By Kara Witherow, Editor
Every morning at 5 a.m., 15-year-old Jenny would wake up, get dressed, and, before heading to school, set off on a two mile round-trip trek to a nearby village. Her walk home was even more arduous as she hauled her family’s daily supply of clean water.
Today, thanks to Mulberry Street United Methodist Church in Macon, Jenny only has to walk a few yards for clean water.
Around the world, nearly one billion people lack access to safe, clean drinking water. And every day, nearly 2,000 children die from diseases directly linked to unsafe water or a lack of basic sanitation facilities.
Mulberry Street UMC is doing its part to help change those grim statistics.
In September, the church sent its third well-building team to Central America. A group of eight traveled to El Salvador to drill a much-needed water well in the Santa Maria Cokiama community, located about 50 miles west of the country’s capital of San Salvador.
Nearly 250 people – 25 families and the community school – will now only have to walk a few blocks instead of a few miles for clean water.
“Christ tells us to go out and take care of our fellow man,” said Mulberry Street UMC member Marilyn Armstrong, who traveled to El Salvador along with her husband Jack. “We’ve both been a little afraid of the ‘toxic charity’ issue where you just give your money, but this is something that we can do that gives people the possibility of helping themselves.”
Jim and Ann Smith appreciate the long term, life-changing impact the well will have on the community.
“These people need clean water,” said Jim, who coordinates Mulberry Street UMC’s well-digging trips. “With half of the world's hospital beds occupied by people suffering from water-related illnesses, the need is great and so is the opportunity to demonstrate God's love.
“Here we were able to very significantly impact the lives of hundreds of people. Their lives were changed.”
With one week of hard work and $5,000 – the cost to construct the well – an entire community can be changed for generations, he said.
Coordinated through the non-denominational nonprofit Living Water International (www.water.cc), the church’s trip to El Salvador was about sharing the love of Christ in a permanent, meaningful, helpful way.
“Leaving behind a well that people can use for years to come, and to be able to see their lives changed because of that, was really appealing to me,” Ann Smith said.
Ann and Armstrong spent the majority of their days with the Santa Maria Cokiama community’s women and children, teaching them about basic sanitation and hygiene. They also shared their faith and played with the children. The hours they spent together, day after day, forged special bonds.
The first U.S. citizens to visit the village, the team heard numerous stories about the community’s lack of clean water and how difficult it was to obtain.
During the rainy season, the village, which sits between two rivers, becomes completely isolated by flooding. The isolation makes walking miles to a neighboring village to get clean water hazardous and virtually impossible.
Last year, Mulberry Street UMC sent a team to dig a well in Honduras. That community sits on the edge of a busy highway, and, before the well was dug, children dodged semi-trailer trucks and other vehicles as they crossed the road. Several children died during their daily dash across the road to get water for their families.
“I don't know how to cure cancer or how end war. I do know how to save lives, change lives and leave a lasting legacy by drilling wells to provide clean drinking water where it is desperately needed,” said Jim Smith, adding that anyone who is able to mow their lawn can help drill a well and that specialized training is not required.
“It (the water well) changes lives. It saves lives. And it spreads the love of Christ.”
Jim is planning an upcoming well-digging trip to Guatemala for Macon District United Methodist clergy and mission coordinators. He hopes that, by seeing firsthand the need for clean water and the changed lives, others in the Macon District will be inspired to fund and build wells.
“We want to get other Macon District churches doing what Mulberry is doing,” he said. “The hope is that they will go and come back and say, ‘yes, this is doable; we can do this.’
“We’re able to do something that affects a whole community and that lasts. We are filling a huge need for a large group of people – what’s not to love about that?”