2016 sucked. Sure, I could talk about how it was formative, go on about how it taught us important lessons that I wouldn’t trade for anything, quote that cliché Nietzsche line about whatever doesn’t kill you…but I tend to err towards transparency rather than diplomacy.
We’ve been off the radar for a while and you deserve to know why. The truth is that this project in Ghana was much harder than we thought it would be. The truth is that we were not yet people capable of succeeding at such a monumental task. The truth is that we tried to carry the world and forgot about ourselves. The truth is that 2016 broke us.
When the world smashed us and scattered our pieces on the wind, we became useless. We groped for months trying to recover ourselves, our identities, our passion. During that time, things fell through the cracks. For one, we lost our 501(c)(3) status because the organization fiscally sponsoring us closed its doors in August without the whole Untold team being aware. Fundraising halted. People were left in the dark. I sincerely apologize for that.
I’ve been thinking a lot about mosaics lately, those pictures that are made of hundreds or thousands of tesserae—bits of glass or tile. It’s a beautiful art form that I clearly would never have the patience for. It struck me, as I was recovering from the razor-wire-wrapped tornado that was the last year, that maybe I’m like a mosaic. I had made this pretty picture: my life. I had some nice achievements, pretty colors, a nice enough background. I was meticulously putting my pieces into a mosaic I could be proud of. Then God took a hammer to it.
I’m fairly certain that everyone can identify with the feeling of having their mosaic smashed, whether by circumstances, mistakes, or other people. You watch as your fastidiously placed bits of glass shatter to the floor and wonder, “What was it all for? Did this have to happen? Do I have the will to rebuild?” It’s hard to be optimistic when even your broken pieces are broken.
But here’s the thing I’m learning: smaller pieces make a more beautiful mosaic. The smaller the bits of glass and tile, the more intricate the whole design can be. If you have the will and patience to take those tiny, humbled tesserae and make them into an entirely new picture, it will be exponentially more impressive than the last one. You are a piece of art, and breaking you has only made your potential more beautiful.
So Kaitlyn and I are making a new mosaic with smaller pieces. And you know, we’ll probably have to break a few more tesserae here and there as we envision how gorgeous the thing can be. We’re restructuring our organization, applying for our own 501(c)(3) status, and fixing the broken things.
I’m proud to announce that throughout the whole tumultuous darkness, we had a shiny rock in the form of Clement Quist-Nsabaah, who’s on our board for Ghanaian operations. Quist, as we affectionately call him, has continued pushing the slow progress of the literacy center in Asisiriwa. He and Akwesi Agyeman – the committee chairman in the village (whom we call Brakwesi) – have rallied the community and the workers to continue as the dry season arrives and the farms need less tending. At this point, the interior walls and floors of the center have been plastered, and work has commenced on the exterior walls to get the whole building protected.
I also need to give a shout-out to Asante Abrefa at Abre Engineering in Kumasi, who did our steel fabrication. In a country and industry full of shoddy workmanship and no warranties, Asante has continued to fix any mistakes his team made quickly and at no extra cost, and also performing extra work we need done at a reasonable price. We will certainly be using them again on any future projects in Ghana.
We are not unlike this literacy center – pieced together with different materials by different people from different backgrounds who have something in common: a love for humanity and this mission. And in the end, we are each more beautiful for having been broken into tiny pieces that can fit better and more intricately into a bigger picture. We simply need the patience to rebuild, the love to know why, and the humility to hand our tesserae to an artist more capable than ourselves.