Thursday, August 27, 2009

It Only Takes a Spark...

You know how the familiar camp song goes. You may even have seen the light and warmth of its metaphor at work in your own life. Here’s how I’ve witnessed it in Guatemala:

Having already bought-in to the Living Waters for the World (LWW) vision, “to train and equip mission teams to share the gift of clean, sustainable water with communities in need” and completed LWW’s five-day education component (Clean Water U), our team of three spent a week in October, 2007, visiting communities in northeast Guatemala, in search of a partner for our first covenant and system installation. Water samples were collected, and surveys to determine water-related health issues were distributed in six different locations. Each place we visited was in need of a more healthful source of water for food preparation, cooking, and personal hygiene. Our task was to choose one, and to negotiate a covenant with community leaders that spelled out responsibilities and a schedule for site-preparation, material acquisition, human resources, installation, education, and operation/maintenance training.

We settled on Guastatoya, capitol city of El Progresso, a rural town of about 7,000 people. The host organization would be Iglesia Presbiteriana El Dios Vivo, an eager, well-established, and connected Presbyterian congregation. This was not the location with the greatest need. Other more remote towns had less access to clean water. We chose Guastatoya because we envisioned it as a hub from which systems for other nearby towns could radiate, and because it held the greatest potential for success and sustainability—important to us as well as to our Guatemalan brothers and sisters.

We negotiated all the terms of a covenant, each partner accepting varied responsibilities for particular components in the program—everything from supply procurement and building preparation to government regulations and various expenses. Then we celebrated, spending the next day and a half eating and playing together, enjoying warm hospitality and building trustful relationships. By the time we parted ways, each with a schedule and list of tasks to accomplish, we all had new-found family members and a commitment to a “reunion with a purpose”, six months down the road. The spark was glowing.

The next six months kept us busy in preparation for our installation/education trip. We raised congregational and community awareness, recruited additional team members, and secured funding to meet our portion of the covenant. In April, 2008, seven members of a combined Rotary/First Presbyterian team from Fayetteville, TN—fully loaded with filtration system components, high hopes, and overflowing prayers—flew to Guatemala to fan the spark.

Our Guastatoyan partners had been engaged in reciprocal tasks and preparations. Together, inspired and guided by the support of our respective congregations, we were able “to accomplish far more than we could ask or imagine.” Aside from a 36 hour-long water bottle drama and a power outage, silk worms could not have laid a smoother path. Before week’s end, clean water was flowing for another community of God’s children.

Fast-forward to April, 2009. A year had passed, along with numerous translated e-mails, and plans were underway for a first-anniversary check-up on the water system’s operation/operators and its parallel health/hygiene education program. Since our April, 2008 installation, systems had also been installed and were operating in two other spoke locations. One of those installations was undertaken by friends (and relatives) of ours from First Presbyterian in nearby Shelbyville, TN. During their first installation trip, the Shelbyville team also negotiated a covenant for a second installation at Berea Church, San Jose.

Beyond the Guastatoya check-up, we also negotiated a covenant with another spoke-location, and included team members from another of our sister churches, First Presbyterian, Pulaski, TN. Within an hour’s drive of Guastatoya, in the state of Zacapa, lies the small town of El Jute, home to Templo Evangelico Presbiteriano “Getsemani.” Preparations for the April 2009 trip included contact with Getsemani’s pastor, confirming their congregation’s desire to form a partnership and install a water filtration system. Pastor Romaldo and members of his Consistory (Session) were waiting for us with open arms. They had done their homework—having visited several nearby LWW installations, and given some creative thought to a suitable location for their system. Prayerful and thorough negotiations were again completed, fanning the flames even higher.

In November, 2009, a team from First Presbyterian of Shelbyville, TN, and a Pulaski-Fayetteville, TN, team will both travel to Guatemala on consecutive weeks for installation/education trips to Berea, San Jose and Getsemani, El Jute, respectively. Through Living Waters for the World we are weaving a missional connection that links PC(USA) congregations and towns, Guatemalan churches and communities, and brings us all together in a web of hands-on empowerment that spreads the gospel one bottle of clean water at a time. Pass it on!

© 2009 Todd Jenkins

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Walking the Web

It’s amazing how connected it’s all become. What started out as 1987-1990 seminary classmates and neighbors in Decatur, GA, has now reached all over Middle Tennessee, numerous parts of Mississippi, and touched most of the rest of the continental 48, not to mention Mexico, Guatemala, Belize, Cuba, Peru, Ghana, Laos, and at least 14 other countries. The web is being spun by Living Waters for the World, Clean Water U, and all of the people and organizations that it has brought together and sent out in the name of Jesus Christ, who is living water for our bodies and souls.

In little more than 2 ½ years, I have found myself connected to people who know people who know people… I’d even venture to predict that, if Living Waters for the World continues to expand at anything near its current pace and continues to provide connections for organizations and communities across the globe, there will be a day in the very near future when the notion of “Six Degrees of Separation” will become too limiting a concept, and someone will posit that it’s probably more like three or even two.

