In May of 2018, Beth Peak Thompson had an unexpected blessing during a trip to Cuba. She and her husband Paul were traveling with Grace Presbytery on a mission study trip. Upon arrival in Cuba, Beth was delighted to find that she would be drinking water from a Living Waters for the World (LWW) system, nearly two decades after her first encounter with the ministry!
In 2001, Beth, a Christian Educator in the Presbyterian Church, accepted a two-year position as a Mission Volunteer International—Long-Term at Puentes de Cristo, one of the Presbyterian Border Ministry sites, located in Reynosa, Tamaulipas, Mexico. One of her duties was to operate and maintain the LWW water systems and serve the community with clean water. Beth recalled, “Daily, families brought their children and empty five-gallon jugs to the sites in wheelbarrows and wagons. They rolled back home with beautiful, clean, safe, life-giving water.”
Beth knew she was playing a role in a burgeoning ministry that was working to bring safe water to communities in need. The systems in Reynosa at Puentes de Cristo were only the first, second, third, and fourth LWW systems ever installed. Wil Howie, founder of Living Waters for the World, and the small team of pioneering volunteers who launched the ministry were convinced they could make contaminated water safe to drink by filtering and disinfecting it.
And, they did.
Wil remembered that after the first system opened at Puentes de Cristo, “several on our team wanted to declare victory and call it quits. We had met our goal. But then one of our new friends at Puentes de Cristo, Young Adult Volunteer Brice Rogers, called and basically said, ‘Thanks for the first system, it’s working great! When are you coming back to put systems in our three other health clinics?’”
LWW’s founding team members kept going back to Mexico, then to Honduras and Haiti, and over time, developed a model for mission and a system design that could empower their partners to generate safe, affordable drinking water. Inspired by their partners’ success, they felt called to engage even more people in this life-giving work. So, in 2004, LWW launched Clean Water U (CWU) and began to train and equip everyday people from all walks of life to form global water partnerships. Kendall Cox, LWW’s Director of Education, said, “2,300 people have trained with us since that first Clean Water U session. We continue to fill multiple sessions every year with folks who feel called to share clean water and the love of Christ with God’s children around the world.”
At Clean Water U, volunteers are trained to train international partners to install and operate
a water purification system
Clean Water U generated rapid growth in the number of water partnerships. In response, LWW formed in-country networks to provide on-the-ground support for water teams and partner communities. Today, eleven such networks support teams and partners in establishing sustainable clean water solutions capable of transforming lives.
But this didn’t happen overnight. It took 25 years of partnerships, flexibility, and creativity to make the Living Waters for the World of today. Many of the original tenets hold true, chief among them the belief that Jesus Christ is living water for our bodies and souls. However, other aspects have evolved to reflect the years of experience.
For instance, when Beth Peak Thompson first realized she was looking at an LWW system in Cuba, she was amazed by the simplified design. She laughed remembering the “millions of parts” that made up the first system at Puentes de Cristo. Beth told us, “We got to drink living water from the water systems LWW installed in Matanzas, Havana, and other places in the north central area of the country. The systems were beautiful and the water was cool and delicious.” Struck by how far LWW had come since her years as a system operator in Mexico, she praised the volunteers, donors, and all who fueled this evolution and expansion, “I am deeply grateful for what LWW provides for God’s beloved. Thanks be to God and thanks to all the people who make this possible. Clean water literally saves lives.”
LWW's system design has simplified from its initial concept (Colonia Las Cumbres shown above)
to its current design (Perico, Cuba shown below)
As Living Waters for the World marks its 25th anniversary and approaches the installation of the 1,000th system, evolution and expansion will forever be part of the fabric of the ministry. There will be many more years in which to celebrate children flourishing with good health, volunteers being transformed through mission relationships, and new communities receiving the gift of clean, living water.
Wil Howie, now retired but an active ambassador for LWW, looked to the future saying, “Our call to action ‘clean water for a generation’ is too narrowly focused, too limiting of a vision. Today let us dare to keep on dreaming and working toward ‘clean water for a generation, and beyond!’”