USA (MNN) — For Gary Edmonds of Food for the Hungry, World Water Day isn’t merely an observation of the need for clean, safe drinking water. He and his teams around the world address the critical shortage of water and all that it impacts by providing tangible solutions saturated in partnership and faith.
“We know that water is really a life-saving source for people,” shares Edmonds. “I’ve watched women and young children spending two to four hours a day literally walking to try to find water. They barely have enough for themselves. You’ve got to also help get water for livestock, or you’re trying to water very meager crops. Water becomes part and parcel of survival.”
Solutions through Partnership
When it comes to finding solutions to water shortages in some of the most heavily impacted areas in Africa — like northern Kenya, Sudan, Ethiopia, and Mozambique — Food for the Hungry is part of a most unique team.
Edmonds explains, “We are active members of the Millennium Water Alliance. There are different governments, different international bodies that have come together to say water is essential. With that, very small sums of money come together from governments. With USAID, the U.S. Government contributes, but other groups from around the globe engage as well. We work with governments, with non-government groups like the U.N., and with specific agencies and organizations that specialize in water.
“We are funded to build water sources and water systems in communities of people with whom we’re working in highly-drought impacted environments. We help these people get access to water — it might be a water reservoir, it might be bore holes, it might be wells, retention ponds — so when they do get rain it simply doesn’t just wash away. But we’re doing more. We’re helping them to have a sustainable water source.”
Edmonds continues, “We partner with a group called Healing Waters. Healing Waters comes into these kind of environments and builds water purification systems. So it’s not simply a matter of access to water, but it’s pure water that can be used for drinking purposes, water that can be used for human consumption. With the Healing Waters organization, they’ll come in and put in purification systems and then in the process will work with the local people to help them set up a water commission to take responsibility, not only for establishing the water sources, but for managing those sources and maintaining them so the water remains available to all of the people of a community.”
Food for the Hungry, working with the Millennium Water Alliance, has impacted more than 300,000 people in the most drought-stricken areas of Africa.
Edmonds laughs when asked if he and the team receive significant funding from participating governments. “I’d like to think we receive bucket loads of money, but right now for example, foreign aid is less than one percent of the total U.S. budget. So, it’s a small sum of money for foreign aid. And then out of that less than one percent less actually goes to water and water-related issues.
“But what we have learned and what we have found is that when governments come in, they realize an organization like Food for the Hungry has on-the-ground relationships critical to establishing water projects and being able to set up water commissions. The government comes and recognizes they need us to establish these kinds of water systems that will be sustainable amongst the poor and the vulnerable around the globe. The governments have given us a lot of kudos. They say, ‘When you go in and you build those kind of relationships — relationships of trust with the local people — we know the grants we give to you will go far. You’ll empower the local people, you’ll work with local leadership.’”
He says, “Food for the Hungry not only works with governments, but the ministry also actively seeks out church leaders, education leaders, and those in the community who are directly involved in the oversight of family units.
Offering Transcendent Solutions
There are those who might wonder if working with governments limits Food for the Hungry’s ability to share the Gospel. It’s a common question for Edmonds to hear, and one he enjoys answering.
“We want to be able to witness to the Gospel in both word and deed. When you’ve got desperate people, vulnerable people, one of the adages used is that an empty belly has no ears. When people are desperate, simply trying to survive, [and] if we’re not practically meeting their physical needs in very practical ways, then they have no ears to listen to us.
“When we work with these people, we let them know unashamedly that we come in as a people whom God has called. We are following Jesus. We want to be able to share those kind of values, those kind of motivations. We’ll often tell Biblical stories – we’ll tell the story of the Good Samaritan, for example, and say, ‘We have listened, we have heard your cry at this point, and we believe God has actually sent us to work among you.’ The people perk up, they start to listen. They’ll begin to explore and ask the questions. They want to know what the source is to our care.
Edmonds reflects, “Someone came up to me and asked, ‘Where did you learn these kind of truths?’ And I said, ‘Let me take you to the Bible. Have you heard about the teachings of Jesus?’ And they said, ‘Yes, but I don’t know them.’ And I said, ‘Well, let’s talk about it – talk about how Jesus was concerned with the physical needs of people.’
“In this way, people are introduced to a kind of Jesus who cares for them in the whole of life. I tell my team we want to work in such a way so the solutions we bring are transcendent solutions. They’re not simply just good technical solutions, they’re not only just meeting the physical or social needs of the people, but they’re transcendent in that they’re tied to the bigger picture of what God is doing in the advance of His Kingdom and in His desire to be glorified in these kind of environments. Jesus said, ‘May the people see your good works and glorify the Father of Heaven.’ And so we do it with that kind of a mindset, we do it with that kind of a desire.”
Approximately 98 percent of Food for the Hungry’s staff is local to the communities served by the ministry. Because they are serving neighbors, they can also share the Gospel in a relevant and meaningful way.
Edmonds says, “We are not bringing in a Western faith, so they are able to communicate based on their own journeys. And what we’re seeing time and time again is that people start to ask questions, begin to glorify the Father, be exposed to biblical truth in a way that comes to them because we’re meeting the physical and practical needs of those people.”
You can be part of Food for the Hungry’s efforts in drought-stricken areas by donating to their ongoing work, sponsoring a child, or engaging as a church in partnership. All the details are on their website.