People often join Living Waters for the World (LWW) because they feel called to share clean water with God’s children in need. Charlie Mathers of St. Simons Island, Georgia, is no exception. When Charlie first became involved with LWW in 2006, all he wanted to do was “install and support water systems.” Twelve years later, Charlie’s LWW story is about much more than water. It’s also about life-changing relationships.
When Charlie reflects on his experience with LWW, he talks about the people first. People like Honario, the first (and only) system operator for Salvador Urbina, Mexico.
Charlie (center) is with Salvador Urbina system operator Honario (right), and LWW's Southeast Mexico Network Technician Anselmo (left)
Charlie notes that Honario is about the same age as he, guessing him to be in his early 70s. Charlie says, “He’s an amazing man. He has never had more than $300 to his name in his whole life.” Yet, he has been the backbone of Salvador Urbina’s water ministry for twelve years. Charlie tells a story about a time when he was in Mexico and was chopping wood for a lady next door to the system site. Honario could see that Charlie was struggling with the work, so he took over and handily completed the job. Honario has also been known to carry water bottles (which weigh approximately 40 pounds when full) to elderly community members who can’t get their water themselves. With admiration, Charlie succinctly states, “He can work much harder than I can.”
Honario fills a garrafon at Salvador Urbina's recently rebuilt filling station
But an appreciation for hard work is not the only thing that connects Charlie with Honario. Charlie has a connection with Honario’s family as well. This year, Charlie was invited to celebrate the sixth birthday of Honario’s youngest child at her birthday party. Charlie has also played a significant role in the life of Honario’s elder son, Daniel. In 2012, Charlie was on a follow-up visit in Salvador Urbina, and he happened to be there for Daniel’s sixth grade graduation. Charlie says, “Attending the event was a wonderful gift from God. I didn’t go specifically to attend that. I had bought replacement supplies for the water system and paid my way down there to do the repair work. It just so happened that the day after I arrived was the graduation ceremony.” In Mexico, primary education through the sixth grade is free, but secondary education requires the family to pay tuition. Honario was not able to afford tuition for Daniel, so they arrived at his graduation ceremony expecting this to be the highest level of education he would receive.
Also graduating was a girl named Tayhli, whom Charlie had also known since 2006. Tayhli is the niece of the man who provides Charlie with transportation when in Mexico, and her family was also unable to afford tuition to continue her education. Charlie felt this was unacceptable. He remembers, “Paying for school was not planned, but I couldn’t let them not go to school. We got them healthy with the water through the sixth grade, and I wanted to help them keep going.”
Fast forward to 2018, and Daniel and Tayhli have graduated from secondary school. As Charlie says, “It was a big deal! That’s six years of education they wouldn’t have received. Those kids personify twelve years of drinking clean water and going to school. Tayhli is going on to college now. Her mom is a breast cancer survivor, and her dad was injured and unable to work for a while. Tayhli is helping run the household while going to college.”
Tayhli and Daniel at their graduation from secondary school
The system in Salvador Urbina was installed in 2006 with an LWW team from Shallowford Presbyterian Church, Atlanta, GA. Today, all the members of that team have moved away – Charlie included – and the church has changed mission priorities. Yet, Charlie remains fully committed to supporting his friends in Salvador Urbina. As Charlie puts it, “These people really have become my family, and I can’t let them go. The bottom line with Living Waters is that I’m going to help the system keep on functioning by working within the Southeast Mexico Network. I won’t let them go.”