Here is a story I used to tell my theological students in Africa about a village that was supplied with water through a pipeline:
Imagine the village for a moment: mud huts thatched with banana leaves; women singing as they pound mealies with a wooden pestle; naked babies playing in the sun; hens clucking, goats bleating; men smoking raw tobacco as they sit around a fire; the good smell of wood-smoke and food cooking.
In former times, this village had suffered a serious water shortage, and the girls used to walk several miles every day with their water pots on their heads to fetch water from the river, up over the hill, along the forest track, and down through the swamp. The journey was not only long and tedious, but also dangerous, because of snakes and wild animals; and there were bad men living in the forest who molested the girls as they passed. Recently, too, the trail was muddy from the rains, and the women tended to slip with their heavy loads.
At last the King of the River decided that a permanent solution to the problem must be worked out. He met with the chief of the village, and they arranged that a pipeline should be laid down, all the way from the river to the village. Many lengths of pipe were procured, and during the period of some thirty years, these were fitted together, under the direction of the King of the River, by a woman named Mary. The pipeline came through the swamp and the forest, past the outlying huts, right to the village green. Here, on a little hill, a post was set up, looking rather like a cross, with a tap fixed to it. Meanwhile the King of the River had erected a pump on the river bank, which pumped water into the pipeline. For nearly three days there was a hissing and a trembling, until suddenly, out came the water from the tap! At first it was only a trickle, as the pump at the river had not been finally adjusted; but, after another forty days, the living water gushed out in ever increasing quantities, with the sound of a rushing mighty wind.
The village chief gathered the people around and pointed to the flowing water. "No more going to the river!" he declared. "The river has come to us! From now onwards, no one will get water from the river except through this tap. He that has seen the tap has seen the river! He that comes to the tap comes to the river! The tap and the river are one!" The girls were so delighted they danced and sang, praising and glorifying the King of the River who had mercy on them, and praising Mary for having done what she did for the pipeline.
The village elders, however, wanted to take the matter further. They sat in council under the fig tree. "We must get some cement," said one, "and build a huge cistern, with the cross at one end, and fill the cistern with water as a reservoir."
"Yes," said another, "and small pipes must lead the water from the cistern to every hut in the village, so that all can enjoy the sweet water in their very homes."
"Fathers," said a third who had been to the mission school, "let us call our water works the church!"
And so it came about. On celebration days, they would all gather around the cistern, to dance and sing and hear the ancient wisdom of the tribe; but afterwards they would return to their homes. And, because of the "Church," there was not one of them that did not have his or her own water supply for cooking, drinking and washing.
Things continued like this for many years. In the course of time, however, the cistern became clogged with mud. One night, some bad men from the forest crept in and deliberately befouled it with filth. Moreover, the pipes to the huts were rusting up, and the water was ceasing to flow. People were having to depend on rainwater for their daily needs.
The elders of the village met again under the fig tree to discuss the matter. The pipeline itself had been kept in perfect repair by the King of the River, and the water was flowing freely as far as the cistern. It was the water works in the village that was impeding the flow.
"Fathers," said the chief, "We need a new church!"
And that, for the time being, is where my story must end.