Since Three Cups of Tea: One Man's Mission to Promote Peace . . . One School at a Time by Mortenson and David Oliver Relin has been a huge best seller, I don't feel the need to retell much of its story. Suffice to say , since 1996, under the nonprofit umbrella of the Central Asia Institute, Mortenson has been responsible for the building of 90 schools that provide education to over 34,000 children, including 24,000 girls.
Mortenson clearly got off to a good start for a person who would end up working with people from other cultures. He spent much of his boyhood in the shadow of Mt. Kilimanjaro in Tanzania where his father worked to establish a hospital and his mother a school. In this book, Mortenson describes his father's pride that the institutions would soon be run by Tanzanians.
In 1993, having spontaneously promised the Pakistani villagers who took him in after a failed climb of K2 that he'd return and build a school, Mortenson lived as a San Francisco Bay Area drifter,working shifts as an ER nurse, living in his Buick on climbing weekends, and trying to learn how to raise money. He didn't have a clue how he was going to come up with the $12000 he needed. The story of his visiting a copy shop, getting upgraded from hunt and peck manual typing to a computer, and fruitlessly mailing off 580 begging letters should resonate with anyone who has ever tried to scrounge up the cash for a project she truly believes in. And, improbably, he did find a mountaineering benefactor who came up with the money.
And so he managed to return to Pakistan and keep his promise -- and more. And along he way, Mortenson learned from the recipients of his gift essential truths about how to live. Here's the incident that gave his book its title:
Three Cups of Tea reminded me over and over of Jesus' injunction that those who would live in the Good need the mind and heart of a child. (Luke 18:17) For whatever reason, Greg Mortenson seems to have been able to bring a pure heart to his friends in the Himalayas. More of us should be so fortunate.