Water Today. Health Tomorrow. Hope for Generations.
words by: Rebecca Greenfield
You turn on the faucet, the rush of cool water flows freely from the spigot. Ah, there’s nothing like a nice tall glass of crisp water, smooth and cool as it runs over the tongue. Perhaps you want to fill a pot of water to start your dinner or simply to wash your hands with sudsy soap. All of this happens in a matter of seconds, without much extra thought. After scurrying through your tasks and drinking that refreshing water, you decide you need to use the facilities. With a quick flush, the waste vanishes, and on you go to the more important matters of the day like work, family, and household responsibilities.
Our interactions with water are frequent and quick. Water and workable restroom facilities free us up to allocate our time to other demands in our lives. But in some countries, simply finding and collecting clean water can be what much of the day is centered around. Over 850 million people in the world do not have access to clean water, of which a vast majority are in sub-Saharan Africa. A lack of access to clean water is defined as someone who must walk over thirty minutes to find drinkable water. No wells, no latrines, and no sanitation system cause hundreds of thousands to be susceptible to water insecurity and illness. Lifewater International, a non-profit organization, “are Christians committed to ending the global water and sanitation crisis, one village at a time.” Since 1977, they have lived out the power of their name by bringing life to the thirsty through clean water and water hygiene practices. Lifewater serves in Tanzania, Ethiopia, Uganda, and Cambodia.
A mother living in Tanzania grabs a weathered five-gallon bucket. Dirt and sand have crept into the dry crevices. The mother’s own hands are worn, with layers of grime and grease from her early morning chores. She wakes her two children, who are not quite old enough for school. The baby can’t walk yet, so she swaddles him tightly to her thin-framed body. She grabs the empty bucket and calls for her three-year-old. They are heading off for a three-and-a-half-hour round trip to the nearest water well. This has become a routine for them while the eldest two children are in school, and the father is in the village trying to earn a wage. Once at the well, they fill the bucket to the brim. The commute there was tiring for three-year-old legs, trying to keep up with his mama, but the walk back home would be even more arduous. The terrain is not easy, traveling it with no shoes, on rocky soil in the beating sun through eighty-degree heat. There isn’t much time to stop for a break as they try to make it home before the hottest point of the day and in time for other chores. The bucket is filled, the children are tired, and the baby starts to cry, but this is life, and it is time to return home. The mother, bearing the burden and the weight, grabs the filled bucket, which now weighs around forty pounds. Her thin frame is deceptive. Despite the bucket weighing about a third of her body weight, she has developed the muscle over time to sustain the long, heavy journey home. This is what she knows. This is her “normal.” This is what she remembers doing when she followed her mama as a naive toddler herself decades before.
Like this Tanzanian mother, women and children are often the biggest victims of unclean water. Many times, it is women who are responsible for retrieving the water for their families. It is also the women who are nursing their children back to health who are frequently sick from waterborne illnesses or suffering the grievous loss of their child. Every two minutes, a child dies due to illnesses caused by unclean water. The awareness of preventable deaths, impoverished communities, and a skill set that could aid in a plausible solution to help is what motivated Lifewater’s founder, Bill Ashe, into action.
It all started in 1962 on a trip to Mexico, where Ashe, a water pump business owner, repaired a windmill hand pump at an orphanage. By 1968, he had dedicated his life to ministering to suffering families in Baja California, Mexico. Nine years later, Lifewater was established. Attending a Billy Graham conference in Amsterdam, Ashe received over 2,000 requests from other ministry leaders for clean water in over 100 countries in need. In response, he began holding conferences that recruited volunteers with professional skill sets. The volunteers would be trained to not only bring “physical” life-giving water, but more importantly, “spiritual” life-giving water through the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
As Lifewater evolved, so did their vision and outreach. Just as God does not only show up in an emergency, but cares deeply about relationships and the holistic renewal of a person, so does Lifewater. They did not simply want to enter a desperate situation for a quick fix; instead, they saw an opportunity to help a whole community thrive. When Jesus met the Samaritan woman at the well, the water she went to retrieve was symbolic of a greater thirst she had, a greater thirst all of us have—to be known, loved, and forgiven by the person who transcends the earthly confines of this broken world, Jesus. Lifewater knows that physically people are thirsty, but spiritually they need to drink from the water that can help them both in this life and beyond. Jesus told the Samaritan woman as he referred to Himself, “If you knew the gift of God and who it is that asks you for a drink, you would have asked him and he would have given you living water” (John 4:10). Lifewater wants to provide this same hope and sustainability to the communities they help.
