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The Three-Legged Stool

I’d like to tell you a story about the stool that you see here. As a not-so-tall person, I really like stools - my favorite stool is in the kitchen and helps me reach the spices that are on the top shelf!

But this stool has a very unique and special history. It was made in March of 2004. Back then, there was only one team putting in water systems and there were only 15 water systems total in the world! This was before almost any of us were part of Living Waters for the World (LWW). The idea of Networks hadn’t been born yet. But something amazing happened in March of 2004 - we had our very first training class - what we call Clean Water U (CWU). One of the students, after spending time listening and learning, decided to make this stool to represent what the students had learned together. He made it a three-legged stool with each leg representing one of the three areas we teach - partnership leadership (which we sometimes call 101), health education (102), and the water system installation class (103). Words were written on each leg as a reminder of essential concepts from each workshop. The partnership leadership leg has the words creativity, in partnership, and flexibility. On the health education leg of the stool it says - drink this water, wash your hands, and body and soul. The water system installation leg says - purity of water, ingenuity and patience, and community of faith.

Here we are exactly 18 years later—now there are not 15 systems but over 1050 water partnerships! We’ve had 65 Clean Water U trainings which means there are dozens of teams forming water partnerships. We have 11 networks and we have in-country staff in every one of those networks!

What can this humble stool teach us 18 years later? For one thing, there is a relationship among the legs - if that relationship is solid, there is balance, safety, stability. There can’t be just me, there is only we - together - juntos, ansanm. For the stool to work, the legs must all be present - we all have a role - only team players here. If any leg is shorter, the stool is unstable, wobbly. If a leg is missing, the stool becomes unusable. Unity, harmony, collaboration, and trust are essential.

On this stool, the legs lean in a bit toward each other, as if they are listening to one another, ready to offer support - just like all of you. We may be from all over the world, speak different languages and have different cultures, but we gain strength from that diversity, coming together for one common purpose: to empower communities to share life-saving health education and purified water and to share the Good News.

This stool isn’t perfect, just as there is no perfect way to do our work together. We seek connection, not perfection, each of us bringing our own unique gifts.

Even a humble stool can help us see and reach things we couldn’t see or reach on our own.

God continues to work on us, nudging us to evolve, change, innovate. To learn from where we’ve been, remembering the lessons of the past, while not remaining the same just because that’s the way we’ve always done things, but to strive to see better, do better, be better.

In 2017, a group of us traveled to Ghana to train with our sisters and brothers there. It was our siblings in Ghana who taught us about Sankofa. Sankofa is a Twi word that means “go back and get it.” It is symbolized by a bird with its feet facing forward and its head looking back as it retrieves an egg from its back. Sankofa reminds us to take what is good from the past and bring it into the present with us so that we can use it in the future. When we remember whose we are and center what God is calling us to, perhaps we journey closer to who Isaiah describes in chapter 58, verse 12: You’ll be like a well-watered garden, a gurgling spring that never runs dry. You’ll use the old rubble of past lives to build anew, rebuild the foundations from out of your past. You’ll be known as those who can fix anything, restore old ruins, rebuild and renovate, make the community livable again.

We must continue to ask ourselves, what from the past is God reminding us to bring for this part of the journey together? What three-legged stool is God revealing for Living Waters for the World for 2022 and beyond?

One thing is sure: By putting our faith in God, what is built will stand on a firm foundation.

And the glue that holds it all together is love.


Kendall Cox is Director of Education for Living Waters for the World. She is part of the water team at First Presbyterian Church in Greenville, Mississippi. They partner on water in Cuba.


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