Greg Mortenson loves kids. His passion is not fighting the war on terror (although his work, arguably, is REALLY redirecting extremism), rather it is educating children. Mortenson operates his educational initiatives in northern Pakistan and Afghanistan. His organization is called the Central Asia Institute (CAI). Since the mid-1990’s, after a failed attempt at K2, Mortenson, a former mountaineer, forged a new path in his life after his connection at a village called Korphe. For all the assistance these villages gave foreign climbing expeditions on the rooftop of the world, they received no assistance or advancement in return. When Mortenson arrived in Korphe and after he spent some time in the village, he saw how children (and their parents) craved for an education. He saw students out in a field practicing math with sticks in the dirt. Mortenson made a promise: I will come back and build a school.
Many mountaineering expeditions made promises, but were largely unfulfilled. But something in Greg Mortenson made the people of Korphe believe him. Sure enough, almost a year later, Mortenson arrived in Korphe with the supplies to build a school. With the first school built, a non-profit organization created (CAI), and a team of valiant and hugely supportive Pakistani staff, this gentle giant proceeded to start many schools (especially for girls), women’s vocational centers, and meeting basic needs projects. This white American accomplished some significant things: education for villages that hadn’t seen government money ever and trust and cooperation among Muslims suspicious of this American’s long-term interest.
All Greg Mortenson wanted to do was build schools for children. His goal is to bring education to children had no opportunity. It’s somewhat coincidental that 9/11 happened and the focus on Islamic extremism and the ensuing war on terror during the time he was working in Pakistan. It has made what Mortenson is doing much more significant in light growing extremism, which is more ignorance than hatred. Through his work, Mortenson reminds us all that Muslims are a peaceful people who uphold peace and justice and love. While it’s easy for Americans to think that all Muslims are associated with terrorism, they are not. Just like Christianity has its extremes, so does Islam. Compared to all the media about the Middle East and our continual focus on the extreme element of Islam, Greg Mortenson’s story reminds us that Muslims are people just like us, who want things for our children (just like us) and to serve the world with goodwill (just like us).
If you’re looking at getting an education about the good nature of Muslims and a story about one man fighting the odds of accomplishing a goal that the governments of Pakistan and Afghanistan couldn’t get done, then this book will inspire you. It will remind you that we are all human beings on this planet and that we are all responsible for each other. However, if you want to stay disconnected and don’t want to regard Muslims as people whom God loves, then don’t read this book because it will frustrate you. (I’m not saying that if you don’t take the time to read this book then you don’t like Muslims.)
I am reminded of the tension in the early church as they sought to enact the Gospel of Jesus Christ. The tension was between Jewish Christians and their Gentile counterparts. Is everyone eligible to live in the kingdom of God? Does the Gospel transcend cultures, race, social status, and gender? What about religion? Jewish Christians were frustrated that the Gentile Christians didn’t have to be circumcised and follow the rules of Judaism. Paul reiterated that the Gospel was for everyone, regardless.
So my assertion is this: What does the Gospel look like, working in our world? I would assert that it looks a lot like what Greg Mortenson is doing for remote villages in northern Pakistan and Afghanistan; bringing education and meeting basic needs through connection and the forging of significant relationships.