Once upon a time, the young missionary who had gone to live in a remote village observed that the women had to make a seemingly arduous daily journey to the well. Before sunrise they set out with buckets on the mile-long walk, waited in line for their turn to draw the water up manually from the deep cistern, and then walked home with their arms straining from the weight of their precious cargo. “What a hard life these women have!” he thought, “I should do something to help them.” A short time later, thanks to the generosity of his family and friends back home, he was able to install a mechanical pump that delivered water to several faucets at a site close to the village. The young missionary was very pleased with the success of his project.
However, some weeks later, the pump developed a mechanical problem, which required the skills of an engineer who had to come from the city. He fi xed it, but within days another mechanical problem surfaced which required a return visit. However, weeks later when the pump broke down a third time, the young missionary became greatly frustrated with his project. To his surprise, the village women didn’t seem to share his frustration; rather they simply resumed their early morning trek to the well outside the village.
Over the succeeding weeks as the young missionary conversed with the women, he made a surprising discovery: they preferred the demands of drawing water from the well to the convenience of filling buckets from the faucet. Walking together to the well, waiting in line, and walking back home provided these women with an opportunity to share experiences, seek advice about family matters, and build friendships. The installation of the pump and the faucets provided them with easy access to water, but deprived them of the “living water” of daily encounters that nurtured their spirits and their community.
As a young seminarian, hearing this story recounted by a seasoned missionary opened my mind to the complexity of the missionary life before me. It made me realize that missionaries are called to be both teachers and learners. It helped me understand the importance of actively trying to understand other peoples and cultures. Finally, it opened my eyes to the realization that our thirst for water, for friendship and for God are inseparable.