PANAMA CITY NEWS-HERALD
PANAMA CITY | This year, Bill Spivey climbed Mount Kilimanjaro. For the second time.
It all started with the first trip to Africa in 1998 when he flew over, hired a driver and came to the base of the mountain without knowing why he was supposed to be there; just that he was supposed to be there.
“The same question she (wife Ellie Spivey) asked me, ‘Why Kilimanjaro?’ and I told her then the truth of the matter is it’s always something I’ve known that I needed to go there to find out,” Spivey said. “I knew I’d find out when I got there.”
That unexplainable trip led him to the Maasai people, and eventually prompted yearly mission trips for Spivey, working on projects such as a church, a school and water wells. The school was started with 16 students and has grown to 72, making a second building necessary to accommodate the additional students.
The opportunity to go to school is not common in the area. Most children spend their days watching cattle. Now, Spivey is teaching the adults how to farm and they are growing their own vegetables to send their children to school.
“It was their decision to start a tomato farm and they also raise corn now and have shelled corn kept in bags that they sell for the children to have supplies for school, which is a beautiful thing to see. Their emphasis on education is amazing.”
Spivey said this is a cultural change for the Maasai people, who have traditionally lived as nomads. But he’s not there to change their culture; he’s there to help them get the things they need.
“All the decisions are done by the elders. There are 12. I meet with them every year to find out what they want done,” Spivey said.
The next project on the list is a bridge to span a gorge in the area. Spivey said three to four children die crossing the gorge every year and during the rainy season it becomes even more treacherous. Even though he is still working on funding for the project, the Maasai people have already started carrying stones for the bridge
Spivey’s mission work has become a family affair. His wife Ellie climbed the moun-tain for her first time this year, but has been working with the Maasai as well. Ellie is the principal at Patronis Elementary and the schools have become “sister schools.” The students at Patronis raise money for supplies to send to Tanzania.
“What started out as a mission with a local church and some great people has turned into an annual family mission.”
‘What are you here for?’
Spivey thinks everyone should know what they are in this world for and that’s the approach he applies to his job at Corrections Corporation of America’s Bay Correctional Facility. He frequently asks new inmates ‘What are you here for?’ and after some discussion, they come to understand that he isn’t asking them about legal charges.
“What I’m asking people is what are you in this world for. My bet is this, through my experiences I know if you find out what you are in the world for, inmate, the chances are real good you’ll never come back here because you weren’t born to come to prison.”
Spivey said the question can change people and motivate them to seek educational opportunities. He said if you care enough to help people change, they see that and more often respond to it.
“That’s what I’m here for. It’s fair game for the inmate population to turn around and ask me what I’m here for. I tell them ‘I’m a missionary to Africa; I pay for it working with you. They love it.”