The Gift of Water

It’s still dark as the sun has yet to peer over the mountain ridges to the east. A young mother steps out of her hut, careful not to wake her four sleeping children. The air smells of rain and she’s glad. Her task will be easier. She gathers her three dented, yellow plastic jugs. Careful not to slip in the mud, she descends a short but steep slope. She arrives at the water hole and mutters a word of thanks that the runoff from the incline has topped off the hole. Clumps of dirt and several blades of grass float on the surface. The circular pit is barely three feet in diameter. Its depth is maybe twice that.

She bends at the waist, knees straight, as most women in her country do, and fills her three containers. The woman positions one jug onto her head while lifting the other two with her hands, arms stretched by the water’s weight. Somehow, she manages to walk up the rise and reach her home without spilling a precious drop. 

She then starts her fire. As it takes shape, she begins sifting and straining the murky contents of the jugs. She needs to remove the dirt and the bugs. She uses a series of old shirts stretched across large plastic bowls. This “filtered” water is then stored in pots to be boiled over the fire. Once the parasites are destroyed, she can cook with it and offer her children a drink when they awake. She does this every day. It’s better than walking 15 kilometers to the nearest well. 

My every day experience is much different. I turn a knob and have instant access to clean, cold water. It’s there the dozens of times I need it. Reliable, like a best friend. Faithful as a mountain geyser. Available for bathing, teeth brushing, cooking, and making coffee. I wash my hands countless times a day. I water plants and wash dishes. I fill hydro flasks and camelbacks. I grab a plastic bottle before running out the door. I pop open a can if I want my H2O sparkling. I watch gallons of it go down the drain as I wait for the shower to warm.The scene above takes place in Maroeira, Mozambique. It’s a village I visited in 2018. Maroeira is incredibly lacking. There are no schools, and the nearest medical services are five miles away. Life changed for the people of Maroeira in 2022, because they now have their first clean water well.

The well was installed last spring and was one of four that the ministry that I help with, Life for Mozambique, dug this year. One was placed in the village of Nharxungu, a community equally poor as Maroeira. And our two orphan care centers each received new, deeper wells. Our third care center, the Melanie Center 3, will be in Maroeira. We’ve already built a church, a home for a pastor, and a guard house. Plans are in the works for the construction of two classrooms too.

Since I’ve been working in Mozambique it seems like each year alternates between drought and cyclone-generating monsoons. A liquid feast or famine. This year is a drought year. Which is why we had to dig deeper wells at our Melanie Centers. 

I recently read a book about Africa’s water crisis: One Thousand Wells by Jena Lee Nardella. It’s partly autobiography and partly the story of how she helped start an organization called Blood:Water which provides wells and health care in Africa. In the book she calls the monumental task of solving Africa’s water crisis The Long Defeat. The Long Defeat is a battle that cannot be won but is one we should and must engage in anyway. The numbers defining this problem are staggering: over 300 million Africans lack access to clean and safe water for drinking and 700 million are living in poor conditions without adequate sanitation. In her years of battling Africa’s water crisis, she learned to stop trying to save the world and love it instead. Her aim is to love the world in a personal way without being overwhelmed by the impossibility of helping all 300 million. It’s a way that chooses to enter the world by drawing close to individuals in need …

… and living by hope. 

She writes: “The faithful actions of loving one person at a time, working for justice one place at a time, providing water one village at a time–that is how we love the whole world.”

Loving the world. Entering the world. Bringing hope.

Sounds a lot like the Christmas story. Loving the world. “For God so loved the world …”. 

Entering the world. “You will find a baby, wrapped in cloths, lying in a manger.” 

Bringing hope. “May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him.” (Rom. 15:13) 

Only God can love the whole world and save the whole world at the same time. He wasn’t overwhelmed by the staggering number of souls needing saving. But it meant sending his son for each of us personally, individually. For all who will choose to believe. 

I’ve been listening to a lot of Christmas carols this week. A favorite is, “Mary, Did You Know?” I love the imagery. It leads me to picture Mary interacting with the baby. I imagine her scurrying around her little Nazareth home, tasked with keeping the Resurrection and Life safe, warm, and protected. 

Serving food to the Bread of Life. 

Telling bedtime stories by candle to the Light of the World.

Soothing the tears of the Prince of Peace. 

And heading out to the local well at daybreak. Day after day. Carrying, straining, and boiling water so a thirsty toddler who would later call himself the Living Water, would have something to drink.

Just like mothers in Maroeira.

Merry Christmas!