The closer the parade got to the soccer field, the more enthusiastic the marchers became, racing each other to the front of the group. I glanced behind me and was inspired by what could be almost called a movement – six thousand people brimming with excitement to celebrate what they had accomplished. It was all security could do to keep those of us in front from being overrun by the jubilant crowd behind us.
As we entered the field and were seated near the stage, Richard kept grinning at me, knowing some of the surprises to come:
- The opportunity to review a drill team from one of the schools that we serve
- The duty of officially cutting the ribbon to open the farmers market while being filmed by multiple local television stations
- The chance to watch at least a half a dozen well-known Tanzanian gospel artists perform, led by Rose Mhando.
At last it was my turn. I have heard that as a Christian I should always be ready to preach, pray, or die at a moment’s notice, but I didn’t have to hesitate. There was so much to be said to these amazing people, who had paid their own way from all over northern Tanzania to be there. Their accomplishments were truly inspiring.
Matthew 13:31-32 came immediately to mind when I remembered the humble beginnings of the work. In that passage Jesus compares the kingdom of heaven to a mustard seed, which, though it is the smallest of seeds, grows into a tree and provides nests of birds. Everything about this program had started small. Forty-cent shares in savings groups had somehow grown to be 1.2 million dollars, and catalyzed the use of savings groups in all of our programs. A few halting attempts a setting up tree nurseries had grown into a voluntary reforestation effort that had planted 8.2 million trees.
The most fun part was telling them, that while around the world poor farmers are blamed for deforestation when they clear land for agriculture or cut trees for firewood, in Tanzania, farmers aren’t the problem, they have become the solution!
The thousands of Floresta savings group members sat with immense patience through my speech and several others and finally an extensive fundraising campaign led by a celebrity comedian and preacher.
I don’t speak Swahili, but he was funny, even filtered through my translator (my friend, Bobby, the proprietor of my favorite place to stay in Marangu, the Babylon Lodge). Of course, he took advantage of my presence to go off on a long tangent making fun of Americans, to the amusement of the assembled crowd, before hitting me up for a contribution to the cause. He then went individually to the pastors and business people in attendance, putting each on the hot seat as he publicly asked for a contribution to the work of Floresta.
Sometime in the mid-afternoon we at last got to the part that the people had come for – the announcement of the 2107 award winners.
To be continued…