The summer before I entered High School, I read a book that changed the way I thought about the world. It was called Three Cups of Tea. If you haven’t read it, the autobiography relates the story of Greg Mortenson, a mountaineer who lost his way down from climbing K2 in Pakistan. Near dead, he was saved by the hospitality of a village that he stumbled into. Once nursed back to health, he promised to return to the village and build a school. He went back to the US and raised the funds to build not one, but fifty-five schools!
Mortenson’s parents were missionaries in Tanzania, and the beginning of the book describes his struggles to place himself in American culture. When I read the book, I had just returned to Japan after my missionary parents’ one-year furlough in Canada, and was working through some of the same issues. The story inspired me, shaping my passions and bringing me closer to where I am today.
It was not for years that I found out about the scandal around the book. Beyond the oversimplification and misportrayal Northern Pakistanis, the book contains egregious factual errors. Greg Mortenson had not been kidnapped by the Taliban, and the number of schools build is not as many as Mortensen claims. Finally, the donations given to his organisation were not used as altruistically as they should have been.
But by the time I found this out, the damage was done, and an idealistic eighth grader started dreaming of a life spent building schools and bridges for vulnerable kids. Today, reading through the controversies and allegations fired back and forth is wearisome and disheartening, and raises some hard questions:
“Am I just in this to play the hero?”
“Can built schools justify financial mismanagement?”
“Where can I find hope when even the good guys turn out to be villains?”
These are the exact type of questions that Eugene Cho demands that we ask of ourselves in his book Overrated. The book posits the question: “Are we more in love with the idea of changing the world than actually changing it?”
Cho argues that we live in a world where ideas trend, instead of taking root; social justice makes it to the top of Upworthy, but fails to make the transition into lasting change. Cho argues that our culture has a chronic shortage of tenacity: the blood, sweat, and tears that it takes to get an idea off the ground. He writes:
“I believe we should be about the marathon and not about instant gratification. We don’t need one hit wonders; we need steady and faithful engagement. People who are faithful. People who are tenacious. People who don’t give up.”
This brings me back to some of my core beliefs. I talk about development as being characterized by big, messy problems, forgetting all the time that I am a big messy problem myself, full of self-centered desires. But I also believe that Jesus loves each an every person, not giving up on us despite their failures. Seeing the tenacity of Jesus’ love for me inspires me to face a broken down world, and knowing that he is with me gives me the courage to enact change. This is the story that will transform lives.
So I will keep dreaming, not as a hero, but as a human with a scandalous story.