Monday, January 23, 2012

A master road builder’s vision

A month ago I was in Nairobi to seek healing for my foster son, Mugisha Gabriel. We arrived at approximately 8:00 a.m. for a 2:00 p.m. appointment at Aga Khan Hospital. It should have taken 45 minutes to reach Aga Khan. Instead we barely made the appointment. Something is horribly wrong with Nairobi. It is the roads.

Whenever a friend from Nairobi visits me it seems our first adjustment question concerns the roads of Kigali. Something is right with Kigali. It is the roads.

Metaphors are dangerous commu­nication devices. They turn the pro­found and complex into a simple sym­bol. Yet they resonate. The tragedies of our Great Lake’s history are most clearly seen in our roads. Our hope can be found in a master road builder’s vi­sion.

I’ve spent years complaining about Nairobi traffic. Is it corruption? Is it poor planning? Is it poor maintenance?

A month ago a new thought crossed my mind. Nairobi was designed to be the perfect city for British colonial ad­ministrators. It had a pleasant climate, good churches and schools, theatres, a railroad, low labor costs, and proxim­ity to abundant natural resources. The only problem was the city designers had no idea where Nairobi was going. The road builders had no vision. Nai­robi refused to be contained.

The seemingly irrelevant, but trou­blesome missionaries were starting schools and preaching that all men were made in the image of God. Knowl­edge coupled with dignity could not tolerate a shortsighted vision of Nai­robi. The road builders had no vision. Nairobi refused to be contained.

The lower caste Asians who built a railroad saw an entrepreneurial oppor­tunity. They went to work. Commerce thrived. With economic gain again came the calls of dignity. The road builders had no vision. Nairobi refused to be contained.

Independence came in 1962 with ap­proximately 250,000 living in Nairobi. With independence all roads led to Nairobi. It became the city of destiny for the ambitious. Today approximate­ly 4,000,000 live in Nairobi. Yet the old roads remain. All complain. The root problem is the founding road builder’s poor vision. He never foresaw the con­sequence of faith, education, business, and ambition.

A wise mother was once asked how she succeeded at raising her sons. She remarked that she caned the older ones with the younger watching. Little brother succeeded by not making the mistakes of his big brother. My meta­phor is too strong if we interpret Nai­robi to be Kigali’s older brother. Let’s interpret Nairobi as our caned brother with historic vision mistakes. Our task today is to build a city that holds mil­lions and represents the hopes of a re­gion.

In order to reach these hopes we need a master road builder. Approxi­mately 2,700 years ago a man gifted with profound moral insight and ex­ceptional powers of expression named Isaiah spoke of a master road builder’s vision,

“I form you and use you to recon­nect the people with me, To put the land in order, to resettle families on the ruined properties…For the Compas­sionate One guides them, takes them to the best springs. I’ll make all my mountains into roads, turn them into a superhighway. Look: These coming from far countries, and those, out of the north, these streaming in from the west, and those from all the way down the Nile!” (Isaiah 49:8-12, The Mes­sage.)”

History’s great prophets recycle themselves time after time. What will a Kigali built by a master road builder be like? First, no man or woman gets the glory. When it is a master piece the designer is God himself. Second, God will use the humble who by the coin­cidences of history realize they are the ones entrusted with the tasks of the day. The human master road build­ers will be remembered in history by phrases such as “I just got lucky. I just went to work. I worked with a group of heroes. This was about much more than me. This was a call from God to our community.”

Next, the human road builders know the emotions of empathy and compas­sion. They remember what it is like to not have a home to call their own. They grieve over each loss. They labor for the love of future generations in their community. Their greatest desire is for the success of our families.

With this compassion comes cou­rageous vision. Mountains that seem impassable become roads. Then as the road matures it becomes a highway that gathers a region.

What gathers? Nairobi’s failings provide some answers.

First, we come to seek healing. In­vestment in health care brings rewards. Inefficiency in just traveling across town to find healing is unacceptable. We need roads with a vision for ease of movement so we can be healed.

Second, education provides inspira­tion. Our roads must connect schools on the top of Kigali’s hills.

Third, business builds not only wealth but dignity. Our roads must sustain ease of commerce transport.

Lastly, our roads must do for gen­erations what Isaiah predicted. They must call us to journey in discovery.

Something is wrong with Nairobi. It is the roads. Something is right with Kigali. It is the roads. Our hope is in a master road builder.

1 comment:

  1. road builders like these do what they have to. These small, old, and crowded cities have to come into the modern world but it can be very hard. The people have to be willing to move aside for cars, livestock too. Its a tough challenge.