Ice Storms, Fundraisers, and Anthills: World Water Day Reflections in the Time of COVID
Happy World Water Day everyone! While here at Living Waters for the World (LWW), every day is World Water Day (WWD), March 22nd is a day we set aside each year to listen, learn, and raise awareness about this essential gift God has given us to protect and share.
The WWD theme this year invites us all to reflect on the value of water. I am still learning what water means to me but here’s one thing I know for sure: I can no longer think about water without our water partners coming to mind. The two are forever joined for me. Here is just one story about how my church’s water partners have encouraged us and challenged us, a story that has been in the making for many years and is still unfolding.
First Presbyterian Church of Greenville, Mississippi has been an LWW Water Partner since October of 2006. Earlier that same year we held the very first of what has since become our annual water fundraiser, “Mardi Gras Madness” (MGM for short). MGM was the brain child of Judy Reed and thanks to her, we had seed money in the bank to fund our water partnerships before we had put together a trained water team. Judy rallied the troops and got the whole church behind this community event. I pray every water church has their very own Judy Reed. 16 years later, our MGM is still going strong (you can read more about our “Party with a Purpose” here). Thanks be to God, we now have seven water partners in Cuba. That we got to visit all of our partners in February of 2020, right before COVID hit, is nothing short of a miracle that has grown in magnitude and sweetness with each passing day that the global pandemic has continued.
By the fall of 2020, we could see that we were going to have to take a completely different approach to MGM this year. Our amazing MGM team came up with a plan to raise funds while keeping everyone safe: We created an online form for people to preorder everything from a delicious New Orleans-style meal, homemade goodies, and lovely wind chimes made by our church’s potters. We set up a plan for drive-thru pick up the day of the event. Cooks got to cooking, bakers got to baking, potters got busy glazing. Our silent auction went to a virtual setup as did our “Buy a Part, Be a Part” donation booth for members of our community to give a donation to help us purchase every single piece of water system equipment needed for our next water partnership in Cuba. COVID may have tied one hand behind our back but our team anticipated every single issued and figured out a workaround.
Our partners in Cuba were with us in solidarity. We reached out to them and let them know our plans for making our event as COVID-safe as possible. They sent messages of encouragement. They created videos for us to share on social media, with testimonials on the difference having access to purified water has made for the health of their community. They prayed for us. One such note of encouragement came from Javier, an operator from our newest water partners, at the one-year anniversary of the installation of their water system:
Yesterday, Jan. 29, 2021, our water meter surpassed 100,000 gallons of processed water. Looking back at history, I can see 10 people (3 acquaintances and 7 strangers) arriving at our church on Feb. 3, 2020, loaded with suitcases that they deposited in the crib department. The next day the church was a working anthill: Some installing and teaching how to work with the water system, others preparing those who were to educate the community in the use of this water and in good health practices, and others cooking and carrying out behind-the-scenes tasks. On Feb. 8, 2020, the purified water system was inaugurated, with a partnership of twin siblings between the Placetas Adventist Church and the First Presbyterian Church of Greenville, Mississippi. We said goodbye to those people, who in a few days went from being strangers to friends, sisters and brothers.
There began our task of providing quality water to the population that every day was joining in looking for the precious liquid. Starting in March, we faced the challenge of the COVID-19 pandemic, with the decision to continue distributing water, facing the risks, but establishing measures for the care of operators and the people who attended every day. In this noble task, we established bonds of love with the members of our community. There, every day, we listened to their concerns, their ailments, but above all, their satisfaction at having a place to find quality water for their relatives with cancer, hypercalciuria, kidney, or digestive pathologies, and others who, understanding the benefits, decided to drink the water that we offered to protect their health.
Reaching this goal represents the work of many people: Those who work in this noble mission of LWW, here in Cuba and abroad, the donors, those who buy the equipment and tools, those who spend their time traveling the world to carry the equipment and train the people, and those who process and provide the purified water and health education. It represents the work of a year of my brothers and sisters who have voluntarily donated almost 1,000 hours of their time to bless others. We thank God that up to now God has helped us. Thanks to the entire LWW team and the brothers of FPC Greenville. Thank you for being channels of blessing.
