The Blind Men and the Elephant
retold by Robin Wood 1999
Once upon a time, five blind men came upon an elephant.
"What is this?!" asked the first one, who had run headlong into its side.
"It's an Elephant." said the elephant's keeper, who was sitting on a stool, cleaning the elephant's harness.
"Wow! So this is an Elephant! I've always wondered what Elephants are like!" said the man, running his hands as far as he could reach up and down the elephant's side. "Why, it's just like a wall! A large, warm wall!"
"What do you mean, a wall?" said the second man, wrapping his arms around the elephant's leg. "This is nothing like a wall. You can't reach around a wall! This is more like a pillar. Yeah, that's it! An Elephant is exactly like a pillar!"
"A pillar? Strange kind of pillar!" said the third man, stroking the elephant's trunk. "It's too thin, for one thing, and it's too flexible for another. If you think this is a pillar, I don't want to go to your house! This is more like a snake. See, it's wrapping around my arm! An Elephant is just like a snake!"
"Snakes don't have hair!" said the fourth man in disgust, pulling the elephant's tail. "You are closer than the others, but I'm surprised that you missed the hair. This isn't a snake, it's a rope. Elephants are exactly like ropes."
"I don't know what you guys are on!" the fifth man cried, waving the elephant's ear back and forth. "It's as large as a wall, all right, but thin as a leaf, and no more flexible than any piece of cloth this size should be. I don't know what's wrong with all of you, but no one except a complete idiot could mistake an Elephant for anything except a sail!!!"
And as the elephant stepped aside, they tramped off down the road, arguing more loudly and violently as they went, each sure that he, and he alone, was right; and all the others were wrong.
The Elephant keeper sighed, and went back to polishing the harness, while the elephant winked solemnly at him.
One of my favorite parts of blogging is the interaction I am able to have with several other "m-bloggers" around the world, most notably (although there are quite a few others out there) Guy Muse in Ecuador, Ken Sorrell in Guatemala (*correction: Mexico), mr. t in South Asia, and Stepchild in Western Europe. I appreciate very much this opportunity to dialogue with others in other parts of the world.
I believe a lot of discussion on world missions, though, bears a haunting resemblance to this well-known story of "The Blind Men and the Elephant." Many of the problems in world missions come when we insist on our part of the elephant as the most accurate and legitimate description of the whole. The reality is that all of us (myself included), to some extent or another, are "blind men describing an elephant." Some areas of the world are more responsive; some are more resistant. Some have more obvious physical needs; some are bound by materialism. Some have practically no churches at all; some have highly developed denominational structures. As a result, the strategies that will be most effective will be different for each area.
As a missionary, I am grateful for blogs, and especially grateful for my fellow "m-bloggers." I believe that interacting with each other on these issues is generally encouraging and stimulating, and also helps us to get a better picture of what the "entire elephant" really looks like.