Living Water steps into the background, lets the local church take over

By May 15, 2012

Uganda (MNN) — Time and time again well-intentioned missions organizations have teetered on the edge of providing too much, too easily for poverty-stricken communities, robbing them of their self-dependency. It's a fine line to walk when a ministry wants to help a community physically but also wants to them to take pride in rebuilding on their own.

Living Water International has struggled over this very dilemma. A ministry that enters communities to provide clean water via wells and other sources could easily waltz in, drill a well, share the Gospel, and leave. But LWI wanted to be a part of a much larger picture than one well and a drive-by sermon could provide.

It's been nearly two months since LWI introduced a more holistic, community-focused program to the public. In the last year, the ministry revisited some of its first projects in Uganda, communities applied, and LWI accepted about five or six to introduce a new program. (There's more information on the start of the program here.)

The project has been running for a while now, not just addressing water issues, but health, education, evangelism, and more. The interesting thing has been to watch LWI sit in the background as they've handed the reins to the local church.

An LWI church coordinator has gathered pastors from across denominations in each community to help think and speak for the people there.

"It shows that the church cares. It shows that the church works. It's one thing for the church to talk a good game, but it's another thing for them to actually walk the walk and play a good game," says LWI's Mark Retzloff. "When we attach the Gospel to the work that we're doing, it positions the church as the source of this good work instead of positioning Living Water as doing it."

Having the church at the forefront of change makes all the difference for the Gospel message. People are able to see Christ's love in action. In addition, the local connection causes people to grab on like they never would with LWI.

"When Living Water's doing it, it's this American, paternal hand-out, like we're just giving them something," explains Retzloff. "When it's the church doing it, we see the community owning the work."

And that's exactly what has happened in the last few months. Communities are taking ownership of this transformative project.

"They raise money to repair the wells as needed. Eventually they'll raise money to have their own wells built as they need them. We're seeing financial responsibility blossom. We're seeing evangelism blossom," Retzloff says.

School attendance is up, church attendance is up, and communities are starting to transform from the inside out. The Ugandan project is almost fully funded, but it seems to be exactly what LWI was looking for. Now the ministry is looking to reproduce this community model in other countries in which it works. If you want to get involved, do so by using your voice or by helping financially. There's more information at

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