Three Cups of Tea

October 18, 2009



Matthew 9:27-31

27 As Jesus went on from there, two blind men followed him, crying loudly, ‘Have mercy on us, Son of David!’ 28 When he entered the house, the blind men came to him; and Jesus said to them, ‘Do you believe that I am able to do this?’ They said to him, ‘Yes, Lord.’ 29 Then he touched their eyes and said, ‘According to your faith let it be done to you.’ 30 And their eyes were opened. Then Jesus sternly ordered them, ‘See that no one knows of this.’ 31 But they went away and spread the news about him throughout that district.


Greg Mortenson is a humanitarian, international peace-maker, and a mountain climber. Mortenson is the co-founder and director of the non-profit Central Asia Institute, and founder of the educational charity Pennies For Peace. He is the protagonist and co-author of the New York Times bestseller Three Cups of Tea. The book has the subtitle: One Man's Mission To Promote Peace... One School At A Time.

Born in 1957, Greg Mortenson joined the U.S. Army as a young man and was trained as a medical corpsman. That, coupled with a love of adventure, later led to Mortenson being included on mountain-climbing teams, which were always eager to have a medic along.

In 1993, he was part of a team ascending the world’s second-highest mountain, only slightly lower than Everest. That peak is known only by its map coordinates, K2. It is part of the Karakoram segment of the Himalayas, located on the border between Pakistan and China. Informally, K2 is known as “The Savage Peak” due to the difficulty of climbing it. For every four people who reach the summit, one dies trying to get there.

All climbers always want to get to the top of the mountain, but in Mortenson’s case, he had an additional incentive. The previous year, his 23-year-old sister, Christa, had died from a massive seizure after a lifelong struggle with epilepsy. Mortenson intended to dedicate his conquest of K2 to her memory. As it worked out, however, he honored Christa with far-more-lasting results.

After 78 days of struggle against the mountain, which included helping rescue another climber, Mortenson got to within 600 meters of the summit, but he was entirely done in. His strength failed, altitude sickness got to him. He turned back. A local guide helped him off the mountain, but they got separated when Mortenson made a wrong turn. He ended up in the primitive mountain village of Korphe in Pakistan. Too sick to go on, he stayed there under the hospitable care of the villagers while he recuperated.

The people of Korphe belong to an ethnic group called Balti. Many of them, like the more well-known Sherpas of Tibet, work as high-altitude porters for climbing expeditions. But one important difference between the two groups is that the Sherpas are Buddhists, and the Baltis are Muslims.

While in the village, Mortenson observed the harsh realities of the Balti way of life. They live in isolated, remote mountain valleys and subsist on marginal crops of grain and small herds of yaks. Because of the altitude, the climate is severe. Medical care is almost nonexistent, and people die from things that would be routinely treated and cured in other places. Among the Balti, children under 12 months of age have a 35 percent mortality rate, primarily due to diarrhea-induced dehydration. During the brutal winters, villagers retreat into tiny basement dugouts and spend six months huddled together, barely kept warm by smoky yak-dung fires.

For the children who do survive, there are often no schools. In Korphe, Mortenson saw 82 children kneeling on frosty ground in the open, trying to learn. The Pakistani government provided no teacher, and the villagers could not afford to hire one on their own. They shared a teacher with a neighboring village, but he was in Korphe only three days a week. The rest of the time, the kids gathered in the open to work on lessons the teacher had assigned.

Mortenson resolved to build a school for the village. He had a vision of something concrete that obviously needed to be done, but he had no money and no idea how to raise any money. When he returned to California, he could have forgotten his vision. It is a long way from California to the Himalayas. “Yes, they needed a school in that mountain village that saved my life, but what can I do? I am just an ordinary person.”

And like the rest of us, Greg Mortenson had to have a job. He was qualified as a nurse; he took a job in the emergency room--but he did not give up his vision. He started sending letters to celebrities and anyone he could think of who might help with the school. That did not work at all. He got practically nothing. So again he could have given up. “I had this vision, Lord. I wanted to do a good thing. I tried, but it just did not work.” But he did not give up. He told his story wherever he could. Since his story was in part about his attempt to climb K2, he wrote up a version of his vision for a climber’s newsletter. Jean Hoerni, a Silicon Valley pioneer, was also a climber. He read the newsletter, contacted Mortenson and donated the necessary money.

Well, you say, that is the end of the story. He got the money; he can now found the school. Actually, it is the beginning of the story. Mortenson went back to Pakistan, purchased building materials and rode in a trunk to get them near Korphe. From there, Greg had to solve the considerable problem of getting the materials to the remote mountain village while fending off tribal chieftains and others who wanted to steal the supplies.

The people of Korphe themselves solved the final part of the logistical problem. A rock slide had blocked the road some 18 miles from the village. The men of the community, accustomed to hauling heavy loads on their backs for climbing expeditions, moved the materials the same way. One photo in Greg Mortenson’s book shows the men with massive loads of lumber on their backs, laboring toward their village ... with great smiles on their faces.

So, he did it. He built that school. Promise kept. But Mortenson continued to be haunted by the needs he had seen in Himalayan villages. Mortenson resumed raising money so he could help other villages build schools. He kept returning to Pakistan, and eventually to Afghanistan as well, to build more schools. As of last year, he and the organization he founded had established more than 78 schools in rural and often volatile regions of the two countries. He not only constructed the buildings but also often paid for teachers and books. Those schools provide education to more than 28,000 children (including 18,000 girls). This is in a region where there were no schools at all for girls before.

