Children at a clean water well in Zambia from one of the first Pure Water Initiative Inc. water projects in 2010. (Photo: PWI)
It is about relationships.
More than 30 years ago, I had the opportunity to visit India and establish lifelong relationships with Baptists in Kerala.
It is about the mystery of God.
I had two opportunities to "travel to the hard places" with Pat Anderson through a Lilly grant offered to the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship (CBF). The first trip took me to Africa; the second was to Indonesia.
It is about need.
The World Health Organization claims that 3.4 million people die each year from water, sanitation and hygiene-related problems. Eighty million people need improved water sources - one out of every nine people in the world.
It is about dreaming.
In a ministerial staff meeting nine years ago, we asked the question, "How can we encourage younger families to give to missions during the Christmas season?"
It is about partnering outside the church.
We practiced the Advent Conspiracy, and a nonprofit called Pure Water Initiative (PWI) Inc. was developed.
It is a good story being told that continues to have great endings.
Our congregation's engagement in clean water initiatives began as First Baptist Church of Marietta, Georgia, developed a giving challenge to build wells through CBF partners with the goal of raising $15,000 to build three wells.
We focused on the Advent Conspiracy emphases: "Worship Fully, Spend Less, Give More, Love All."
We encouraged people to give their Christmas offering to water projects of the CBF partners I had met in Zambia and Indonesia who were seeking to provide pure water.
We smashed the goal with more than $30,000 in gifts. When people realize a need, they respond.
This mission effort has grown into Pure Water Initiative Inc., a nonprofit organization incorporated in 2008.
As of January 2017, more than $450,000 has been given, 112 wells and water projects have been completed and 25 wells funded, which will be completed by the end of 2017.
Pure water has been made available to 193,500 people through Pure Water Initiative. PWI is not the only answer to alleviate water scarcity, but we are able to provide drops of water that fill the bucket (thanks, Robert Parham).
PWI has developed ongoing partnerships in Indonesia that began with the CBF/Lilly grant trip where at least 37 water filtration systems operate in outlying communities.
We support the maintenance of these filtration systems. We will fund five new systems this year.
PWI has an ongoing relationship with India Vision and India Baptist Theological Seminary (IBTS).
Partnering with graduating students and IBTS through India Vision, we have funded 67 well and water projects throughout India and the Chin State in Myanmar (Burma).
Our goal is to fund at least 15 wells and six water projects in India and Myanmar (Burma) in 2017.
Visiting these water projects is always a thrill.
In 2013, I had the opportunity to travel to the Tabau village, in the Chin State of Myanmar. From Yangon, I traveled overnight by bus and all day by car to the township of Matupi, accompanied by an IBTS graduate and a paid guide required by the government.
Once we reached the township, the government guide decided he was weary from travel so the IBTS graduate and I rode another entire day on the back of motorcycles to reach this village.
It had been more than 60 years since a person of my skin color had been in this beautiful mountain village where there is neither electricity nor running water.
I heard words of thanks from the village leaders for the water that was now available in their village as women and children no longer had to go three kilometers each way for water
"Did this really make a difference?" I asked.
The quick response was, "It took us from death to life."
PWI works through the local church in villages of India, Myanmar (Burma), Indonesia and Senegal.
Our goal is to give the local church the opportunity to be the presence of Christ. The water is not to be sold; it is for all people from all walks of life, and the local church works with the village leaders to maintain the water systems.
As a small nonprofit, we have a relationship with each project. These relationships enable us to be in places where many are not welcomed.
Our presence in the U.S. continues to grow as we have partnered with First Baptist Church of Newport News, Virginia; Amazon Smile and a Rotary Club in Nags Head, North Carolina.
PWI is a great story that begins with relationships and engages needs through partnerships, the mystery of God and dreams.
What are your relationships? What needs do you see? What is your experience? How is God working in your life?
Bill Ross is senior pastor of First Baptist Church of Marietta, Georgia, and executive director of Pure Water Initiative Inc.
Editor's note: This article is part of a series for World Water Day 2017 (March 22) focused on Baptist initiatives to provide clean water around the world.
Previous articles in the series are:
Ensuring Drinking Water Flows in Ethiopia, Kenya
Teaching Ghana's Villages How to Repair Broken Wells