Water projects have been great mission projects for local churches. I remember hearing about digging wells in developing countries when I was young. It sounded like the right thing to do. People walked miles to get clean water. Photographs of women and children carrying heavy water containers as they walked always accompanied the request for financial support.
It was only recently I learned a hard lesson.
There is a culture that develops around water. An African woman gently but firmly shared her story with me. She walked to get clean water as a child. Sometimes it took hours. She laughed as she recalled this, “As a mother now, I understand why my mother needed all of us kids to get out of her way. She sent us for water. It was a job with great responsibility. We learned that if we dropped the water or spilled some along the way we would not have enough. The family suffered. Children learned to be responsible and that their choices affected the family. Sometimes, no water affected the whole community. You see, Jen, water has a culture.”
The African woman continued to educate me. Brothers, sisters, cousins and friends learned what it meant to share a burden. They created games to help the hours pass. They took turns and even trained the younger children how to participate. It sounded like a right of passage to me. All that exercise gave the children a safe place to put their energy. I also learned that sometimes when the machinery from the wells broke, the villages had no parts to fix it. So, they went back to getting water like they had for generations. But, as the children had no previous ‘water culture,’ they complained and grumbled because the work was a huge burden. It was labor intensive and took so much of their time.
The next part was hard for me to hear. She said, "Jen, your children have water in their homes. They turn on a faucet, hot and cold come rushing out. They have all they need. How do your children learn to be responsible? Do they know what it is to suffer as a family? How do they learn their choices affect the family not just themselves? Do they understand their irresponsibility can affect their whole community?
There is a culture that develops around water.
A Samaritan woman went to Jacob’s well to get water for her household. Historical bible studies reveal most women went to get water in the cool of the morning. There was an established 'water culture.’ The Samaritan woman arrived at noon. Interesting. The Samaritan woman already lived outside the accepted water culture of her time. Jesus met her at noon. Together they established a whole new ‘water culture.’ He challenged her understanding of just about everything that mattered in life. Their conversation included topics like racial prejudice, gender equality, family inheritance, worship, Spirit, thirst, marriage, honesty, authenticity and the Messiah. The Samaritan woman’s heart and mind were so transformed by Jesus and his ‘living water’ that she left her water jar and ran into the village. She became one of the first evangelists! She was one of the first people who helped develop a whole new living water culture.
Living water became a sacred symbol for Christians for a multitude of reasons. It cleansed and sustained. It washed and filled. Water was deemed necessary for true repentance in our baptism. I wonder now, if our church would consider what it means to have a culture that developed from the Living Water. Could we, like the Samaritan woman and Jesus, talk about racial prejudice, gender equality, family inheritance, worship, Spirit, thirst, marriage, honesty, authenticity and the Messiah? Would we be so transformed by Jesus and the Living Water that we too would be evangelists and go into our villages and communities to invite others to experience the Living Water for themselves?
Come Sunday to worship. We will provide an opportunity for you to experience living water for yourself. Who knows what could happen next?
Then, leaving her water jar, the woman went back to the town and said to the people, “Come, see a man who told me everything I ever did. Could this be the Messiah?” They came out of the town and made their way toward him. John 4:28-30