We are concerned that our system is insufficient for our entire town, that many cannot come to fetch water because it is too far from their homes and they do not have the means to transport it. That there are other nearby population settlements that do not have drinking water. That a lot of educational work is still needed in the population for the proper use of water and education in good health practices. Today we assume the challenge of moving forward in this work, committed to God and debtors of our neighbors.
A few days before our fundraiser, the weather radar brought troubling news: A winter storm was heading right toward us. Every indication was that the worst of it was going to hit the very day of our fundraiser. Record cold temperatures. Inches of ice and snow on the roads. We had a call to make: Do we push the event out a week and hope that power lines weren’t taken down by ice? Do we cancel and try to reschedule at a much later date? It was clear that sticking to the original date was just too risky. COVID had tied one hand behind our back and now this winter storm was shaping up to tie our other hand. What was our church to do? We looked at all our options. We discussed the pros and cons of each. We prayed and we asked our water partners to pray. They were watching the weather too and were concerned for our community’s safety.
Our MGM team then made a very bold call. Postponing a week was just too much of a gamble: If we lost power, we could lose all the frozen food everyone had been preparing. We had so much momentum that we did not want to punt to a much later date. The team decided to bump the event up by a day to get ahead of the storm. That was still dicey: Weather patterns can shift quickly. Would 24 hours be enough to beat the ice and snow heading right for us? Moving it up a day was going to be a heavy lift, compressing the time to pull all of the last-minute details together and getting the word out to everyone who had pre-ordered. Together, we boldly stepped out on faith and trusted that all would be well.
Once that decision was made, everyone pulled together and shifted into high gear to get the job done. This was our 16th year and MGM has become a well-oiled machine with everyone knowing what needed doing. We didn’t know how any of it was going to turn out - maybe we’d raise a little money to add to our water fund to support our water partnerships in Cuba.
Sunday morning, the day we had bumped the event to, the church was humming with activity. Our masked crew had organized themselves into teams, stirring grits and grillades, making garlic bread, forming an assembly line to fill orders. The youth and men of the church were all bundled up, ready to run orders to folks through their car window. As I walked from building to building at our church, visiting each different station, I saw that everything was so well organized, folks pitching in to adapt to this new and very different plan to find the way forward. Then it hit me. Javier had described it perfectly in his letter to us: Our church was a working anthill!
We were too busy filling orders that afternoon to do much fretting about the bitter cold, the ice that was on its way, or how the fundraising was going to turn out once everything was counted. It was just so good to be together. I wanted to take a moment to pause, let that soak in, and give thanks to God. We had seen with our own eyes, heard with our own hearts what a difference purified water and health education can make for the well-being of a community. We had experienced how transformative our water partnerships are, not just for our partners but for our own church. Collaborating on water has made us a different church than we would have been otherwise.
How did everything go? As it turned out, it was good we moved the event to the day before: We all returned home late that afternoon to find no one in our city had water (that would continue throughout the week, followed by several days of boiling water due to low pressure). The storm? It hit that next day and another storm hit a few days later. The ice and snow made the roads so hazardous that we ended up doing our Ash Wednesday and Sunday services via Zoom only. And the fundraiser? We needed to be sitting down when our chair told us what we had netted: $28,194.86. That breaks the all-time record (set the previous year) by $6,000! I was stunned. I think we all were. Here we were wondering with all that had happened if maybe we should prepare ourselves for a record-breaking low only to find the opposite outcome! When I shared the unbelievable news with the LWW staff, Emily summed it up best when she said, “Won’t God do it?!” Indeed. So here’s to anthills and fundraisers in the midst of COVID and ice storms. And here’s to all the people who, with God’s help, are working together toward a perfect World Water Day when all God’s children have purified water.