By Stephenie Chatfield
Lately, I’ve been realizing the power of a good story. A good story can be useful, powerful, and evocative. Here in Ethiopia I’ve realized that stories and anecdotes are a really great way to communicate. This lesson dawned on me after a meeting the other day with some of our Ethiopian church partners. After nearly an hour of intense discussion, the kind of groaning cross-cultural communication that makes me feel woefully inadequate, I finally threw out a good story, or really example in this case. In this meeting we had been discussing a concept of an “in kind contribution” that WiLi had made to the church. Rather than transferring money, we had basically contributed a certain set of services. We were discussing budgeting and reporting, and I was having a very hard time conveying this “in kind contribution” concept.
Finally, after about an hour, I looked at the empty chair beside me and said, “Ok, it’s like we gave you this chair. Maybe in the past we gave you money to buy a new chair, but this time we instead went out and found what we thought was the best chair made from good materials and suiting your needs, and we bought it and gave you the chair. So…it’s like this chair…ya know what I mean?” And amazingly, after the hour of discussion, this simple example conveyed the right concept!
On this blog I tell you a lot of stories of WiLi’s work in Ethiopia and my experiences. I tell you the names of the villages where we work, I share the stories of the people I meet, and the details of their lives. I do this because I believe stories are powerful and evocative. Maybe at some point you’re going to get tired of these stories, maybe they’ll all start to sound the same, but I sure hope not. The beauty is in the detail, and I hope our hearts never grow numb to the raw reality of impoverished people and communities in Ethiopia.
I want to be a better story-teller. There are so many things that I see and experience here that I wish I could better convey to you. I know my words are inadequate, and what they say about “pictures being worth a thousand words” is why I try to include here as many pictures as my poor internet connection will allow me to upload 🙂 I want to be the kind of person who at just the right moment in conversation is ready with a good story starting with something like “One time there was a man walking through the jungle…” I’ve realized that stories like this are themselves worth a thousand words and can often convey my crazy-mixed-up-ferenji-thoughts way better than an hour long explanation.
Daily we are all living and witnessing stories worth telling. As I see more of the world and see more of the reality of friends and family near and far, I’ve come to realize that the narrative of our lives tends to mirror the overarching narrative we see in the world. If we see hope in the world, we have hope in our own lives. If we believe the world is doomed, then most likely the trajectory of our lives will be pretty gloomy too. I believe that the true narrative of creation and every created thing is one of hope and redemption. I see this truth in the lives of my friends and family, I see it in the villages I visit in Ethiopia, and most importantly I hear this truth proclaimed from the lips of my Lord and teacher Jesus, and from the pages of my favorite book the Bible.
So here’s to stories worth telling, and story-tellers worth listening to! I wouldn’t count myself in the latter category, but hopefully some of the stories you read here fall into the former. To send you off, here are a few pictures from life and work here in Ethiopia the past few weeks!
Stephenie Chatfield is serving with Water is Life International in Ethiopia. We post this blog with permission in celebration of World Water Day, Saturday, March 22. View more of Stephenie posts here.