And this has made Greg Mortenson a hero to some folks and a demon to others. The Taliban kidnapped him and held him prisoner for eight days, but they eventually let him go after becoming convinced of his good intentions. (Some fighters even gave him money for schools. That is an interesting twist, isn’t it?) In 2003, Greg escaped a firefight between feuding Afghan warlords by hiding for hours under a load of putrid animal hides. He has been the target of two fatwas from Islamic mullahs. A fatwa is a death warrant. The Mullahs—moslem clergy—do not like Greg educating girls. Also, he has been investigated by the CIA, and he has received hate mail and even death threats from some right-wing Americans because he educates Muslim children. But Greg Mortenson has absolute faith in his vision, and he keeps on keeping on.

Greg’s book is called Three Cups of Tea, which refers to an old Balti proverb: “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 Greg has drunk a lot of tea in little villages throughout the world’s most rugged and remote regions.

Now I guess the story of Greg Mortenson could be used in several ways.

He shows us what discipleship is. He shows us what Christians do. We help others. We see a need. We should do something about that need.

But above all, Greg Mortenson shows us what faith is. Greg had this vision of building a school. He had no money and no contacts, but somehow he believed if he just kept on, he could make something happen. He had opposition on every side. Muslim clerics wanted him dead. Apparently some Americans wanted him dead. He had every reason to give up, but because he believed, he kept on.

Our text today from Matthew 9 is about belief. Two blind men cry out to Jesus, “Have mercy on us, Son of David.” Jesus said to them, “Do you believe that I am able to heal you?” They said, “Yes, Lord.” “Then he touched their eyes and said, ‘According to your faith let it be done to you’” (29). And they were healed.

I have been thinking about that sentence: “According to your faith let it be done to you.” The sentence has a wider application than just to the healing of two blind men. More often than not, the results we believe in are the results we obtain. You have heard this before. If we believe we are going to fail, then probably we are going to fail. If we believe we are going to succeed then probably we are going to succeed.

William James, as far as I know, was no relation of Jesse James. He was one of the pioneers and founders of the science of psychology. He said, “Our belief at the beginning of a doubtful undertaking is the one thing that ensures the successful outcome of your venture.” Notice what he said: Belief is the ONE thing that is necessary for a successful outcome.

Norman Vincent Peale wrote a famous bestseller back in the 1950s called The Power of Positive Thinking. He talks about how important belief is and he uses an illustration that he got from Hugh Fullerton (see Chapter 7). Fullerton was one of the most influential sportswriters in the first half of the twentieth century. One story Fullerton told concerned Josh O’Reilly, the manager of San Antonio in the old Texas baseball league. O’Reilly had a great team that year. Seven of his players had hit over .300 the previous year, and if you know baseball you know that is something. They were expected to win the championship, but of their first 20 games they lost 17. Suddenly those seven .300 hitters could not hit anything. Frustrations began to mount. Nothing was going right. Players began to say ugly things about each other. Dallas had one of the worst teams in the league that year, and so when San Antonio played Dallas they thought surely they would win this one, but they only got one hit in the entire game, and Dallas blew them away. The players for San Antonio were totally dejected.

Now Josh O’Reilly knew that he had good players, but he also realized that the beliefs of his players were totally wrong. They did not expect to get a hit. They did not expect to win. They believed in defeat.

It so happened that a revival preacher and faith healer named Schlater was in town at that time. Rev. Schlater was very successful. He was in the newspapers, on the radio—this was before TV. He was attracting large crowds, and many people set great store by his ministry.

O’Reilly asked each player to lend him their two best bats, and then he asked all the players to stay in the clubhouse until he returned. He put the bats in a wheelbarrow and rolled them out the door. He was gone about an hour. He returned bouncing with joy to tell the players that Rev. Schlater had blessed the bats and that these bats now had special power. The players were astounded and delighted. The next day they played Dallas again. They got 37 hits and scored 20 runs. The rest of the season, they hammered their way through their schedule and won the championship.

Now let us think about this a little. We do not know that Rev. Schlater ever blessed any bats. The story is as I said found in Norman Vincent Peale’s book but the way it is told, I suspect that neither Peale nor Hugh Fullerton believed that O’Reilly ever went to the preacher to get any bats blessed. He made it up. He concocted this story, and he told it so convincingly that his players believed him and that belief made all the difference. It changed attitudes. The players began to think in terms of winning not losing. They expected hits, runs, victories, and they got them. There was no difference in the bats, but there certainly was a difference in the players, in the attitude of the players.

Now they had the talent to win all along. You remember that this was a team of stars, but they were not winning, because they had fallen into some bad thought patterns. They needed to believe like the two blind men in Matthew 9.

You and I might not be baseball stars, but we can learn a lesson from manager O’Reilly. Belief is the most important thing in life. You can be a genius. You can have talent coming out of your ears, but if you do not believe then it is all for naught. You cannot do anything without belief. But who knows what you can do with belief. You might build schools for girls among the Taliban. You might hit home runs.

That is almost what Jesus said to the two blind men. Receive according to what you believe. Or put it more emphatically: You will receive according to what you believe. Amen.


If you have questions or comments, email Tony Grant

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