Short-term missionaries to Africa provide for physical and spiritual needs through water and medical ministries.
If there is one irrefutable basic human need, it’s water. For Greenville, SC-based Water of Life Ministries (givefreshwater.org), providing access to clean drinking water for those who have none is both an earthly mission statement and a calling from God.
In Liberia, West Africa, more than a decade’s worth of civil wars has left the country with a dilapidated infrastructure and almost no reliable source of good water. According to Roland Bergeron, founder and president of Water of Life, even Monrovia, Liberia’s capital with roughly one million residents, lacks an operating water system.
Volunteers like Bergeron, who has spent the last six years leading groups on more than 30 short-term mission trips to Africa, aim to change this. Groups that partner with Water of Life spend nearly 12 days living in a village, drilling rigs, building and repairing wells and running medical clinics.“Water ministry is something tangible you can do for people,” Bergeron says. “It is one of the basic necessities of life, relieves suffering quickly and turns out to be a great platform to spread the Gospel.”
A heart for Liberia
Southside Fellowship of Greenville, SC, has a heart for Africa partly because one of its members grew up in Liberia and wanted to mobilize the congregation to serve there. This mobilization grew into a church-wide ministry focus called LAMP (Liberia-Africa Mission partnerships), which aligned itself with several organizations including Water of Life and samaritan’s purse, to send a steady stream of groups to Liberia.
Kerry Buttram, pastor for global outreach at Southside Fellowship, says their groups tend to focus on two areas: providing safe drinking water and healthcare. Since 2006 the church has sent seven teams; Buttram led the most recent trip in november 2008.
“Our team worked in four villages conducting Community Health Education (CHE) classes for 160 people,” he says. “Each CHE class includes a health/hygiene lesson and a Bible story. We also came prepared to conduct four mobile medical clinics and support the Water of Life well rehabilitation team that works to clean and repair wells in each community.
”Medical and water ministries work hand-in-hand to bring health to a community. Healthcare clinics help the sick become well, and access to good water prevents those who are well from becoming sick.
“Bad” or contaminated water causes an astounding number of Liberians’ health problems. “When a community has bad water they spend a lot of their time being sick,” says Bergeron. “Most of the population has suffered from diarrhea for as long as they can remember. All sorts of intestinal problems arise, and bad water is the primary method of transmission for cholera, a disease that can and does kill quite a few people.”
A new well and access to clean drinking water considerably improves the health of a community. “When we clean up the water supply you wouldn’t believe the amount of illness that disappears almost immediately,” he says. “Infant mortality decreases and sickness rates drop significantly.”
Physical and spiritual health
Water of Life typically brings medical professionals to set up and run healthcare clinics in addition to building new rigs for the villagers.“The need is so great for these services,” Bergeron explains. “If there are 300 people living in the village, I guarantee at least 300, usually 400 people will show up to be treated because word spreads to surrounding communities.”
Common issues medical volunteers treat in Liberia include everything from chronic diseases such as high blood pressure, cancer, heart failure, asthma and diabetes, to common conditions like diarrhea and dehydration.
“Probably what we treat more than anything else is malaria, which is endemic to Liberia,” says Bergeron. “The estimate is that 50 percent of the people have malaria as we speak, and the other 50 percent is just about to get it.” The clinics also stitch people up, clean wounds and administer antibiotics. Bergeron says if they find someone that is seriously ill, they transport them to Monrovia and get them checked into a hospital for treatment, always free of charge.
Buttram explains that the experience can be overwhelming when volunteers are dealing with situations that could mean life or death for other people. “As a missions pastor, I was deeply moved to see God using the people on our team to incarnate Jesus’ love to broken, hurting people. When our medical volunteers are thrown into tough situations where there are limited resources, there’s a great opportunity to utterly depend on God.”
Water and medical ministries meet physical needs. But volunteer groups from Water of Life and Southside Fellowship are interested in more than the physical.
“God commands us to meet physical needs,” Bergeron says. “But meeting a physical need with no attention to the spiritual is not what our group is interested in. We use the physical as a platform for the spiritual; it earns us the right to be heard.” Buttram believes the spiritual benefits are not limited to the Liberians but extend to volunteers as well. “A short-term mission to Africa can be a transformational experience, especially as one gets to know the stories of our African friends. Nearly every Liberian we met has experienced tremendous hardship. Our team members return home with a new perspective on what the essentials of life really are. these people are no longer statistics, they are friends and family.”