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Cultural Communicator

Greg Mortenson

Recently I had the opportunity to hear Greg Mortenson speak in the gymnasium of a community college in Washington state, after which I jotted the following observations about this incredible man and communicator:

Greg Mortenson is truly a cultural broker. He communicates a message that resonates with teachers, librarians, military leaders, Afghan village chiefs, elementary students, university students, nonreligious people, religious people, liberals, and conservatives. He can present a case that endorses many Americans’ values–and many global inhabitants’ values–yet simultaneously tells Americans how we could learn some things from Afghans. Lessons such as fostering an environment that allows children to play outdoors more rather than pushing for the internet and computers in classrooms.

Greg began his presentation by reporting how everywhere he travels in the US, he asks school children how many of them have spent at least 10 hours listening to grandparents tell stories from the past. He said it doesn’t matter what part of the country he’s in or whether the setting is rural or urban, only about 5% of children raise their hands. We in the US do not transmit our history by inter-generational dialogue like other cultures do. Greg said if you asked that question in Africa or Afghanistan, 90 to 100% of children would raise their hands.

By opening with a value most American adults share but recognize is missing from our society, Greg highlighted an aspect of Afghanistan culture  as a model we could learn from. He was then able to ease into the core of his message–that Afghan women need schools–without maintaining an aurora of superiority.

Mortenson with Afghan Elders

Mortenson with Afghan Elders

The schools Greg has helped build have not been bombed by the Taliban because they have been owned and created by their communities under the initiation of the village chiefs. He recorded these experiences in Stones into Schools, sequel to Greg’s most well-known title Three Cups of Tea.

Greg has an amazing ability to recall a large number of facts and statistics. After hearing him rattle off several dozen of them with no apparent notes, I whispered to my friend I had accompanied, “How does he remember all this?” Additionally, Greg connects with the community where he is presenting by incorporating facts and statistics from their local area.

Greg is a pragmatic activist, an international developer who helps people by spending time with them. My favorite quote from the evening was his words, “The only way we can solve poverty is to see poverty, taste poverty, and be with poverty. We can’t solve poverty from a think tank in Washington D.C.”


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He Ran

written in honor of Robert P. Edgerton, December 15, 2009

Pepsi, Canada, ice-cream, popcorn, slalom water-skiing, tool belts, vans, bakeries—these are a few of the images that come to mind when people think of Robert Putnam Edgerton. He was born September 4, 1931, at Allen Hospital in Waterloo, Iowa, and died December 13, 2009.

When I think of Poppa, I think of running. Poppa started running around age 50, eventually completing several marathons each year, in addition to numerous 5Ks, 10Ks and half marathons. He logged all his miles and ran more than the circumference of the earth. He inspired me to literally follow in his steps and during my undergrad college years I began running. Although I never surpassed a 5K, running bonded me with my grandfather. A month before my departure to live in Asia, I joined Poppa for what would be our final jog together.

“I know you’re one of my granddaughters,” he told me several times throughout our saunter, “I just get you all confused.”
I thought I would never see him again, but in May 2008 I found myself at his bedside sobbing. Poppa held my hand for a long time while tears streamed down my face. He had discontinued most verbal communications many months before, but when Grammy told him it was time to release my hand to go to sleep, Poppa gripped tighter.

“He’s still kinda stubborn,” Grammy said.

“You got that right,” Poppa muttered.

Poppa’s stubbornness is what propelled him to the finish line in races, in life, in work, in faith. He followed Jesus to the end of this life. After over three years of being bedridden, Poppa is running again, this time through the streets of heaven.

Wherefore seeing we also are compassed about with so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which doth so easily beset us, and let us run with patience the race that is set before us, Looking unto Jesus the author and finisher of our faith; who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is set down at the right hand of the throne of God. –Hebrews 12:1-2