Twenty-five years ago today, on May 17, 1991, two World Vision leaders were gunned down on the streets of Lima, Peru as they stepped from their vehicle to enter the national office that morning. Though the crime was never prosecuted, all evidence pointed to the then-notorious guerrilla group, Sendero Luminoso, or Shining Path.
It was a dark day. Canadian Norm Tattersall, acting Director of WV Peru, died on the spot. Colombian National Director Jose Chuquin, who received 22 bullets, died of his wounds on May 28.
Not long before that, Norm taught an adult Sunday School class that Janet and I attended for a year, at a church across the street from our kids’ high school. As I recall, his wife later moved back home to Canada. I don’t know what became of Jose’s wife and family of five younger children. But without question, both families were shaken to the core, if not broken.
Two months later, World Vision lost three more staff, Peruvian nationals whose bodies and vehicle were never found, and for a few months we closed the office there in order to not put the staff at further risk.
In World Vision’s Seattle-area office, there is a small Visitor’s Center that contains a memorial to those staff members who have lost their lives in service to the poor and God’s Kingdom. Their names appear translucently as images over running water, scrolling slowly down with the silently spilling substance, a reminder of the transcendent yet transitory nature of our existence. Norm and Jose Chuquin are remembered there, along with the others. For me, it’s a sobering and silencing experience to pause with prayer and thanksgiving as I read dozens of names from disparate cultures yet who share this common distinction. And my breath always stops a bit when those two names appear.
It’s a sobering reminder of the price some of our colleagues pay… not only World Vision workers pay this price of course, as we’ve seen lately in Syria with deaths from MSF (Doctors Without Borders) staff and from other groups.
In addition to their lasting individual contributions to World Vision’s work and ethos, Norm and Jose teamed up a year before they were killed to propose more intentional work be done in economic development. This was only months after the fall of the Berlin Wall and the crumbling of communism, and a time when market capitalism threatened to leave the global poor behind. World Vision leaders in Latin America approved their recommendation and hired a leading expert in the new innovation called “microfinance.” This eventually helped lead to the creation of VisionFund, World Vision’s wholly-owned microfinance subsidiary, which today creates or sustains well over 1,300,000 jobs annually and makes small loans to over one million borrowers each year.
Reflecting on this part of Jose and Norm’s legacies, I’m reminded of the wonderful poem attributed to Bishop Oscar Romero, a tireless advocate for the poor and a vocal critic of violence, social injustice and state-sponsored repression. Bishop Romero was himself gunned down, as he celebrated Mass in San Salvador. The poem-prayer reminds us: “We may never see the end results, but that is the difference between the master builder and the worker. We are workers, not master builders…”
We are only the workers. But the Master Builder takes our humble efforts and can accomplish amazing things over time which we may never see. In fact, the older I get, the more my faith clings to this.
In honor of Norm, Jose and the many others over the years and even centuries, as well as those to come, I close with the full poem:
It helps now and then to step back and take a long view; the Kingdom is not only beyond our efforts, it is even beyond our vision.
We accomplish in our lifetime only a tiny fraction of the magnificent enterprise that is God’s work.
Nothing we do is complete, which is a way of saying that the kingdom always lies beyond us.
No statement says all that could be said.
No prayer fully expresses our faith.
No confession brings perfection.
No pastoral visit brings wholeness.
No program accomplishes the church’s mission.
No set of goals and objectives includes everything,
This is what we are about.
We plant the seeds that one day will grow.
We water seeds already planted, knowing that they hold future promise.
We lay foundations that will need further development.
We provide yeast that produces far beyond our capabilities.
We cannot do everything, and there is a sense of liberation in realizing that.
This enables us to do something, and to do it very well.
It may be incomplete, but it is a beginning, a step along the way, an opportunity for the
Lord’s grace to enter and do the rest.
We may never see the end results, but that is the difference between the master builder and the worker.
We are workers, not master builders; ministers, not messiahs.
We are prophets of a future not our own.