Sunday, March 11, 2007

A Village Well and a Chicken?



I had been asked by Hopegivers International, one of our Major Ministry Partners, to locate and assess a possible village well project for joint sponsorship. I had seen other village well projects, some of which were well-maintained and others that were broken down or dug to shallow to continue providing fresh water. For a reliable village well to be self-sustaining, both a resource assessment and a need assessment are required.

After preaching this morning in two churches, I drove out with a representative of the Church and Society Division of the Presbyterian Synod of Livingstonia to Kamphenda--a remote cluster of villages 2.5 hours south of Mzuzu. There, we met with 20 village chiefs and their 'big chief' head man in a school room to discuss the need for a community well.

In this area of new development, accessible only by a 4/4 vehicle or tractor able to sludge through the bumpy and muddy roads, live 1,500 people. The nearest well for most of them is 10km. Instead of walking the distance to get fresh water, they settle for drinking contaminated water from a muddy stream. I saw with my own eyes the distended stomachs of the kids bathing in and drinking stale, bacterial-infested dirty water. Since I had just preached on the fresh water of the Pool of Siloam that Jesus sent the blind man to for healing, I felt like God was trying to tell me something.

I knew from my conversations with Dr. Joseph Yu, director the Rainbow [AIDS] Clinic, that 1 out of 5 kids die before age 5, largely due to diseases they get from unsanitary conditions (dysentery, cholera, malaria, etc).

So, imagine me sitting there as a guest of honor (rumored to have access to resources)in a room full of village chiefs and community volunteers hopeful that something could be done. I listened to them speak about their need, and I asked the obvious questions:

"If you had a partner in your village well project, what local resources would you have to offer?"

The answer they gave was a commitment to provide the labor pool, sand bricks and mortar, and the maintenance.

"But what about tools and spare parts. How will you afford the maintenance?" I asked.

"We will have a common bucket of funds" they said.

"You represent over 20 villages. Where would the well be dug?" I asked.

"We have identified the most needy place by consensus," the Chief said.

Others added: "If only one borehole is to be dug, we have consensus based on distance. But actually, there are 5 critical areas in this catchment where conditions are so bad that something must be done. We need 5 boreholes to make fresh water available to all within walking distance."

Without committing any resources of CitiHope, or making any promises I could not keep, I responded with a homily on the "living water" the Samaritan Woman drew from Jacob's Well. I suggested that fresh clean water has healing properties, just as dirty water breeds disease, and why it is essential to drink only clean water for its medicinal purposes as well as to avoid disease. I told the story of the blind man Jesus sent to bathe in the Pool of Siloam which contained fresh water nearest the source, and how Jesus used this water, as well as the mud pack he made from his own saliva to heal a man born blind.

They seemed to like my reflection, and we agreed to continue to be in discussion as we considered the options. I added that CitiHope does what it does out of relationship, friendship and partnership, and not simply because there is a need. That we had been ministry partners with the Synod of Livingstonia since 2003, and that we had done many food and medical aid projects together, seemed to encourage them (and raise expectations, which can be problematic). I concluded by saying "So let us pray and see what God has in mind."

I left the area, returned to Mzuzu and was late for dinner with the team. My afternoon excursion had lasted over six hours. As Fate or Providence would have it, I got sick tonight, apparently from drinking local water (its hard to find bottled water with the seal intact.) I was not alone in my nocturnal misery. Four out of 10 of us got a bout. For me, it become an occasion of imaginary solidarity with those who must go daily without clean water.

The next day (Monday)Don and Dennis drove with Rev. Nyondo, pastor of St. Andrews Church, out to the small village of Mosanto (pop. 1000) 20 minutes from Mzuzu in the bush. There St Andrew's Church has a satilite prayer hut, and this village also needs a well.

Upon arrival, Dennis and Don were also treated as honored guests (rumored to have access to resources). The Village chief, who was also the headmaster at the school, presented them with live chicken--a customary gift for a special guest. They asked all the right questions about how a possible village well project would be a mutual undertaking, maintainable and sustainable for the long run. Satified with their need and resouce assessment, Don and Dennis returned to CitiHope's mission center and presented their chicken to Taxon to cook. It tasted good.

A village well in return for a chicken, is a question we will ponder in the weeks to come.