In the Philippines, a natural catchment system collects rainwater.
By Julia Kayser*
July 25, 2013—“Why don’t we become doers of the Word and not just hearers of the Word?”
This was the question—asked by about 50 members of the First United Methodist Church in Georgetown, Texas—that sparked an incredible project. The Contemporary Forum adult Sunday school class had just finished a five-week study on environmental issues. One issue reached out and grabbed them: water resources.
Liquid water is one of the things that set Earth apart from planets that don’t support life. We can’t live without it. But our global geopolitical system denies about 884 million people access to enough clean water. The Contemporary Forum’s teachers, Ann Hagman and Ken Armstrong, presented a passionate case for water as a basic human right and inspired the class to take action.
But, the class was concerned about supporting water initiatives that might not be sustainable. All too often, they’d heard stories of projects getting derailed by political instability. And if local communities don’t receive training on hygiene and maintenance along with a well, then infrastructure built with the best of intentions could be misused and become derelict.
Partnering with UMCOR
It was retired Bishop Joe Wilson, a member of the class, who first reached out to the United Methodist Committee on Relief (UMCOR). He had observed its Water and Sanitation program (which builds wells and latrines around the world) in action during a visit to the Philippines. Bishop Wilson says that the water well he saw “revived the whole community.”
Every time a well is built, UMCOR teaches people how to maintain it. And, because UMCOR always partners with local leaders, development projects are less likely to be disrupted by local unrest. “The class felt their investment would be safe with the attentive care of our UMCOR church agency,” Bishop Wilson explained.
UMCOR issued a challenge: if the Contemporary Forum could raise $7,000, UMCOR would match that gift and dig a well in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.
For just 50 people—most of them retired folks on fixed incomes—this goal seemed impossible at first. It would be an “over-and-above commitment,” because most members already tithed. They took two weeks to pray about it. And then, not knowing where the money would come from, they voted almost unanimously to accept the challenge.
Instead of taking a special offering or fund raising through labor-intensive projects, the class decided to spread their giving out over a period of ten months and give through sacrificial disciplines. For example, some members gave the cost of their water bill each month. Some gave the same amount that they spent on bottled water. Others gave a portion of the cost of each meal they ate out.
Bishop Wilson points out that for most Americans, it’s easy to write a check or pull out a few dollars from a billfold in a way that doesn’t really change our awareness. “It’s harder to set aside some act of sacrifice and let that act of ‘doing without’ symbolize our own Christian spirit and dedication… That sacrifice, I think, is just as meaningful as any kind of offering, because it sacrifices our human and Christian lifestyle.”
Each week, a water well bucket was present at the Contemporary Forum’s meeting, and donations came in a steady stream. What happened next surprised everyone: the $7,000 goal was reached in only three months’ time! But the class wasn’t ready to stop. They had planned on collecting money for a ten-month period. So, they continued to fill the bucket, one drop at a time.
UMCOR will start construction on the well in the fall of 2013. To date, the Contemporary Forum has donated $8,300, and they expect their final contribution to be much more. The pastors of Georgetown First UMC have even considered getting the rest of the congregation involved in this project. “We hope the church may catch the spirit,” Bishop Wilson says.
Regular “drop in the bucket” sacrifices have a lot of power. UMCOR’s entire administrative budget comes from One Great Hour of Sharing, and most of its programs are funded by grants and special offerings. How much more could we do if we followed the Contemporary Forum’s example and gave sacrificially? “When faith is applied to a need,” Bishop Wilson says, “miracles are always possible.”
You can support UMCOR’s Water and Sanitation projects with a donation to Advance #3020600, and you can also support UMCOR Health ministry and programs through Advance #3020622. If you’re interested in setting up a regular donation, email firstname.lastname@example.org or call 1-800-554-8583.
*Julia Kayser is a writer and a regular contributor to www.umcor.org.
**The Contemporary Forum used the book A Hopeful Earth by Bishop Sally Dyck and Sarah Ehrman as its text for the environmental study. Check it out… perhaps it could inspire you and your congregation!