Bridges or Dams

In the moment of crisis, the wise build bridges and the foolish build dams. ~ Nigerian proverb

Jurong_BirdPark_-rope_bridge-4The story is told of a noted General who asked a bridge builder in his troop how long it would take to build a bridge across a strategic point in the river. The engineer responded, “About three days.” He was told to draw up the plans and a few days later the General returned asking to see the plans. The engineer seemed surprised by the request, “The bridge is completed General, it will take a few more days if you want plans.”

Challenges, struggles, and crisis sometimes have a way of distracting us from the important matters that need our attention. The Nigerian proverb, “In the moment of crisis the wise build bridges and the foolish build dams,” is a reminder to keep our minds open to new opportunities and pathways for growth.

In the Bible, the Apostle Paul often took this approach. While he was confined to a prison in Rome he wrote an inspiring letter to his friends and spiritual family in Philippi. He was locked in prison, they were struggling with being persecuted for their religious beliefs, but he choose to build bridges, rather than dams. Listen to what he has to say:

Now I want you to know, brothers and sisters, that what has happened to me has actually served to advance the gospel. As a result, it has become clear throughout the whole palace guardand to everyone else that I am in chains for Christ. And because of my chains, most of the brothers and sisters have become confident in the Lord and dare all the more to proclaim the gospel without fear. It is true that some preach Christ out of envy and rivalry, but others out of goodwill. The latter do so out of love, knowing that I am put here for the defense of the gospel. The former preach Christ out of selfish ambition, not sincerely, supposing that they can stir up trouble for me while I am in chains. But what does it matter? The important thing is that in every way, whether from false motives or true, Christ is preached. And because of this I rejoice.” (Philippians 1:12-18)

It’s not always easy to stop and consider how our actions affect other people, or to sacrifice our personal needs for those of others, but that is exactly what Paul did. He saw the crisis in his own life as a way to inspire others to greatness.

In reflecting on his own life, Nelson Mandela said this about his time in prison. “The episode of going to prison for 27 years was the formative experience of my life, an experience without which I could not possibly have become the leader I was called to be.” For the apostle Paul and Nelson Mandela, prison was a time to build bridges, to prepare for the future, and most importantly never loose faith.

Our success in life will, to a large degree, be determined by whether we choose to put obstacles in the path of our neighbors, or build bridges for those who are behind us. There is a beautiful poem by Will Allen Dromgoole that says,

An old man going a lone highway,

Came, at the evening cold and gray,

To a chasm vast and deep and wide.

Through which was flowing a sullen tide

The old man crossed in the twilight dim,

The sullen stream had no fear for him;

But he turned when safe on the other side

And built a bridge to span the tide.


“Old man,” said a fellow pilgrim near,

“You are wasting your strength with building here;

Your journey will end with the ending day,

You never again will pass this way;

You’ve crossed the chasm, deep and wide,

Why build this bridge at evening tide?”


The builder lifted his old gray head;

“Good friend, in the path I have come,” he said,

“There followed after me to-day

A youth whose feet must pass this way.

This chasm that has been as naught to me

To that fair-haired youth may a pitfall be;

He, too, must cross in the twilight dim;

Good friend, I am building this bridge for him!”

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *