Clean water is now flowing at the Evangelical Theological Seminary in Matanzas, Cuba, because of Presbyterians living up to the very name of their synod — Living Waters — and the gospel compassion behind it.
A group of Presbyterians from First-Trinity Presbyterian Church in Laurel, MS, recently returned from Matanzas, where they installed a new water-filtration system, celebrated the achievement with residents and pondered the spirit of Jesus behind it all.
“It’s mind-boggling to think of those words of Jesus: ‘I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink,’ ” said Verniece Goode, a First-Trinity member who helped lead the group of five to Cuba in June. “It’s like we’re giving Jesus clean water.”
That gospel idea infuses the “Living Waters for the World” (LWW) mission project of the Synod of Living Waters, and word of its success is spreading. Since the mid-1990s, leaders and volunteers have helped install clean water systems at more than 300 sites in 22 countries, mostly in Latin America.
The Cuba venture was LWW’s first on that famously communist island, an endeavor that took dogged patience with government bureaucracy (mostly U.S. government red tape, not the socialist variety) but fulfilled a dream to partner with Cuban churchgoers.
“I feel God has called us to Cuba,’ said Goode, who, with her husband, Jerry, had made various short mission trips to the 11 million-population island over the years. “We just fell in love with the people of Cuba.”
A new clean-water system serving the seminary, a community of 200 people or more in Matanzas and a partner institution of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), takes the sense of connection and partnership with the Cubans to new levels. Hopes are high for future partnerships and future water projects on the island.
“Our system was producing clean water after two and a half days,” Goode said. “We had an impromptu celebration right there, we were so excited. We rushed to e-mail everybody back home to tell them that clean water is now flowing in Cuba.”
In Matanza, LWW’s mission was to improve a water well that had bacteria and caused stomach upset and diarrhea. For years, people there had been rigging up their own small filters on faucets, an impractical solution that didn’t keep people from getting sick.
That is all changed now for the better. The new water system is centrally located at the seminary — people come and take clean bottled water home. Seminary leaders have contacted the Laurel church to tell them the water system has notably improved the health of the community.
Said LWW officials, the Rev. Ofelia Ortega, a professor at the seminary and formerly the rector there, planned to promote the Synod’s LWW water ministry this year at a global venue, the World Council of Churches’ Central Committee, where she is a regional president.
The Cuba experience is another indication of the rising public profile of the LWW ministry. Media exposure has increased in the last year. So have denominational offerings: Presbyterian Women gived about $225,000 in 2007 from the annual Birthday Offering and issued other thank offerings.
The LWW operation itself is expanding. Up to now, the basic training facility has been Clean Water U at Camp Hopewell near Oxford, MS. There, mission teams (primarily from churches) are trained to train international partners to install and operate the water filtration units. In the fall, a second Clean Water U will open, this time at Calvin Crest Conferences in Oakhurst, CA.
“No one else is doing this training model, and it is causing an explosion of interest,” said Wil Howie, LWW director.
“In the 1990s we were in the toddler stage, then early adolescence, and now we’re entering adulthood and maturity. We are getting exposure. People know about us. They show up at Clean Water U with a readiness and eagerness to learn,” he said. “We couldn’t do this outside of being connectional. I am proud to be a Presbyterian.”
Worries about the future of water quality and availability will position Living Waters for the World to be even more relevant and urgent. The struggle for clean water today — a priceless resource made vulnerable by climate change, drought, pollutants and disease — will magnify the importance of LWW and its niche: a ministry that specializes in small-scale, site-specific water treatment achieved in partnerships between Presbyterians here and communities in need.
Congregations interested in pursuing LWW training and partnerships should explore the ministry’s Web site, or order the LWW’s DVD and show it to church leaders. All costs of equipment and travel are customarily covered by the church. Total cost for water treatment equipment (around $3,000) and travel for the small church team during a three-year covenantal partnership in Central America is about $25,000.
“The Lord has blessed us with this project, and now we are moving into a new stage of growth,” Howie said. “The spirit is blowing in the right direction.”