the mike yaconelli memorial basic school

after days of travel, our little group was really ready to get to kisasa village to see the school built in memory of mike. but as much as we thought we were ready, we really weren’t.

our mini-bus started to slow down, and i noticed (car-sick boy that i am, sitting in the front) that there were a group of women standing on the side of the road. they were all wearing brightly colored african skirts and headwraps, and white blouses. they cheered and danced as our bus slowed down next to them, and it was then that i noticed the government sign next to them:

Zambia Ministry of Education
Mike Yaconelli Memorial Basic School

and the women started singing. the words weren’t in english, but i could hear the word “karla” quite a bit in the song, and realized it was about karla yaconelli, who was in the back of the bus. we were all a bit stunned. karla stumbled up to the now-open bus door, and the singing women pulled her off. they started dancing their way down a 1/2 mile-long dirt road toward the school (which wasn’t in view yet), with karla in the middle. we all stumbled off the bus, a bit dazed, watching this procession of joy progress. karla was crying tears of joy, and the women were wiping them away while they sang and danced.

then i saw them: the children.

they were supposed to wait at the school (we were later told). but they’ve been waiting for this day for over a year, and kids just can’t wait that long, in any culture. i glanced up and noticed about 400 school children running toward the little procession, screaming “karla, karla!”, grinning from ear to ear. they surrounded the group of women, and joined in the singing. by this point, there were tears streaming down my cheeks.

a few minutes later, a new friend from the world vision video crew that traveled with us stuck a camera and a microphone in my face and asked me “how that felt”. i opened my mouth to respond, and could barely speak — the emotion of the moment was completely overwhelming.

eventually we got to the school. in big letters on the side, it says “Mike Yaconelli Memorial Basic School”. and next to the name, there’s a wonderfully botched painting of yac, grinning. really, it’s both beautiful and hilarious. and it’s about 6 feet tall. he would have loved it. (hopefully, i can have someone in our tech dept at YS teach me how to load pics on here, so i can show it to you).

later, after the women had taken karla somewhere and changed her clothes into a beautiful african outfit they’d made for her, we sat through a 2 hour school dedication ceremony. presentations were made. the school choir sang about 5 more songs about karla and mike. the regional rep of the zambian secretary of education made a speech. karla talked a bit, and asked tic and i to pray for the school, teacher, students and community. 6 students presented “original poems” (which are really very much like spoken word poetry — more like performance art than a traditional poetry reading). and, in a very moving gift-presentation ceremony, the women from the beginning all slowly danced into the presentation area, 2 wide (the community had built a little “corral”, which the students and community members gathered around like a stage area) — they were singing, and the dance proceeded forward so slowly that it took them about 5 minutes to move forward ten feet. at that point, they started dancing lower and lower to the ground, until they were on their knees. somehow, they continued dancing, on their knees, and moving forward at the same pace. this was an absolutely stunning moment — these beautiful women, in their best clothes, dancing joyfully forward on their knees to present gifts of thanks to karla (for the yaconelli family). really, all i could think at that moment was: this is exactly how i should approach jesus. karla honored them back by dancing down to her knees also, so they met face-to-face.

then, the dancing really broke out. and band started playing, and all the teachers from the school came into the center and started dancing (great joy!), much to the amuzement of all the students. we all joined them, looking like complete idiots (and creating rafts of laughter amongst the students — i even opened up a can of 80’s robot at one point, baybee!), but soaking in every moment, hoping to hold onto it in our memories forever.

god was honored.
mike was honored.
karla was honored, as were the rest of the yaconelli family.

what a day.

kisasa, the name of the village, means “rags” or “things that are discarded because they have no value”. with this new school, there is a massive new sense of community pride. they told us they don’t like the name of their village anymore, and are thinking of changing it.

14 thoughts on “the mike yaconelli memorial basic school”

  1. Thank you Mark for this post. I felt like I was there, very emotional. Thanks for the detail. I am so happy for all of you, especially Karla. LIFE, real life… I am also a bit sad, sad that we (followers of Jesus in North America) haven’t learned how to dance in celebration, “dancing fools” for the joy of God, life and each other.

  2. yeah, world vision had a 2-person vid crew film the whole thing — so, eventually, we’ll get both the raw footage as well as a 7-10 minute edited version. we’ll probably find a way to post that on the YS site when it’s available (no idea when that will be).

  3. Marko,

    Thanks for the discription of this day. It brought a tear to my eye of happiness. You guys are amazing. Changing to face and name of a villiage through education, vision, passion and Christ love. You guys are always in my prayers. Peace out – Sam

  4. wow marko. thank you for such a great visual of that great day! this is so touching, feel as though i was there with you all!

  5. That was amazing to read! Don’t the Zambian people have such an incredible understanding of honoring people? It blew me away just how far they go to show respect and appreciation with such joy and celebration.

  6. Wonderful! Description gave me tears of joy,had a chance to meet Mike and Karla a few days before he died a TRUE TRUE HONOR & PLEASURE!!!

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