Water - God's gift

The first poster of the Bremen Mission campaign

Since 2014, Dietmar Arends is superintendent of the Lippe Church. One year ago, he had been elected President of the Bremen Mission. To the readers of the Bremen Mission journal "Mitteilungen", Arends introduces his thoughts to the first poster of the Bremen Mission campaign.

So to say, I met Agnes and Lydia already in many places of the world and they always deal with the same issue, the one basic need, but always in different ways. The whole creation and also we as human-beings cannot live without water - and this water is a gift from God.

Once, in Ghana, we tried to participate in fetching water. We met a group of women and children at a watering hole and asked for permission to carry the water buckets on our own. But how fast did we have to give up; we simply were not able to do it. We could not hold the heavy containers on our heads, or even carry them a far distance. My respect for the work of those women rose enormously.

In Kenya, I met women who were busy fetching water during six or seven hours a day. The drilling of a well brought a drastic change to their daily routine. And the drilling of the well within their village had also another effect: The girls of the village were finally allowed to go to school because they did not have to go for fetching water anymore. Water and education often go together. Long distances to watering holes often result in dramatically bad  educational opportunities, especially for girls.

In another place, in Kenya, too, I got to know what it means when there is no regular rainfall for several years. Wells dried up, less and less watering holes still had enough water for the cattle herds - an existential threat for the small farmers. The water rations of the families were restricted and the women were allowed to come to the watering holes only once a day.

In other places, I experienced that the providing with clean drinking water was only one side of the coin. Nearly as important as clean water is the availability of a sanitary basic provision. I still have in mind the disastrous effects of people’s using the same body of water for toilet and for drinking water provision.

In other places I meet with the question of drinking water once more in a completely different context. International groups of companies buy licenses to sell to the people their own water. They fill spring water from wells into bottles and sell it to the local people -at outrageous prices - even for our standards -so that only the wealthiest people can afford it. The profits are taken by big groups of companies with their head offices in Switzerland, France, the United States and other rich countries in this world.

But also I myself am involved in such kind of stories dealing with water. In Germany our daily water consumption on average comes to 130 liters  per person. In some African countries, people have to manage with just 10 liters. One day, it came to my mind that I do not just consume the water that comes from the tap in my home. I also consume water in other places of the world -where the things we import are produced. Before I can drink one cup of coffee, the production has already used 140 liters of water for it. The production of one pair of jeans takes 10.000 liters of water -most of it is needed to water the cotton fields. At the same time during the last years the water table sank dramatically, for example in India, the world's second biggest producer of cotton.

There could be told many more of such "water stories". Also the Bible tells stories dealing with water - and not without reason. The stories of the Bible take place in areas where water shortage again and again was an everyday experience. The absolute dependence on the gift of water was existential to the people of the Bible. So, it is not a coincidence that the Bible tells so many stories about water and wells, about the blessing of rain, about the dangers of drought, of torturing demand for water and quenched thirst. Especially impressive it gets told in the story of the wandering through the desert: God provides his people in a miraculous way with the vital water. Without that, it would have died in the desert.

And this is the belief of the biblical records in view of the water that all human-beings and all creation need to live: Water is a gift from God. "He sendeth the springs into the valleys, which run among the hills. They give drink to every beast of the field: the wild asses quench their thirst.” So tells us the Creation psalm (Psalm 104) in a beautiful way. That is why missions and development services expressed again and again that “water was a gift of God - not a good”.

So it goes without saying that this is our “mission”, our task, to have a part in it: It has to be made clear and we have to play our part in this matter, that water is a basis for our livelihood and thus a gift of God which is available to the whole mankind.

This starts with ourselves: How conscious are we about the gift of creation, the water? How do we use it? Do we know about the global contexts we are involved in by doing so? We do not live on an island with sufficient water for us and from where we can disregard the rest. And it also implicates the question if we are conscious about the fact that for many other people in this world it is absolutely not natural to have access to sufficient clean water and adequate sanitary facilities.

In my opinion this is a substantial task of the church to make sure that people get and remain conscious about these contexts. This happens in different ways by working with adults, children or youths. We take this responsibility through the work of our ecumenism desk. For several years, the topic of "water" was one of the main topics. Many years ago, the Lippische Landeskirche organized a big festivity of partnership exactly on this topic. People of the different partner churches came together to work together on the topic and to exchange about the situation in their own country and to strengthen and encourage each other. And this has its effects on us. Many people are strongly committed against privatization of water supply, since water can never be merchandise.

By supporting our Missions and development services as churches, we contribute to the mission of bringing access to clean water to all human-beings. The institutions are supporting it on a political level.  And this commitment should not be underestimated. Since there are many active together in this field, results can be seen. Meanwhile the UN has approved the right for clean water access as a human right. Many people have fought for a long time to make this important step possible. Criticism against a privatization of water supply is growing. A lot happens, though there remain still many steps to go.

And our commitment also involves the practical support of projects that give people access to clean water. So many wells could have been drilled for example in Togo because people in our churches support the projects.

So, it gets clear: Water is a gift from God and everyone has a right to it. That is our mission!

Dietmar Arends