I am taking a break from the meeting with the Southern Africa Ministry Team when I see this image on the bookshelf: a wood carving of a man with a glass of water in front of him. I cannot help staring. It communicates volumes about how we need to carefully consider the values and behaviors we express through our work.
The wooden image is motionless and cannot move from where it has been placed by others. It reminds me of a staff person that feels burned out and, for various reasons, cannot seem to renew their energy. It is suggestive of the trapped feeling that a community has when various forces at work have closed their eyes to the multitude of assets and opportunities they have for development. It represents a family in despair and traumatized from losing all their possessions in a hurricane or from horrific conflicts in war. When despair from poverty, injustice or disaster is so great, it can freeze even the strongest and most resilient of human spirits.
As I focus on the motionless wooden image, I realize a story cannot change for a person unless the water reaches their lips and restores life. World Renew has the hands and heart to move the cup closer but cannot force anyone or any group of people to drink the essential knowledge or use the essential resources that foster development. That is a free choice of each person involved.
In gender justice, we strive to help people flourish through our programs. Together with them, we analyze how power is used in relationships between men and women and we do our best to promote equality. Equality means men and women have equal opportunity to access, use, and own assets. It is not about counting things and distributing them equally but about drinking the water of a whole new truth, a truth that transforms the lie that a person is somehow inherently less valuable than others into the truth that we are each unique image bearers of God, equal in value, though different in expression.
Sometimes changing the story also means we have to pursue equity. Equity can be misinterpreted to mean “equal outcome" and that World Renew, with our partners, should be able to guarantee the same postive outcome for each person or community. But we cannot guarantee equal outcome nor do we believe it is our purpose to do so. Our joyous task in the journey of promoting equity is to work with a person, group, or community to discover what God’s story and vision is for their lives; then provide the skills development training and gracious space for them to pursue that vision with the gifts and assets we share together.
Equity means fair treatment for each person according to their respective needs, perhaps even giving a different and tailored treatment to help them realize they have rights, benefits, obligations, and opportunities that are equivalent to others. Sometimes this involves setting aside our own privileges and opportunities to enable someone else to more fully flourish. This helps to create a solid foundation for them to use their God-given gifts and pursue their life goals.
As we seek justice by restoring broken relationships, we cannot do this in our own strength. We depend on God’s Spirit to be the Living Water, restoring us and moving His love through us. It is His Living Water and love that enables us to create change in ourselves and encourage change with others. My prayer is that our eyes will not be closed to see His truth and our lips will not be closed to drinking His refreshing Spirit of Life because we desperately need His renewing story to change each person and our world.
World Renew Canada