In the mid to late 1980s, my wife and I were serving in the arid and drought-stricken country of Niger. Privileged with a good education in water resources engineering and having some 10 years of living and working experience on the African continent—along with a deep sense of God’s calling to serve in that land—I was convinced there was something I could do to make a difference in the lives of the people we served. As a research scientist working with the national government, I resolved to find practical and applied answers to the humanitarian crisis we were confronted with each day—pouring myself into long days and months of researching better methods and technologies for water use and agriculture. One day, my observant wife challenged me with the discomforting fact that the goals I was pursuing—noble as they were—were socially sterile, devoid of the important component of relationship-building. Deeply touched, I tried to amend my goals and the way I pursued them.
This past summer, some 16 years later, I was invited by a local organization we had founded in Niger to visit the area where we had labored for so many years. As I traveled those familiar, dusty roads once again, I was encouraged, if a bit surprised, to find tangible evidence of some of the work I had been able to render—technologies, infrastructure, even improved government policies and priorities, which helped the poor and improved the plight of many.
But on a much deeper and more satisfying level, I was touched by the continued fruit of relationships I had been able to both facilitate and build in the process of “doing good work.” I saw this fruit in sustained, healthy inter-institutional linkages—sustained as much by wholesome and redemptive interpersonal relationships among leaders with whom I had worked, as by effective institutional accords. But I also saw this fruit in individual relationships with those I had related to in government, local organizations, churches, and even among the poorest of society. With each renewed acquaintance, I was confronted with the humbling reality that these individuals still counted my wife and me among their closest and most cherished of friends, even after all these years.
The profound lesson I learned from my wife’s gentle words so many years ago was simply this: in the setting and the busy pursuit of our life’s goals, we must include at the core of our efforts the constructing of relationships and the facilitation of relationship-building among others if we are to have a lasting impact and reap the deepest rewards—for ourselves and for others.
—Ray Norman is dean of the School of Mathematics, Engineering, and Business.
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