Through community health training and evangelism, Lifewater partners with a village in a dignified way over a three-year period. There is a two-fold purpose in this approach. First, it helps bring awareness to all members of the community that every person has a role to play in creating a healthy environment. Second, it helps each civilian take on a sense of ownership in the positive change they help create within their village. This results in a more holistic, sustainable change.
Just as IKEA doesn’t sell you furniture without instructions, Lifewater doesn’t provide a well without teaching people in the community how and why to use a well. Lifewater wants to help the community and not just provide a resource without any guidance on the significance or responsibility that comes with it. That would not be helpful at all but rather could lead to potentially harmful risks. The community must learn how to become healthy and take ownership in their decisions to maintain such health.
Over three years, there are three main steps in creating a healthy village through this Lifewater partnership. Step one: they establish a baseline by performing a census to answer the logistical, pertinent questions. These questions include: How far is the average walk to the nearest well? What are the demographics? What ages are impacted? How often are the children getting sick? How often must they miss school due to illness? How much money is spent by families on medical care? Once these baselines are established, they will begin step two, which is to assess the spiritual vitality of the village. Questions in this phase include: Is there a local church? Does that church have the potential to be a positive influencer in the community to help change sanitation habits as well as share the Gospel? Are there community leaders, elders, or government officials who could help with this progression to healthy lifestyles?
Step three is the initiation of what Lifewater calls “community-led total sanitation.” This is a hands-on teaching and training phase focused on health-centered community transformation. It is an educational process in which the community is taught how diseases are transmitted through the WASH curriculum (Water Access, Sanitation, and Hygiene) and other instruction. One of the first points of education is how to end open defecation, which is going to the bathroom in the open instead of in a toilet, resulting in uncontained waste. This is one of the main causes of rampant waterborne illness. These contaminants easily pass into water that may be used for cooking, washing, or drinking. Lifewater works with the people to help them understand that defecating in the woods or other open spaces leads to flies, which breed disease and spread infection.
Along with this education on keeping clean and dirty water separate, the people are taught how to boil water, how to move clean dishes up off the ground (away from feces) to a designated clean space, and the importance of a wash station. As a result of this education, Lifewater has some expectations and preconditions that must be met in order for a home to be validated as what they call a “certified healthy home.” These requirements include: the people must build their own latrine (or toileting area), they must construct a wash station near the latrine, they must create a drying rack, they must build an additional wash station near this drying rack, and they must keep their compound environment clean. These preconditions ensure that the education results in transformative healthy habits, not just head knowledge. Once 80-90% of the homes in the area become recognized as certified healthy homes, the community then qualifies for their clean water well. At this point, the community has proven they have embraced proper hygiene behaviors and will be able to maintain the integrity of the well once it’s established.
Once the community has qualified for a well, Lifewater works with local leaders, the local church, and average civilians to offset 15-20% of the cost of the well. In addition, the village will be responsible for providing unskilled labor to handle work such as digging ditches, building fences around the well, and helping vulnerable families who were not yet able to build a latrine complete that task for their home.
Additionally, there is a “Well Committee” that helps recruit, manage the laborers, coordinate the teaching of WASH curriculum to children in the schools, and assist in raising funds and resources for the project. Since so many women are often most affected by the lack of clean water, it is essential that women’s voices are represented in the Well Committee. Thus, they make up half of the committee members. This empowers a community to truly own the well project and become the key players in the powerful change they see unfolding within their village.
