true, what is coming especially to the Middle East in the future would put them up there on the list of those who need Jesus (yes, we all make an appearance on this list).

  20. Van Garner

    The act of doing good stands on its own. Whether it’s an American doing good for a Pakistani, a Christian doing good for a Muslim, or the Samaritan doing good for the man who’d fallen among thieves (Luke 10:30ff) it is “loving our neighbor as we love ourselves”.

    After all, do you believe any of us Christians will be able to evangelize any area unless we’ve developed a caring relationship–unless we’ve helped meet at least the fundamental needs of the souls to whom we carry the Good News?

  21. Dorothy Danielson

    In reading Greg Mortenson’s books and seeing the miracles of God occurring in the most impossible situations, how could you not realize that he is folllowing a plan of God himself?
    Even now Jesus is working through his accomplishments to soften the hearts of the people in this area of the world! ! ! All of us should comtinue to pray for the results that are on the mind of our God.

  22. Hayyah

    Salaams,

    I just saw Mortenson speak and I’m an American Muslim, so I thought I could add something from this perspective. First, yes, it would be absolutely impossible to build Christian-based schools in Afghanistan. Muslims dislike few things more than they dislike missionaries, especially when those missionaries are targeting kids. Here in America, I’m used to missionaries coming to my door, taking up conversations in coffee shops, etc., and even visiting our mosque. But this is a Christian country; that is how it is, so no big deal. According to Shari’ah, we are guests in a Christian country (even a Muslim like me who’s a Daughter of the American Revolution), so we are required to accept our host’s laws, unless they prevent us from practicing our faith.

    Overseas, however, this is not the case. Overseas, Christians are guests in Muslim lands, and are expected to follow the laws of those lands, and those laws outlaw missionizing. Even if the missionary helps the people without mentioning Christianity (but hoping they would pick up on it by the fact that the giver is Christian), they are not accepted. Most Muslims would rather die impoverished, uneducated, starving, sick Muslims than wealthy, educated, well-fed, healthy Christians or members of any other religion.

    The only way Greg Mortenson can do this is by avoiding the religious issue altogether. Afghanistan is a tough land. Some people here are forgetting that.

    And from a Muslim perspective, I’m very happy he’s keeping his religious beliefs to himself.

  23. Hayyah

    And btw, Muslims do ‘have Jesus.’ We actually believe we respect him and follow his commands more closely than anyone. In the Bible, he says he came not to destroy the law, but to fulfill it. (Did Jesus say he was overriding Jewish laws, or did Paul? Doesn’t that mean something?) It is not disrespectful for us to believe he is 100% human, and not the literal son of God (‘son of God’ was a common title for Jewish holy men). In the Bible Jesus also says, “I tell you the truth, before Abraham was even born, I Am!” Muslims believe this too — we believe all the Prophets existed with God before Creation began. We believe the Prophet Muhammad existed before Abraham was born, but that doesn’t make him God. It meant he was /with/ God, like Jesus was.

    I can continue going on for a long time about how nothing Jesus says in the Bible equates to him claiming to be God, but that would be overkill. He makes it very clear that he’s not. So please don’t be so certain that Christians have the correct view of Jesus that all Muslims should be converted. Jesus says, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one can come to the Father except through me. If you had really known me, you would know who my Father is.” We believe the Islamic way is the way he’s talking about. So perhaps these kids will be following Jesus by learning the Qur’an.

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