Part of the Solution: What a Church Can Do For Clean Water

For most of my life I was disgusted by the church and its followers. Hypocritical. Self-Obsessed. Prideful. Unkind. These were the words I used to describe the church and its people.

All that changed when I was twenty and read the Bible for the first time. This is what Jesus is like? Why didn't anyone tell me?

And most of all: where are all the people who are living like this man?

Now, ten years later, it's easy for me to be skeptical of the American church - I don't know most of them and half the time I can't understand what they're talking about - but I find it difficult to ignore and dismiss the people of God who surround me. Maybe it's because I didn't grow up in the church and haven't been burned (yet), but I genuinely care about my church community, these people who have become a kind of family. I hold back my skepticism (on most days) because in spite of our many issues we are starting to look more and more like Jesus.

When I started attending Bethany Community Church seven years ago it was a small congregation of about 250. I was drawn from the first sermon I heard to the dynamic pastor (who is also a contributor here at BWC) who managed to speak to the center in a church that contained hard-liners on both the left and the right. Since then I've seen it through a nearly ten-fold growth in attendance and the construction of a multi-million dollar building behind our original (quaint and intimate) sanctuary. It's gotten so big that we now refer to our grounds as "the campus." On so many levels this has been a hard transition for me and for our church. But it's hard to complain; God is definitely doing something here, and it has stretched all of us to step into the story that he is writing, even though it doesn't look like the one (at least I) was envisioning. (Did I mention that in Seattle an attendance of 2,000 is pretty much a mega-church?)

One of the amazing things that comes with growth is stretching of all kinds. I don't envy the staff, but I greatly appreciate their work and the way they've stepped up to the challenge of ministering to a rapidly growing congregation. Another outcome is a new sense of what we can do collectively when we work together for a goal.

Over the past 50 days, running from Easter to Pentecost, our church raised $122,00 and counting, to provide clean water to communities in an area surrounding Kampala, Uganda.

One hundred twenty-thousand dollars. For thousands of people that's schooling, and health, and better crops, and an end to hot, miles-long treks for dirty water that will make you sick.

You'll be amazed how it happened.

On Easter our pastor challenged each of us to live more simply so that we could change lives. The point was to give something up in order to give clean water away. The campaign was called Spilling Hope and the message went something like this:

Believing that the resurrection of Jesus ushers a new way of living into our world, Spilling Hope is an endeavor committed to demonstrating that new way by imparting hope through practical expressions of blessing to those trapped in poverty. Join us for this year’s 5o Day Challenge as we commit to living simply and giving generously to provide clean drinking water for villages in Uganda . What can you change in your life that will empower you to change the life of another?

Live Simply.
Give Generously.
Change Lives.

He (and a team of others) invited us to save $1/day over a 50-day period in order to raise enough money to provide clean water to 15,000 people through Living Water International. If each member of the congregation gave up a soda, or cable, or decided to walk to work, or ________, we could raise $100,000 for this cause.

And it was compelling. $1 per day? That's all it takes?

To keep the issue on our minds (you know how distracting our lives are) there was an on-going art gallery, a film night and a concert night (all of it for free) that raised awareness of the global water crisis. We challenged people to simulate the walk that hundreds of millions of people make each day to collect water by carrying a jerry can to our local lake, filling it up, and carrying 40 lbs of water one mile. Forty pounds is a lot of water. And we only had to do it once. Many women and children do it twice per day, traveling four miles on average.

Giving up a latte here and there certainly felt like a worthy cause. And easy compared to carrying 40 lbs of water.

So, now, at the end, $122,000 later, I am amazed and humbled at what we can do (and did) collectively as the people of God. We may be hypocritical, self-obsessed, prideful and unkind sometimes (I know I am more than I'd like to admit), but we can also act like Jesus. We can sacrifice and give out of our abundance and do great amounts of good, all of it in Jesus' name, because we know,

"There but by the grace of God go I."

* * *

Spilling Hope was an incredibly impacting campaign, and Living Water International is doing great work. Check them out. And if you have five minutes, you'd do well to watch this video.


  1. The next time someone comments to me about the ills of the church today, I'm going to refer them to this blog post. Powerful stuff. Streams in the desert, indeed.

  2. This is awesome, Penny! Thanks for sharing this story.

  3. Penny... you captured the essence of why I consider the calling to shepherd our flock as my greatest joy and highest privilege. Thanks for playing such a huge role in bringing the vision of water for Uganda to life.

  4. My favorite Burnside game is to guess who posted each piece before the end of it.
    I was enjoying this voice so much and what she had to say, but I couldn't pin it down, but... Penny! Thanks.