September 2012

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In a remote African village the children were being ravaged by cholera, parasites, and a host of other water-borne diseases. A medical missions team assessed their situation and prescribed the need for clean water to end these preventable illnesses. An American church soon heard the story and the money was quickly raised to build a well. Within days, blue jerry cans brimming with crystal clear water and the smiling children playing in the flow gave a happy ending to this tragic story. The missions team left, the benevolent givers were happy, and the situation was resolved, right?

Unfortunately, the story was far from over. A year or so later some of the medical team checked on the children. To their surprise not only had the water-borne diseases returned, but the village was now further from the well. Unbeknownst to the Western missionaries and the supporting church, this village had been in relational conflict with a neighboring tribe for quite some time. The new well, built as a beacon of hope for the future of the village, had become a weapon in the hands of the more dominant tribe and this weaker tribe had lost all use and benefit of the new water source.

Too often, in our assessment of the needs of a community in the developing world, we don’t take the time to look into the deeper, systemic issues that are much less tangible than digging a well or building a house. What this village really needed was to be reconciled with its neighbor. All the clean water in the world would not solve this deeper issue that was preventing them from using the new well.

At Breakthrough Partners we are committed to walking in relationship with the local people in order to discover the systemic issues and to help facilitate an inside-out solution to their problems. By bringing the leaders of the different villages together and working through these tribal differences, a process of forgiveness and reconciliation can begin to transform the relational landscape. Now, the well can serve both villages equally and the entire region can benefit from this life-giving water source.

As you consider your missional contribution to a community, are you willing to take the time to discover the deeper systemic issues that may make your current ideas for intervention a moot point? Are you willing to walk alongside the leaders of these communities to make sure they actually have the identified needs and the means and knowledge to sustain these projects for their well-being? How will the rest of the community or neighboring communities react to your intervention? We must come with eyes and ears wide open and a listening heart in order to avoid a “war of the wells” situation.

Please feel free to respond to these bi-monthly Breakthroughs in Missional Thinking. We need your voice in this ongoing dialogue about how the Christian Church engages in missions in this rapidly changing world and culture.

Mark Mielbrecht
Director of Global Leadership Development