I was watching a program today of a well known preacher and evangelist. They were talking about how their ministry builds wells in villages around the world where they don’t have clean drinking water or where they have to walk for miles to get it.
They showed videos of people pumping water from the wells and talked to the people who built them. Everyone talked about how many people died each day because they didn’t have good water to drink and how building these wells saved their lives and brought people to Christ.
There was one guy who talked about the wells. He was the guy in charge of the whole well program. He talked about how they have built hundreds of wells all over the world. He also said that they didn’t just build the well, take a picture and leave, but that they came back to make sure the well was working right.
He said that last year they went to every well they had built in the last fifteen years and fixed all of the broken ones and saw the difference that these wells made in the community’s lives. He said that a lot of the problems with the broken wells were very simple, but the people of the villages didn’t know how to fix them.
If you give a man a fish, you feed him for a day. If you teach a man to fish, you feed him for a lifetime.
I think that this simple cliché fits so well into this situation that it’s almost maddening that they aren’t already putting it into place.
If you build a village a solar powered, electric well, they drink for six months until it breaks. If you teach a man to build and take care of a well (even if it isn’t super fancy and solar powered), that village drinks for the rest of their lives. And once the next village over hears about it, the first village shows the love of Christ to the next village by building them a well too.
The great commission doesn’t say that we should go and tell a few people about God and call it good. It says to make disciples. A disciple is taught everything that the discipler knows so that he can go and make more disciples. To fulfill the great commission in this situation, all they had to do was find a reliable man in the village and have him help them build the well.
Somehow our system of missions has become less about the great commission and more about feeling good about ourselves because we helped some poor person who could never be able to help themselves.
People aren’t stupid. They aren’t helpless. A native in Africa doesn’t have less mental capacity than a business man in New York, he just has different knowledge and opportunities. Being a missionary shouldn’t be about making yourself feel good by lording your superior knowledge over a poor pathetic native. Missions is supposed to be about discipleship, sharing knowledge, and love.
The most loving thing these well builders could do isn’t go all over and build wells, it’s to teach others to build wells. The first well will be built and the village will be blessed, but they will also continue to be blessed because they know how to take care of it. Plus they will be capable to bless others by building more wells.
I’m not against building wells. I honestly think that what this ministry is doing is fantastic. I wholeheartedly believe that they should continue doing what they’re doing. But I also wholeheartedly believe that they aren’t doing it as good as they could.
A lot of my views on missions (and well building) have been shaped by a program called Missions Dilemma. It’s hosted by Steve Saint, founder of i-Tec and son of Nate Saint, one of the missionaries martyred in Ecuador and made famous by the book and movie, End Of The Spear. Missions Dilemma is an excellent resource for any Christian, but especially for those who wish to work in missions.