Think about it. Someone from your church or civic club goes to Clean Water U or CWU-West, and makes a connection with 40 or 50 other people from across the USA and the world. Then they come back and form a LWW team, perhaps partnering with folks from a nearby town, traveling thousands of miles to develop a relationship with a school, hospital, church, or community center of a village in a developing country. You maintain those ties, eventually bringing your international partners to visit your hometown, and maybe even get them to attend Clean Water U. Do you see the silk stretching? Do you feel the vibration when someone on the other side of the world picks up a bottle of clean water?

I do!

© 2009 Todd Jenkins

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

If the Way Be Clear...

In a late-night Clean Water U-21 conversation with another CWU instructor—a conversation that turned to “things Presbyterian”—this phrase was used: “If the way be clear…” It is a churchy-legal way of saying something like, “We’re going to do this if at all possible.” Or, as my grandmother used to say, “Lord willing and the Creek don’t rise…” At the end of this conversation, a low-wattage flash-bulb fired in my brain, giving me cause to jot the phrase, “If the way be clear…” on a napkin and tuck it away for later reference.

In turning this phrase over in my mind, I found the reason for the flash. “If the way be clear…” easily morphs into, “If the water be clean…” Living Waters for the World teams often find themselves beginning (both at home and abroad) in situations where “If the water be clean…” seems nearly as impossible as “If ice becomes fire…” How can we, in our congregation and/or civic group, possibly raise enough awareness, concern, human resources, and capital to source a system and team? How can the people of a rural village in a developing country possibly build a room (or a building!) to house the system or find the people to operate/maintain the system and educate the public?

As a friend of mine taught and reminded me in a recent sermon, the answer to these and other questions of impossibility is, “These things can’t be done… until someone actually does them.” The English poet Ralph Hodgson wrote, “Some things have to be believed to be seen.” That’s the way it often is with Living Waters for the World in particular and mission in general. We may start with the caveat, “If the way be clear…” but there comes a time when the faith of a few suddenly becomes the pathway through impossibility toward a reality that has never before existed. That’s when, “If the way/water be clear/clean…” becomes, “The water IS clean!” or, as LWW ambassadors like to put it, “Let clean water flow!”

© 2009 Todd Jenkins

Monday, August 3, 2009



Though it sounds and looks like a security code or some encrypted message, it is not. It’s five numbers and one letter—six different things that became very clear to me during the course of the most recent “Clean Water U” (CWU)—the five day intensive educational component of Living Waters for the World (LWW).

21 The last session of Clean Water U was the twenty-first. In our culture’s measure of human chronology, that means Clean Water U has reached “adulthood.” Though CWU may have reached adulthood, the staff and volunteers who animate its body, mind, and spirit know that maturity is measured by actions, not age; and wisdom is not so much possession of a subset of knowledge as it is the ability to effectively integrate ideas that are becoming available while humbly acknowledging the exponentially larger set of that which is yet to be known.

300 About the time you read this document, the documented number of LWW water filtration systems installed worldwide will surpass 300. Included in its 22 countries of installation are the first system installed in a country led by a Communist government (Cuba), and multiple systems in the USA (Appalachia). LWW has come a long way from the early years, when “the” team installed 11 systems in its first 6 years. That’s a lot of systems, a lot of relationships, and a lot of lives transformed (on both sides of the water tank). There are thousands more villages in need, millions more people needlessly dying and suffering from easily-preventable water-borne illnesses.

900 The number of people who have been trained at “Clean Water U” is now over 900. With October’s inaugural session of CWU-West, at Calvin-Crest, CA, ten miles south of Yosemite National Forest, LWW and CWU are more fully blanketing the world. On the final night of CWU, students are equipped to begin fulfilling their role as “Clean Water Ambassadors” (CWA), spreading the good news of LWW’s message far and wide. How many Clean Water Ambassadors do you know? How many more people do you know who could become CWAs?

2 Our congregation is working on its second LWW system. Partnered with our local Rotary Club, we are maintaining a relationship with the El Dios Vivo congregation in Guastatoya, Guatemala, where the first system we initiated has been operational since April, 2008. Partnered with First Presbyterian Church, Pulaski, TN, we are developing a relationship with the congregation of Temple Getsemani in El Jute, Guatemala. The Pulaski/Fayetteville team is working toward a November, 2009 installation/education trip. I pray that this number continues to grow until all God’s children have access to safe, affordable water.

1 The more I am immersed in LWW and CWU, the more I am aware of the oneness of it all. We serve one God. We are one people. We have one purpose: to spread the good news of God’s love in every tangible, life-altering way possible. Clean water is one of the most powerful tools I’ve seen. It breaks down the walls of language, culture, economics, politics, and social status. Being a part of sharing clean water gives people on both sides of the table an opportunity to experience the joy of God’s grace.

U This single letter is commonly used in our fast-paced, technology-driven world to represent “you.” When “you” is part of a conversation, it’s as personal as life gets. All of these numbers and the story they tell relate to “you.” Whether or not you ever attend “Clean Water U” or go to Guatemala, or contribute to the Mission Fund to support these projects and other mission endeavors, or take it as a part of your prayer life to specifically pray for the people whose hands and hearts are deeply invested in this mission, “you” are part of this and other work that define and give missional energy to our congregation. Thank “you” and, “Let Clean Water Flow!”

© 2009 Todd Jenkins