Valleyview, a Short Story

This story was used by the Mendozas of Holistic Community Development and Initiatives (HCDI) in its Training of Trainers program for CHE (Community Health Education). I don’t really know who came up with the story first. I modified it just a bit.


There was a small mountain village we can call “Valleyview.” The mountain it is on is very steep and so the only connection to the surrounding world was a steep, winding, dangerous footpath.

Unfortunately, the villagers would have to walk down this path to go to River City to sell their products and pick up supplies. Sometimes this treacherous path would claim a victim as a villager would slip and tumble down to the valley below.

Usually the one who tumbled down the hill would not be killed, but would only be maimed. He would lie at the bottom of the mountain trail until a vehicle driving through the valley would spot him and pick him up to take him to the clinic. Or perhaps another villager coming down the hill would spot him and run ahead to River City to get help.

Clearly this was not a good situation, so the villagers had a meeting to come up with a good solution. After a lot of discussion, they come up with a wonderful idea… PLAN A.

PLAN A was to pay a villager to stay at the bottom of the hill. When someone tumbled down the hill, he would be ready to get immediate help. And the plan would work. When someone tumbled down the hill, the paid guard would quickly run to River City, and get help.

Eventually, the villagers became unhappy with the situation. If the guard at the bottom of the mountain could not hitchhike a ride on the way to River City, the injured villager may end up lying at the bottom of the mountain for an hour before medical help could arrive. After further discussion, a new plan arose… PLAN B.

PLAN B was to give the guard at the bottom of the hill a vehicle… an ambulance. When someone fell off the path and landed in the valley, the guard could quickly lift him into the ambulance and drive off to River City to be treated. This was great, for awhile. But it was rather expensive to maintain a vehicle and pay someone whose only job was to drive the injured to River City to be treated. But then came a brilliant idea… PLAN C.

PLAN C was so obvious. Why drive them off to River City to be treated? Why not treat them where they are? So the villagers built a medical clinic at the bottom of the path. Now as soon as someone fell off the path, a medical team and equipment was immediately available to provide help.

And perhaps this would have been a satisfying solution, if it were not for the high cost of maintaining the clinic, and the lost labor due to injured villagers stuck healing at the clinic. For a long time the village dealt with the burden of PLAN C because it seemed to be the only good solution.

But one day, a child in the village, was asked to go to River City. He had never been off the mountain before. Looking down the path, he got scared and said, “I’m not going down there until someone puts in a handrail.”

And that’s exactly what they did.


This story is used to show the value of prevention over cure. In health, we often focus on pills, hospitals, and operations. Yet the better focus in health is diet, exercise, and lifestyle. Additionally, in missions, we often focus on money solutions. Throw money at problems. A medical clinic is impressive and one can put a big brass plate on it. But a better solution, a handrail is less impressive, and is not as easily explained to supporters. Supporters love hospitals, but may not value handrails.

Missions should be more focused on prevention and transformation rather than dealing with the aftermath of problems. Missions should also be more focused on the needy rather than on supporters

Engineering Design as it Applies to Missions (???)

I learned a rule as a Mechanical Design Engineer. Back then I mostly worked on military projects (particularly submarine radar systems). However, occasionally I would work on commercial projects… particularly integrated bridge systems for commercial shipping. Engineering Triad

Each has very different philosophies. I worked at a company which operated with both philosophies, but it was difficult. Most don’t do this. If they do have both military work and commercial work, they keep their divisions well separated.

The reason? It is difficult for people to work under two very different paradigms. Military projects (even ruggedized and “COTS” or commercial off-the-shelf) works on a paradigm of high quality. One must meet rigorous standards and quality controls. If it drifts into a different area it would high quality and quick. But in commercial work, the focus is on cheap (or inexpensive if you want a nicer term). Sometimes it will drift into cheap and high quality, or cheap and quick.

An engineer has a challenging time drifting from one paradigm to another because mental tools one uses for one paradigm become useless or detrimental when one shifts to a new paradigm.

The rule we used was this:

A.  A design can be Quick and it can be High Quality, but then it will be EXPENSIVE.

B.  A design can be Quick and Cheap, but then it will be LOW QUALITY.

C.  A design can be High Quality and Cheap, but then it will TAKE TIME.

How does this apply to Missions. Not sure, but consider the following:

A.  Quick and High Quality Missions. Big events like major medical outreaches are like this. They are EXPENSIVE. You can’t do a quick and high quality mission event without spending a lot of money, or expending a lot of man-hours. In reality, I don’t think Quick, High Quality Missions are very realistic in most cases. Most groups can’t make a quick mission event work that is high quality. But perhaps big organizations can (particularly in emergency disaster relief)… but it costs.

B.  Quick and Cheap. Generally, with these mission events, you get what you pay for. Except in emergency situations, quick is typically a bad idea in missions anyway (even if it is extremely popular… in part because of the popularity of STM work, and partly because churches often get bored of anything that takes longer than a weekend). Quick and cheap may be good to “open the door” for something else. Inviting a friend out to coffee and talk about his spiritual and relational life is quick and cheap… but there better be some follow-on ministry if there is a positive response… and such a ministry should NOT be quick.

C.  High Quality and Cheap.  In my mind, this is the best ministry. Throwing money at a problem is rarely the best solution… though you would never get that impression watching “Christian” programming. High Quality and Cheap takes time.  It is a slow process like caring for fruit trees. Good fruit will come, but it takes patience and quality care.

One reason I like Community Health Education (also called CHE or Community Health Evangelism) or Asset-Based Community Development (ABCD) is that it does exactly that… provide High Quality ministry inexpensively… taking a long-term view of ministry. I know some like to use scare tactics for quick ministry work, but quick ministries tend to be wasteful (in resources) and/or low quality in results.

High Quality and Cheap usually focuses on training. The reason is that the goal is towards empowerment and reproducibility. We are involved in chaplain and pastoral care work for that very reason. It is a slow process of healing people, families, groups, and communities. It is not particularly expensive but focuses on slow development and empowerment. 

There are many ministries out there. Many of them are great… but for me, the slow process of high quality, inexpensive developmental ministry is the one where most of the focus should be placed. Anyway, that is the paradigm I would prefer to focus on. As I said before, it is difficult to switch back and forth in paradigms in Design and in Missions.