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Babies In the River

55. Babies in the River

One of the best stories I have ever come across to distinguish between charity and justice work (or mercy and justice work) is the following.

When I first met her, Carol Windrum was Peace with Justice Coordinator from Nebraska, employed full-time by the United Methodist Nebraska Conference. She led a workshop for us in Northern New Jersey and started out by saying—

We’re standing on a river bank. It’s a cool day. The river is flowing, not too swiftly but fast enough. Oh look—there’s a baby floating in the river. What should we do?”

She asks the groups again, “Quick, what should we do?” Someone from the group says, “Get the baby out!” And quickly Carol says, “Oh look, now there are two babies coming down the river—they’re in the water. What shall we do?” And by now, the group more quickly says, “Get them out, wrap them in blankets.”

“Look—” Carol shouts, “There are three babies—three babies floating down in the river. Three babies—what shall we do?” And the group says, “Get them out, get them blankets, find them food, hold them, comfort them.”

Carol says that she does this story over and over in her workshops. She continues with more and more babies each time floating down the river. She says that sometimes she gets to eleven or twelve babies, and finally in addition to get them out of the river, getting them food, finding them clothes, holding and loving them, someone from the group will make a new addition and say, “Send somebody upstream. Find out what system is putting the babies in the river.”

Carol explains to the group that getting the babies out, feeding them, clothing them, finding them shelter, helping them find love—all that is mercy work.

The justice work is going to the source and finding out what system, what force is putting the babies in the river and then working to change the system.

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