The story of Living Waters for the World (LWW) is a series of first rodeos. At first, there was only one team and that team was small but it was mighty, passionate, and tenacious. In ten years, that team worked to install 15 water systems in communities. Good news, but the team got a bit tired, and more than a bit discouraged. Doubts crept in: Maybe they should give up - how were they going to get clean water for all God’s children, making such slow progress? Perhaps they should call it a day and move on to the next thing. But they stayed at the table together and, as often happens in community, the solution revealed itself: Train others to do what the one team had been doing. Clean Water U (CWU), LWW’s training school, was born. That ‘first rodeo’ - training trainers who would then turn around and train others who would then teach their community - was in March of 2004. 36 people came together from across the U.S. They didn’t have much in common beyond the belief that everyone deserves clean water and that we could be part of the solution for making that a reality.
The first CWU graduates, spring of 2004 in front of the water building at Camp Hopewell
Shifting to train-the-trainer mode - one of many first rodeos - has led to more clean water and more lives being transformed.
That was 2,400 students ago! Those students have gone on to lead teams who have formed water partnerships all over the world, from the United States to Ghana and two dozen other countries, training leaders to teach their local communities. In October of 2019, we celebrated what in the beginning had seemed inconceivable: 1,000 water partnerships!
Fast forward just a few months. It’s early February, 2020 and things were humming. Partners were partnering, walking alongside each other so that clean water would soon flow in a place where it hadn’t flowed in a long time. We were making preparations for our first training of 2020 as well as our first training with a brand new camp partner. The year looked full of promise and hope - and we anticipated even more firsts!
Travel quickly became a no-go as countries began locking down to keep the virus from spreading further. People were sick, dying. Our April CWU, cancelled. Our June training, nixed as well. Reality sunk in that gathering for a face-to-face training in 2020 was not going to be an option. Was 2020 going to be the first time in 16 years that we didn’t train any new people? That our “us” didn’t get bigger, that our circle didn’t continue to expand?
We gathered around the (virtual) table. We asked questions and we listened. We knew what we couldn’t do (meet face to face). But what could we do? The solution was staring back at us: Make CWU training virtual so partners could be ready when the way was clear.
So, we got to planning. Our instructors and In-Country staff created training videos. We looked at the best options for teaching all three workshops (partnership management, health education and water system installation - standard and reverse osmosis!) simultaneously. Then we tweaked all of it. And we continued to tweak it again. And again. And again.
The Partnership Management class (101) discussing the importance of covenants and site assessments.
I’ve got to tell you, I was a bit intimidated. I knew our team could do it and I was excited about the possibilities, but I was scared too. Why? Because a big part of CWU is in the very act of coming together from north, south, east, and west, face to face. It’s a big part of our “how” and has been since the beginning. I didn’t know if we could bring that culture - that solid foundation that we’d had since the get-go - and make it happen online.
The Health Education class (102) discussing the importance of handwashing and how to use the purified water.
Does the Holy Spirit move within the Zoom room?
So, we did our best to bake that - connection before content, heart before hardware, people before PVC - right into the plan. We planned and we practiced and we prayed. Whew, did we pray.
The Water System Installation class (103) showing the pose we use to remind ourselves to not do the work for our in-country partners, we do the work with them.
Then we invited some students to be a part of this first rodeo of sorts. 35 students from 16 states, three countries, and four time zones said yes.
CWU students holding there CWU graduation certificates during the closing Zoom session
And guess what? It turns out some of the things we worried about (that we’d crash Zoom with all our videos) didn’t happen. We were surprised by some things that did happen because we were in a virtual space (click here to see how our In-Country staff joined us in the room.) And, yes, the Spirit indeed does move within the Zoom room.
The tools that proved the most useful in this virtual session? They weren’t our usual drills, PVC cutters, spreadsheets, and soap. We got handy with new tools like breakout rooms, polls, and chat boxes. We prayed together, sang together (yes, it’s possible, even over Zoom), broke bread together, and raised a glass together as we toasted to clean water for all God’s children.
Our “us” got bigger. The circle continues to expand. May it continue to do so. Here’s to first rodeos!
I’ll leave you with the prayer I wrote (and revised) for our first virtual Clean Water U - A Prayer for First Rodeos (especially in the time of COVID):
Creator of all the things,
We pray for all the loose ends - may they be tied up into a (if not pretty, then at least a somewhat) functional bow.
We pray for all the spinning plates - may they keep spinnin’ round and not (along with our internet connections) come crashing down around us.
We pray for all the juggled balls - may they all stay in the air long enough to be collaboratively caught.
We pray that when things get glitchy (because we know it’s not if, but when) - may there be grace enough to cover all those glitches.
We pray for all of us - that we hold on to our why, our gratitude, to each other, and most of all, that we hold on to You in and through it all. Amen.
Kendall Cox is the Director of Education for Living Waters for the World. She lives in Greenville, Mississippi and is a member of First Presbyterian Church, an LWW Water Church partnering in Cuba. She will be forever grateful to have been a part of the first ever virtual Clean Water U and expects that now that we’ve gotten this one under our belt, there are sure to be more. She is also grateful for the encouragement she’s received from Wil Howie over the years, who is a master at cat herding and first rodeos.