Once upon a time, there was a World Vision Area Development Program (ADP).
And in that ADP there was a lovely latrine, which World Vision had taught the community to construct at a school. This latrine was even called a “VIP Latrine” (meaning ventilated improved pit latrine). The latrine had several private enclosures, for boys and also for girls, both younger and older, even one for menstruating girls. This last enclosure even had a hand-washing facility. Many girls now stayed in school for years longer because they had a private place to clean themselves during menstruation. They felt understood and respected for the first time in their lives.
Many other new ideas and lifesaving measures were introduced into the ADP, as well. The community was so proud of the changes that they officially changed their name to Progress.
Some years later, World Vision completed its work in Progress ADP. It was a sad day when the World Vision staff left, but there was a big celebration with speeches from the regional governor, a cabinet minister, the local chief, and numerous community members who gave testimony to the impact of the improvements which had come to their area as a result of World Vision’s efforts. Several young women who had actually gone on to complete university specifically mentioned the VIP latrine at their school, and credited that latrine with keeping them in school against all odds at a decisive point in their lives. It was a wonderful and fulfilling celebration for everyone.
Yet, as the World Vision vehicles drove away, you would have thought the community had just seen Elijah taken up by the Lord’s chariot. The people of Progress felt very alone. So they tried very hard to remember and practice what they had learned from World Vision.
Soon after that seeming “day of ascension”, back at the school, those now-aging VIP latrines were creating such an odor that no one wanted to use them anymore. Besides, now the latrine doors were off their hinges and no one could fit them back again, because the bricks had settled akimbo over time and set the doorjams ajar.
But there was hope on the horizon! The regional government had just announced that water and sewer lines were being constructed along the main road, and communities could tie into the lines with proper connections. A new toileting facility could be constructed with actual flush toilets and sinks with running water! This could be just what the school needed; it could be the answer to their prayers!
But the community members of Progress remembered their dear friends, their teachers really, from World Vision. World Vision had taught them speficially how to construct VIP latrines, with concrete platforms and a hole in the center for squatting over. They had built hand-washing stations which could be filled by the bucketful, and even ingenious tip-taps for each home which could tip over a small bottle of water from a peddle and string contraption which didn’t require touching anything with soiled hands.
“That’s the way World Vision taught us to do it!,” some zealously shouted during the community meeting where they would vote on putting in sewers and water pipes. “Why spend the money for these new gizmos we don’t understand?” yelled one man. A woman joined in, “World Vision taught us how to use the latrine, and the tip-taps work well enough. We should stay with what was clearly taught to us by World Vision. We trust them, and they never told us that flush toilets and metal sinks were good for us.” Their hearts were stirred as they recalled the big celebration, where the praises of the VIP latrine had thrilled everyone.
And with that, the community voted to not bring in water lines and sewer pipes. Over time, usage of the VIP latrine continued to dwindle, disease went up, school attendance for teenage girls went down, and slowly the community reverted to its former unhealthy, unhappy state.
Though in their minds they were still being faithful to what they’d been taught, Progress had stopped progressing.
I hope this story has never happened, and never will! The purpose of World Vision’s work is to put communities on a path of development, not a destination. The “software” principles — such as banding together for synergy, of everyone having a voice, of embracing new possibilities – are far more important than the “hardware” particulars of development such as water pumps, latrines, granaries, etc. The specifics come and go, but the principles are designed to help the community continue to move forward over time as they face new challenges and opportunities. Anything less than this must ultimately be considered failure.
And yet, and yet….. Why is it in the Christian church, we are like the people of “Progress”, focusing on the specifics, and missing the universal principles of Jesus? Over the decades and centuries, we’ve stumbled over women’s rights and ordination, slavery, equal rights and power for every group under the sun…because we haven’t been under the Son’s tutelage, we haven’t continued on in the direction he showed us. His actions, perhaps even more powerfully than his words, spoke of breaking down walls. Yet we often focus only on the specific walls Jesus broke down, not on the guiding principle of being wall-breakers. So we celebrate the walls he brought down, and instead of bringing down the walls that exist in our generation, we often become those most zealous for keeping them up.
Did Jesus become “the author and perfector of our faith” by giving us the final word, or by showing us the way forward, that we might continue along that path, after his ascension?
We are supposed to be the people of the Way, yet oh how often we are merely the people of the Destination.