"Nazareth! Can anything good come from there?" Nathanael asked.
"Come and see," said Philip.
Nazareth at the time of Jesus was considered an unimpressive, rural community whose residents were easily dismissed, often with contempt. We know the error of that thinking, yet all-too-often, our culture perpetrates the same offense against the hungry, tired, and thirsty among us. Fortunately, there are still people who seek out a loving way of seeing and being in relationship with others.
Bill Mendenhall of Jackson, Mississippi, and Shreveport, Louisiana, had his heart broken open on his first visit to Haiti. In 2009, he received an invitation to “come and see” from his friends Danny and Karen Logan. He agreed to join the Living Waters for the World (LWW) team from the Presbytery of the Pines on a visit to Darbonne, on the outskirts of Port au Prince, Haiti. The poverty and physical need he experienced in Haiti overwhelmed him. His sense of helplessness was so intense, he returned home certain he would never go back. But God wasn’t finished with Bill. His experience weighed heavily on him for many months afterward. Slowly, a conviction grew within him – the extreme need in Haiti was the reason he must return. Bill recalls thinking, “If God needs me to help somewhere, this has got to be the place.”
Bill Mendenhall with water system operator Michelle De Rosier in Leogane, Haiti
Bill proposed to his church, Fondren Presbyterian Church, in Jackson, Mississippi, that they get involved with Living Waters for the World. The church was immediately supportive. Ten years and six water partnerships later, they remain as committed as ever.
Bill has participated in twelve LWW water partnerships. He led eight of those with Fondren and on behalf of other churches and joined other water teams for the remaining four. Bill says, "My commitment has gotten stronger with each trip. Each experience is reinforced by the one that follows." Over the years he has learned to focus on the individual lives changed, rather than the overwhelming circumstances in Haiti. He speaks from experience saying, "To me, it’s not about fixing the overall situation in Haiti. It’s about making a difference in the life of one child at a time. I don’t know that we are ever going to cure the water problem there, but that’s not what we’re trying to do. We’re trying to help specific children and communities." He also gives thanks to his Haitian partners for helping him. He says, "Everybody I’ve taken to Haiti agrees that we learn so much more from the people there than they learn from us. Our Haitian partners have taught us so much more about being a good person and a Christian than we ever teach them."
Water team members (left to right) Donna Houston, Kathy Vaughan, and Jerry Vaughan stand atop the Cazeau water building during the installation visit in 2017.
With the individuals in mind, he and Fondren rejoice at reports like the one recently received from Cazeau, Cite Soleil, Haiti. The people in Cite Soleil endure harsh living conditions marked by some of the worst poverty and most dangerous environments in the country. Yet, Lucson Celestin, In-country Technician for LWW’s Haiti network, recently sent news that, “More than 3,000 persons live closely, as you can see in the pictures, people come to take very often clean water … now they can't spend one day without that clean water.” He also reported that the nurse at the local clinic was advising people to drink the clean water, and he credited Jerry, the system operator, for “working hard and clean as you can see in the pictures to serve the populations.”
In Cazeau, Haiti, families rely on the clean water from their LWW system every day.
Jerry operates the LWW water purification system in Cazeau, Haiti, keeping clean water
flowing for his community.
“God’s Promise to Haiti” operates the compound in which the water system is located. Besides water, they offer a school, health clinic, and community center for Cazeau. Bill said, “Of the twelve systems that I’ve participated in, this one has the potential to be the most sustainable over the next decade, and perhaps the next generation. It’s due to the leadership at the location.” Already they are out-producing the other sites with which Bill has been involved. Their commitment to transforming the health and well-being of people in their community compels them.
Thanks be to God for calling people like Bill Mendenhall and all LWW “water saints” to come and see for themselves. May we give space for their stories of hearts broken open, communities empowered to serve, and lives forever changed. May we heed God’s call and tell stories of our own.