Church ladies provide clean water in Asia
JOYCE, La. (BP) -- When Ella Creel heard children were dying for lack of clean water, she knew something had to be done.
But the problem was half a world away, in the high desert of southern Tajikistan.
And her church didn't have a lot of resources.
"We bump up around 100 in attendance on Sunday," said Creel, a member of East Winnfield Baptist Church in Joyce, La. "Our Sunday School class is just 18 members, mostly widows, mostly on fixed incomes. We've never had more than $100 in our class treasury."
They had been studying a series of lessons in their LifeWay Sunday School quarterlies about the Christian's responsibility to make good use of the resources God has given them.
When the class came to story of Jesus miraculously feeding several thousand people with a little boy's lunch, they pondered the question that the disciples initially asked. As Creel put it: "what that little bit of food was among so many people."
"That's the way we felt. What can we do? This is a little class with no money."
Then Creel received a call from one of the younger class members, truck driver Terri Provence, who was on the road that evening. Provence had heard John Avant, pastor of nearby First Baptist Church in West Monroe, talk about his recent trip to Tajikistan in Central Asia, where wells were being dug so villages could have clean water to drink, in a project coordinated by the aid organization Baptist Global Response.
Most families in the region draw water for drinking and cooking from a muddy river or canal, Avant told his audience.
And water-borne diseases kill 10 percent of children under 2.
"Terrie just came unglued when she heard that," Creel recounted. "She called me and asked, 'Why can't we do something?'"
Truth was, the class had an answer to that question, but it didn't sit well with Provence.
"When we were studying those Sunday School lessons, our class had a lot of comments about how we used to do this or used to do that, but now we're old and it's time to let the young people do it," Creel recalled. "We couldn't do what we used to do, and we never had tackled anything very big anyway.
"But those lessons challenged us ... so we agreed we would do what we could while we waited our turn for Jesus to come and get us."
Creel called the West Monroe church and talked with Mark Fenn, the missions pastor. She was taken aback to hear that drilling a well cost $3,000 on average. She told him the class might raise $50, maybe $200, and asked if they could partner with First Baptist in drilling a well. Fenn agreed for the ladies' class to raise money for a year and send whatever they could.
But Provence wasn't satisfied with a $50 or $200 goal. She brought a five-gallon water jug to class on Sunday -- marked off in dollar amounts up to $3,000.
"We were amazed. We were thinking, 'What could we do?'" Creel said. "But our class got on board.
"We adopted a theme, 'To outlive your life,' and our class took on a new life. God had put it in our hearts to drill a well."
When the ladies brought their first offering, it totaled $370. After several weeks, it reached $800.
To say they were excited would be an understatement. Then Provence took a better-paying job.
"Terri pledged another $200 from her first paycheck and suggested we use it to buy ingredients for hamburgers and hold a fundraiser at the church," Creel said. "Our pastor agreed, and that dinner raised $800.
"People outside our class got excited then and started giving. One man sold a bunch of old batteries and donated the money he got. Another one sold some scrap iron he had and gave that," Creel said, her voice filling with emotion. "One woman received $150 from her office staff on Bosses' Day and told me, 'I don't know anywhere I want to use this more than this water well.' A second woman held a garage sale, thinking it would generate about $200 but praying for $400.
"At the end of the day, she was able to give us $970 -- the amount needed to reach our $3,000 goal -- and she had some left over to donate to the church's youth fund."
What began as a year-long project had taken less than four months and produced a result 15 times their best-case scenario.
"It was a God thing from start to finish," Creel said. "We had determined to do what we could, but God wanted to show us what He could do.
"We learned there isn't anything too big for us if God asks us to do it. It's His work; He privileges us to join Him in it," Creel said. "We can't take any pride in it. We just get the joy of being part of it."
Bruce Cardin, East Winnfield's pastor, agreed.
"After the class raised that first $800, things slowed down, because they were on a fixed income," Cardin said. "Then God opened up some doors. You could see the excitement in them as a class, and it has built excitement in our church -- that we have done something and we can do something."
Mark Fenn, the missions pastor in West Monroe, didn't know how much the church had raised until he came to receive the check Feb. 12.
"I was stunned that it was $3,000. I had no idea they would come up with an amount that would pay for an entire well," Fenn said. "I didn't have any major expectations about how much they would raise. I just thought it was a great opportunity for them to be part of something bigger, whatever amount they could raise.
"This shows us you never should underestimate what the Lord might use you to do -- and you sure never underestimate what a bunch of missions-motivated ladies can do," Fenn said. "When they get excited, it's just infectious."
Drilling a well makes a life-changing difference for people in Central Asia who have to travel miles to fetch water every couple of days, Fenn added.
"For them to have access to water in a few hundred feet or yards, to be able to get that water every day, is such a significant thing," Fenn said.
"Then they realize this well has been provided by people who love them -- and ultimately understand the reason they love them is the teachings of Jesus. The beauty of this whole project is that we're able to help people, by meeting their basic needs, to be connected to someone who meets their ultimate need."
Mark Kelly writes for Baptist Global Response, on the Web at www.gobgr.org. You can support clean water projects by giving to the World Hunger Fund at www.worldhungerfund.com.