There is an old Rwandan story that goes like this:
A man had a pot of soup simmering outside on his wood stove. It was market day. So, he left his home to sell a few vegetables. When he returned, he found his soup pot nearly empty. Initially, he was disappointed. He had been looking forward to the soup. But then he thought, “What a day of blessing this has been. My neighbor must have been hungry and found my soup. How wonderful it is that I could meet his need and bless him with my soup. To help is a blessing.”
I was at a home visit when I spied a charcoal iron on a table. The iron was heavy. The top opened, so it could be filled with hot coals. The iron fascinated me. The widow who had the iron showed me how it worked. In my world irons are electric. They are light weight and flow over fabric with ease. Somehow my iron and the charcoal iron seemed worlds apart and yet somehow the iron connected me to the widow – we both ironed.
Later in the day I visited a small farm. An elderly widow was feeding her cow. As I took her picture and admired her cow, I spied farm implements in her shed. Leaning against the wall; the implements looked primitive and heavy. I thought about our riding lawn mower at home, the power tools in the work shop, and the weed whacker that trims the tall grass at the foundation of our home. The implements here seemed foreign and disconnected with my life. And yet, I could not help but admire the people who lifted the heavy hoes, who cut their weeds with the machetes, and took the sickle to the tall grasses to provide fodder for the cows.
Irons and implements, I could not get them out of my mind. I had to ask about them.
Sitting with a group of 5 or 6 people, I asked about the iron and the tools. Did they know these things? Heads nodded. They knew exactly what I was describing. Did they all own these things? “Own” them? I could see the puzzled look in their eyes. Finally, someone had the courage to explain.
There would be one iron in probably 10 homes. Field tools are shared by all. No one they knew owned every tool. And so, I asked – “but what if you need a tool one day and your neighbor has it? Or what if you go to retrieve your tool and find it damaged?” More shrugs, more puzzled eyes. Then the question came back at me.
“If you had a tool or an iron, wouldn’t you share it? Why would you keep it to yourself when you could bless someone else with it?”
Still not understanding, I asked, “But, who pays when something is broken? Who fixes it? Who replaces a tool if it is lost?” There was no time lost and hands were raised. Everyone had the answer, the same answer.
“Don’t you know that we are called to help each other? There is no payment. To help is a blessing and a duty. Why do you even ask those kinds of questions?”
From the Field Notes of Macky Johnson. Bob and Macky Johnson were instrumental in founding 20 Liters. Bob developed the technical solutions that 20 Liters uses today in Rwanda. Macky designed the technician training program as well as writing many of the in-country policies that guide the 20 Liters program. In conjunction with World Relief Rwanda staff, Macky helped to develop our health and hygiene curriculum. During their many trips to Rwanda Macky focused on building community relationships and spent much of her time visiting the homes of filter recipients; learning from their experiences ways to improve the 20 Liters programs.