“The Samaritan woman said to him, ‘You are a Jew and I am a Samaritan woman. How can you ask me for a drink?’ (For Jews do not associate with Samaritans.) Jesus answered her, ‘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 4:9-10
This has always been a personal favorite story in the Bible, so how perfect that it would come up here in Uganda as we spend time with the Living Water Uganda staff. Many parts of the past two days have been perfect in their own strange way. First, you will notice that I did not post while in Uganda because our “resort” was not exactly a five star joint with wi-fi and hot water. This was important, though, to be away from the usual comforts for a little while and fully engage where we are. We have been spending our time in a small town called Ntungamo and our experience here has really put life into perspective.
Upon arrival we were told that the water was not running, but not to worry because they were pumping water out of the swamp and we would have running water soon (this was after our bus had to back up 50 meters or so when the road ended abruptly with a very large hole…somehow this will make the road better). Of course, hearing that your running water is coming out of a swamp is not the most comforting thought, but as we visited the field the next day I think each of us understood the significance of our water not running on this trip. We were able to understand, just barely and oh so briefly, what life is like every single day for most of the world. As the Living Water staff gave an overview of the program, it was exciting to see how much they have grown in the past few years. The vision of Living Water Uganda is to see “empowered communities that have access to sustainable water and sanitation” and it was incredible to see this take place over the course of yesterday and today.
On Monday we drove along a pipeline that goes along a trench that community members volunteered to dig together for the sake of their community’s health and well being. The pipeline is powered through a gravity flow system and the water that comes out of each tap is clean enough for you and I to drink. We saw several different “water attractions,” if I can call them that, as we drove along the road. We saw some deep bore hole wells and met the community members responsible for tending them. We saw shallow wells built by the government that have since been abandoned. We saw other attempts to bring water to Ntungamo, but many of them were not built with a relationship with the community in mind. That is what sets Living Water apart from many water projects and it was very encouraging to be able to see it in action.
Today we set out to see what exactly is being done in the different communities in Ntungamo and for many communities it was the first time they have ever had visitors. We were far from any drivable road and even farther from any main roads, meaning a big bus full of muzungus (white people) was a very unusual spectacle. We first stopped at what is called a “triggering session.” It is in these sessions that Living Water staff members call a meeting with every member of the community that desires to have a clean water source and they explain to them why they must care for their water source. The challenge for Living Water staff is in getting communities to really own and operate their clean water source, but they try to ensure this in a few ways:
First, they must participate in the project. Living Water will not enter a community unless that community takes the initiative to approach Living Water and tell them they desire to have a clean water source. If the initiative is not there, then mobilizing the community to tend their well or tap is incredibly difficult.
Second, they must love the project. If the community does not love the project then it will not last. The project consists of more than just clean water, though. The project is about providing clean water in addition to educating communities about the importance of sanitation and hygiene education in order to create healthier communities. It is a hope that parents may see this as a way to create a brighter for their children and that they will invest in it now, out of love.
Last, they must own the project. From the start, each community must take part in the project and care for it on their own. From opening a bank account to nominating leadership to conflict resolution, the goal is that each community will be able to manage the water source on its own. The community must work together and care for it in order for it to continue, otherwise they will forever be dependent on Living Water and that is not the goal. The goal is to empower the communities we are partnering with.
To bring this all back to our arrival, our time in Uganda has taught us that it is far too easy to take things for granted. Our home did not have running water for the first 24 hours and this took us aback. Then the next day we saw the conditions that most people live in every single day and the lack of running water is not their biggest worry. Us, we are at least able to open a bottle of water and drink it and brush our teeth with it, but that is not an option for most of the population. Talk about putting life into perspective…this certainly did it for me. It is surprising how easy it can feel in Africa to wipe many things away with the blanket statement, “Well, that’s just how it is.” This is true for some things, but I cannot let it stand for all things. So I ask you: when was the last time life was put into perspective for you? If you can’t remember, please, open your eyes and see for just a moment how blessed you truly are. And then I ask you to take it a step further and ask yourself what you will do with that blessing. Will you simply sit on it or will you pass it on and be a blessing to someone else?
The reason I love the story of the woman at the well so much is that it shows a face of God that is unexpected. God shows up in odd ways and unusual places, yet He always shows up. When Jesus approached the Samaritan woman, I cannot imagine how she must have felt. And when she explained to him that she was a Samaritan and he was a Jew, yet he remained to speak to her, that is where I see the face of God. I see it in being willing to step out beyond your boundary, be it cultural or political or economic, and simply love one another. Here in Ntungamo God is seen in the water. It is my prayer, the prayer of Living Water Uganda, and the prayer of Bethany Community Church that God might be seen even more clearly in the communities where water is springing up. Pray for the people of Ntungamo, that they will know the love of Christ and that they will open up their hearts wide enough to love one another deeply and spread that love wherever they might go.