Holistic longevity is key. This is why only 25 of Lifewater’s employees, out of 175, are from the United States—the rest are in the sub-Saharan country. These employees help train up leaders within their country so that they are skilled to become technicians. If the well pump stops working, there are leaders in-country who have knowledge and expertise on maintaining and fixing it. Inviting the local church and schools to play an integral role in WASH curriculum training and discipleship results in revolutionary results that can be sustained over the long term. “Water, sanitation, and hygiene practices all serve to help communities realize greater health and a more complete understanding of their God-given dignity and their own ability to thrive.”
There is a story in the book of Luke about a paralyzed man. He is lowered down through the ceiling by a group of his friends into a crowded house where Jesus was teaching because he was desperate for physical healing. The account reads, “When Jesus saw their faith, He said to the man, ‘Friend, your sins are forgiven'” (Luke 5:20). The irony was that the man didn’t actually ask for spiritual help. What he wanted was physical healing. But Jesus first gave Him something of much greater worth, something of spiritual value—forgiveness of sins. Jesus knew that this impacted the man’s soul, which would long outlast any physical relief that could be offered. Then shortly after, Jesus, in His grace, reached out and healed the man physically as well. Just as Christ has modeled to a broken world that no physical salvation can come close to the greater need of spiritual salvation, Lifewater mirrors this same passion. To them, all their work is in vain if it isn’t for the cause of bringing those in need of forgiveness to experience the grace of Jesus Christ. Due to government jurisdictions and rules against proselytizing, Lifewater relies heavily on relationships formed by the local church with the villages. It’s not just about transforming unclean water situations into healthy accessibility, but even more so, it is about transforming lost souls to the one who can wash them “white as snow.” “Though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they are red as crimson, they shall be like wool” (Isaiah 1:18). There is no better purification than that which Jesus Christ provides through His blood and forgiveness.
And the people of these villages are experiencing this transformative power of Christ through water. One 55-year-old mother of four said that for the first time in her life, she could think about tomorrow. Other women have started microbusinesses because they have more time freed up since they no longer need to care for sick children or spend hours traveling to a well. But still, one of the most powerful stories is the one of total transformation for the entire family. There was a family with a father, mother, and ten- and twelve-year-old daughters. The father struggled with addictive substance abuse. Through Lifewater’s outreach, the mother became saved. Because her life was so changed, the father became clean from his addictions. The whole family was soon saved, and their lives were forever changed.
So how can you help? Prayers! Lifewater covets your prayers for the Gospel piece of their work to take root in the lives of those in need of Jesus. Please pray for long-term sustainability. Perhaps you feel called to do more! Become a Lifewater Ambassador. Ambassadors bring awareness to their sphere of influence about water crises and the need for support of the marginalized. Lastly, you can financially give. 80% of the funds donated go directly to Lifewater programs. The money donated is used for Kingdom purposes, prayerfully used for the needs within the country. You can sponsor a water project, give monthly, leave a legacy gift, or even donate stocks. Each dollar is a gift and makes an impact. Each prayer helps a soul. Your part matters and is greatly valued!
So next time you take a drink of that purified, filtered water you can so easily access, say a prayer for the woman at the well, the father in distress, and the children fighting disease. God is working in and through people like you to change the world, one sip at a time.
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Rebecca Greenfield is the author of RAW Inner Workings of a Reawakened Soul ($14.99), RAW Reawakened Soul Study Guide ($14.99), The Prayer Crossing Personal Devotional ($12.99), The Prayer Crossing Event Workbook ($19.99), and Dusternuffle ($19.99), a children’s book. After earning her bachelors in Nuclear Medicine Technology, she followed God’s call into ministry and obtained her Masters in Theological Studies. She is blessed to pursue both of her passions, science and theology, by working in nuclear medicine and at Lifeline Christian Mission. One of her deepest desires is to create spaces and places through writing, speaking, and leading retreats where people can experience the presence of God’s enveloping love. Aside from God, nothing brings her more joy than spending time with her wonderful family and friends. Connect with Rebecca at www.Rebecca-Greenfield.com. To order a copy of any of her books, visit www.Rebecca-Greenfield.com or make checks payable to Reawakened Ministries (please specify books desired) and mail to Cross Point Christian Church, Attn: Rebecca Greenfield, 10659 Johnstown Rd., New Albany, OH 43054.