The Transforming Power of Water and the Word

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The Transforming Power of Water and the Word

Integral mission (also known as transformational development, Christian development or holistic mission) is a term that is gaining attention internationally, especially in the Global South, and what is often referred to as the two-thirds, or majority world, reports Jerry Wiles, President Emeritus, Living Water International, Special to ASSIST News Service.

However, integral mission is also important in the Western World and North America. Like so many things in our modern world, it is not really new. When we consider how Jesus ministered to and taught His followers 2,000 years ago, we realize that the lessons we learn from Him are still the best ways for us to serve, minister, communicate, reach, teach, train and make disciples today.

Jonathan Wiles, Vice President for Program Excellence with Living Water International - and my son - says, “It seems simple enough, and it’s repeated again and again in the life and teachings of Jesus—we’re called to both proclaim and demonstrate the kingdom of God. But to this day his followers argue over which part of that mandate is more important.”

Wiles goes on to point out that, “… the ministry of Jesus is more than just doing evangelism and social involvement alongside one another. It also goes beyond us trying to “integrate” the two. We have to recognize that these things are already integrated. They are indivisible, and the attempt to separate one from the other sabotages the whole mission, and our faithfulness to Christ.”

Feeding, clothing and healing people, along with demonstrating the love of God, has always been tied to effective proclamation or telling of the Good News of Jesus. However, in our modern culture, we tend to measure our success or effectiveness differently than what we read about in the Scriptures. There are many principles of the kingdom of God that transcend time, places and cultures.

For years there has seemed to be a dichotomy between what is often called the social gospel, and the proclamation of the gospel. In recent years, increasing numbers of ministries, churches and mission groups have begun to understand the value of holistic, or integral mission. In our work with Living Water International, we often refer to reaching people with Water and the Word. By “Water” we mean integrated water solutions, or what is commonly known in the water sector as WASH (water access, sanitation services, and hygiene education). And the “Word” part means more than just sharing the gospel, it means taking the Great Commission seriously—making disciples of all nations (people groups).

In the context of LWI’s work around the world, we seek to insure that demonstration and proclamation are integrated. One may come before the other, depending on many factors, but we always want the Living Water of Jesus, as well as the life-saving and life-giving clean water to be accessible to all who need them. Some of the neediest people on the planet are often without access to clean water, and have had the least access to the gospel, education, health care, economic development and other basic human services. So, when we are able to help people in these areas, it is a very strategic and high-impact opportunity; it is transformational.

Interestingly, in many parts of the world where LWI works, it is the women and children who suffer most from a lack of clean, safe water. There is a higher percentage of the women and children who are non-literate, or oral learners. Many of them have never had the opportunity to attend a school of any kind. In many places around the world the women and children are not given the opportunity to be involved or engaged in the life of the church or ministry.

One of the most exciting things about our Orality Training programs is seeing how the women and children come alive with excitement, enthusiasm and passion about learning and telling true stories from the Word of God. We are often told that in many churches, those who are non-literate, or oral learners, tend to sit in the back and do not participate in the worship or Bible studies. Everything changes when they learn that they can engage and participate in the life of the local church.

When pastors see the excitement and enthusiasm of the children--often as young as five or six years of age--who can learn and retell stories from the Bible, they recognize that they can equip, train and mobilize storytelling evangelists at every age and educational level. Orality strategies often open the eyes of church and mission leaders to a new understanding of the priesthood of all believers -- that everyone can participate in the Great Commission. It’s not just for seminary or Bible college trained clergy.

One of the big temptations we in the modern Western World face, with so many great resources and new technologies, is making things more complex and complicated than they need to be. A former pastor of mine used to say that our primary focus should be to “love people” and “tell them the truth.” That may seem a little too simplistic at first, but consider the many different expressions that can take. If we are serious about making a significant impact on the world and advancing the kingdom of God, we have to think in terms of simplicity and reproducibility, as well as transferability and the multiplying effect.

A friend recently told me about being on a trip, stopping to spend the night at a hotel, and seeing a homeless man in front of the hotel. Having compassion for him, she paid for him to have a hotel room for the night, bought him some food and shared the gospel with him. That simple gesture of kindness resulted in my friend getting to know a number of the man’s friends and becoming involved in a prison ministry where the man had previously served time. That experience turned out to be a great demonstration of the kingdom principle we learn from Jesus about the mustard seed and the yeast.

We just never know how many people will be impacted through one single life, when someone comes into a living relationship with the Living Christ. Actually, it is the reproducing life of Jesus Christ, in and through the redeemed humanity of every forgiven sinner, which brings new life and transformation to many more.

When we realize that we can be the hands and feet of Jesus, that our words and deeds can be used by the Holy Spirit to bring new life, not only to individuals, but to families, communities and even nations, it can be transformational. It often starts with what seems to be just a simple encounter with one person.

We, as followers of Jesus today, are blessed with so many resources that were not available to the Early Church. We have the benefit of having the tools of the age--transportation, communication and technological resources. However, we should not neglect the tools of the ages--prayer, the Word of God, and working of the Holy Spirit. Some things never change; the ancient ways of living out our faith, sharing our life in Christ and making disciples are timeless and still effective today. While we appreciate and advocate the use of literature and technology in its appropriate context, our particular approach is to equip people with a message and methods that can be reproduced with just what is in their heads and hearts.

Consider how the Good News of Jesus spread throughout the entire populated world during the first century. It was the ordinary people who had an encounter with the Lord and told about Him—the life, death and resurrection of the Lord Jesus. It was not the theologically trained, paid professionals. There are many lessons we can learn from Jesus and the Early Church, as well as the rapidly reproducing disciple-making, church planting movements around the world today. The most effective ways of communicating, training and disciple-making have always been, and are today, primarily done by orality-based methods, not by print-based/written instruction, or electronic media. However, a significant part of the modern Orality Movement includes the use of electronic and technological resources.

Dr. Tom Steffen, Professor of Intercultural Studies at Biola University, says, “The recent emphasis on orality in the U.S. has caught many by surprise.” Many have thought orality is something for the non-literate or preliterate. Steffen points out that we must not only appreciate what preceded literacy, but also what followed it. He goes on to say, “It soon becomes evident that we have moved beyond print to the verbal and visual; we have moved beyond linear to relational, to multi-dimensional, to non-sequential, to simultaneous conversations, to images.”

It is good to remind ourselves of the “Wisdom of Solomon” found in Ecclesiastes 1:9, that “…a.” Many times the solutions to modern-day problems can be found in the most ancient truths and principles in the Word of God.

For information about Orality resources and upcoming training opportunities, visit

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TAGS: Living Water International Global South transformational development Christian development integral mission Western World North America Jonathan Wiles

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