When Life Gives You Lemons…
Sitting in the courtyard of Mision Sinai in Limones, Mexico last February, 2020 was off to a great start. I was there attending our Yucatan Network Partners’ conference – the first of many in-country partners’ conferences of the year; Sequoyah Hills Presbyterian Church in Knoxville, TN was hosting a gathering for people interested in furthering our ministry in Appalachia; and a couple of our networks were forecasting higher than usual project activity for the first quarter. Then the coronavirus pandemic took center stage and Living Waters for the World's (LWW) world threatened to come to a screeching halt as countries closed their borders; infection rates and death tolls climbed steadily around the world; parents suddenly were cast into the roles of round-the-clock caregivers, stay-at-home workers, and kindergarten teachers.
As a ministry that is rooted in relationships and face-to-face interaction and also has a fair number of volunteers who fall into what the WHO and CDC consider “risk categories” we girded up and planned for the worst – but an amazing thing happened. The pandemic forced us to stop, take a breath and think about what we do, how we do it, and adapt.
At a time when a natural reaction would have been to hunker down and wait out the pandemic, the opposite occurred, and it was a beautiful thing to witness. Seemingly, without breaking stride, our in-country coordinators, technicians, and educators embraced the concept that if they couldn’t do things in person they could do them virtual, leveraging tools that are readily accessible and easy to use.
Suddenly, there were WhatsApp groups popping up in Honduras that were hosting health education sessions for Operating Partners (OP) and their communities. The staff in Guatemala started producing YouTube videos that covered a gamut of topics ranging from how to stay safe during the pandemic to how to maintain the water system during lockdown, to how to increase the distribution of water in the community. This movement grew and other networks like Haiti, El Salvador, and the Yucatan started producing material. At a time when people couldn’t travel, and interaction was made more difficult we were ostensibly seeing more communication take place with our partners, proving the adage that necessity is the mother of invention.
While it was great to see communication taking off in new ways (ones that we plan to continue using in a post-pandemic world), we had water teams asking how they could get clean water to more communities. And in the case of projects that had been interrupted by the pandemic, how teams might continue without losing all momentum for their LWW work and the idea of virtual projects was hatched.
LWW had already expanded its Zoom presence and network moderators were meeting regularly with their in-country folks and we approached some Initiating Partner (IP) teams with the idea of continuing their project work virtually, and with what may have been divine inspiration, some teams said yes, and we saw virtual projects occur in El Salvador, Yucatan, Haiti, and Honduras. The projects were completed in areas where local travel was possible, and the water system components were already in country or could be sourced in-country. By all accounts the projects were great successes and while our partners look forward to the day when they can greet each other face-to-face again and share a meal or worship together under the same roof they are thankful that God provided us with the creativity, skill, and courage to do things differently.
LWW’s ministry didn’t come to a screeching halt in 2020, it just looked subtly different than it ever has before. Some highlights from 2020:
LWW continued to pay its In-Country personnel monthly stipends for the year and we were astounded at the generosity of our donors to help offset the cost of doing so. It reinforced for us the value that our partners place on our networks and the strength of relationships between teams and in-country staff
A sub team of in-country staff developed a set of recommendations, based on WHO guidelines, for OPs to safely operate and maintain their systems during the pandemic
We had 20 new water system installations in 2020 in Cuba, El Salvador, Guatemala, Haiti, Honduras, Mexico, Peru, and the US
60% were installed before the pandemic took hold while 40% were installed in the second half of the year
Haiti saw its first installation completed by a Haitian IP for a Haitian OP, following the example of Hondurans Helping Hondurans, which has been actively installing systems since 2015
So, what does the future hold? With God’s grace and the guidance of the Holy Spirit, great things!
We hope to see more teams take advantage of virtual installations in 2021, assuming that international travel will continue to be difficult or where it could place our partners at risk. We have demonstrated that it is possible to build relationships from afar and are excited by the prospect that this could enable even more teams to participate in the LWW ministry.
We are looking to host a virtual international networks conference to bring our network staff together and provide a venue for continuing education and strengthening bonds across borders.
And following on the footsteps of 20 systems having been installed in 2020, dream of 21 being installed in 2021 and seeing the health of even more communities improved by providing people with purified water for their bodies and Living Water to nourish their souls!