Tuesday, May 31, 2011

The Importance of Water

This is a picture of the water in our kitchen sink from a few days ago:

I have no idea how many times in my life have I read or heard the story of what we call “the woman at the well” from John chapter four. But although I’ve “studied” it dozens of times, I’ve received a bit more enlightenment about it in the past few months and find it frequently in the forefront of my mind. In this passage, Jesus encounters a Samaritan woman who has had five husbands and is presently living with a man to whom she is not married. He encounters her at a well and asks her for a drink. He then tells her that if she knew who He was, she would ask him for a drink of the living water which He has. He speaks to her of water that will become in one “a well of water springing up to eternal life.”

I’ve spent the last ten months in El Salvador. The small town where we live is fortunate to have a mayor that has seen to it that nearly every household has access to a “chorro” or water faucet within a short distance of the house. Most outlying areas have to rely on carrying water daily from either a natural spring, a community well, or from a river. In our town there are two different sources of water available: ANDA (a federal water source) or “el proyecto” water (treated with chlorine tablets and brought through a series of tubes from various springs). The ANDA water is of a better quality, but it comes at a monthly fee. The proyecto water is free after paying for an initial hook-up, but is known for being dirtier, more contaminated water. For our family’s stomachs, neither of these is an acceptable drinking option so we buy large bottles of water for drinking. Locals are forced to drink whichever of these is available at their house.

No matter which water source a home here has, water is only available for a limited time. Usually this means an hour or two every day or sometimes every other day. Because of this, the women plan their activities around water availability. Laundry is typically done in the morning—but only on the days when water is available. Water that is not needed at that time is kept either in barrels or in a “pila” (a concrete tank where most washing is done) so that when no new water is available, there will be water for washing and cleaning. Most homes also have various bottles or jugs filled with water for such times.

Water is precious. Without it, one cannot clean, or cook, or survive. The people here know how precious it is because they have known times without water. If one pipe breaks in the system that brings water to the community, it may take several days to repair it, depending on where the break is located. For the last few months the people who receive ANDA water have been rationing water because there is a leak in the pipes somewhere up the mountain and water is only available for about fifteen minutes a day, three or four days a week, and only with very low water pressure.

In our current home, we have a giant tank that holds 9000 liters of water. In this way, we should theoretically be able to always have plenty of water for cleaning, showering, and cooking. This water is brought into our house by a pump, operated by electricity. Therefore, when we have power outages (not at all uncommon) we have no water. And with eight people relying on this tank, it has at times become empty. On those occasions, we have to wait until a day and time when the local water source is ‘on’ in order to fill it.

Think back to the story from John chapter four of the Samaritan woman. Remember what Jesus told her? He told her that He had water that would become a well of water springing up to eternal life in someone. Those words didn’t use to have as much meaning to me as they do now. When you spend your whole life with clean water that’s as close as the kitchen sink, you don’t have an appreciation for a “well of water” and “never thirsting” do you? If you’ve never gone for days without a shower because there simply was no water, you don’t appreciate its cleansing abilities. If you’ve never carried a jug of water for a distance so that your family can have something to drink, you can’t appreciate its thirst-quenching abilities. If you’ve never had to use a strainer to get the impurities out of water before you can hand a still-cloudy glass of water to your child, you can’t appreciate the purity of a natural spring of water.

But this woman could appreciate the qualities of this water that was offered to her. She immediately asked Jesus to give her this water. I can only imagine her excitement that never again would she have to bear the weight of a jug of water as she hauled it up from the depths of the well and carried it to her house. She’d probably carried water for her family from the time she was young—this was the lot of women. And she likely had experienced times of limited water—when bathing was limited because there was only water for critical activities like drinking and cooking. This woman KNEW the value of what she was being offered. And she wanted it!

Of course, she found out that the water he was offering was not the same kind of water that she had originally imagined in her mind. She was still going to have to fetch water from the well every day, but she now had the promise of life eternal—a far better gift than she could have dreamed. She would still face times of drought in her life, when water was scarcely available, but through the tough times, she had a hope of a reward that could see her through them. And at the end of John 4, we see that she has been responsible for bringing a number of people to know Jesus. This sinful woman who found herself suddenly in the presence of Christ, the Redeemer, had become an evangelist herself.

This same water that Jesus offered to the Samaritan women is still available today. It is free of impurities. It is never-ending. It is free of charge. And it is always available to everyone. Pure drinking water is important, but of even more importance is making everyone is offered the "living water" of Jesus.


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