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LIFE in Focus

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It was so quiet you could hear a pin drop—until our youth pastor’s wife quietly began to sing “I’ve got a river of life flowin’ out of me . . .” Within moments, the entire youth group exploded into song, much too loudly for midnight in a hotel room but an appropriate ending to a soul-stirring day.

My husband Peter and I, C&MA missionary candidates serving at Fairlane Alliance Church in Dearborn, Michigan, were honored to chaperone our youth group to LIFE 2010, the C&MA’s national youth conference in Louisville, Kentucky. Eighteen youth and six leaders from our church spent six amazing days together listening to challenging speakers and worshipping with 6,500 others from around the world.

One day stands out in particular. Our youth group had participated in The Project Experience, a walk-through event mediated by C&MA missionaries, detailing the extreme poverty of the Third World, the horrors of human trafficking and the overindulgence of American culture. We learned that almost half of the people of Burkina Faso, Africa, are severely malnourished. More than half have no access to clean water. Some women and children walk three to five miles a day to bring back just a few gallons of clean water for their families. (In America, we each use an average of 100 gallons of water a day.) By the time Pete Brokopp, Alliance international worker, shared with us that, because of malnourishment and disease, one in every three children does not live to age 10, I had dissolved into tears. Once again, renewed passion to minister overseas flooded my heart.

That evening, Pete told a stadium full of now-somber youth about a man he had met in a rural Burkina village. This leader had begged the missionaries to come back, but there was no guarantee they would be able to return. Pete estimated that residents in nearly a thousand villages had never even heard the name of Jesus Christ. And with one child dying of starvation every five seconds, many would never have the chance. We gathered in groups of three or four to pray. I fervently asked God to break our hearts for these men, women and children—and that we would not flippantly shrug off the plight of people a world away. Jesus died for these villagers. Two other youth in my group, including Sam, a high school junior, tearfully joined in praying for the people of Burkina.

After the session, as we had done all week, our youth group gathered in one small hotel room to process the events of the day. It was late. We soberly sat with our eyes fixed on Sam. He stood in the corner of the room sobbing uncontrollably. Our youth pastor, Andrew, encouraged Sam to share his heart with the group. “We can’t just sit here and do nothing! We have to build a well,” he cried. Moved by the Spirit of God, Sam challenged our group to raise the $6,000 needed to build a well in Burkina Faso. Our youth had raised $14,000 over the course of one year to send 24 members to LIFE—$6,000 seemed a drop in the bucket.

Sam’s heartfelt plea led others to pour out their hearts to God in prayer, identifying their struggles and praising God for the renewal He was granting them as a result of the conference. As Pastor Andrew closed our time together, a hushed silence fell over the room. Emily, Andrew’s wife, began to sing, and the words of the song took on new meaning: “Spring up, O Well, within my soul. Spring up, O Well, and make me whole. Spring up, O Well, and give to me that life abundantly.”

The issue in America is not access to clean water. There is plenty of it. If someone were to die of thirst, it would be solely because of refusal to drink rather than lack of access. Americans also have ample access to the Living Water—Jesus is preached through radio, television, internet, books, movies, with churches on every corner. A Bible is a buck at the dollar store. Here it is not about access, but again a refusal to drink of all that Jesus offers.

In other countries, people are dying because they do not even have access to clean water. Sometimes their only source is teeming with disease. They need water—clean water. James 2 echoed in my mind as I walked through The Project Experience: “Suppose a brother or sister is without clothes and daily food. If one of you says to him, ‘Go, I wish you well, keep warm and well fed,’ but does nothing about his physical needs, what good is it? In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action is dead.” Our faith must drive us to GIVE out of our abundance in and from Christ. I reflected to our call overseas in 2002: “How can they believe in the one of whom they have not heard? And how can they hear without someone preaching to them? And how can they preach unless they are sent? As it is written, ‘How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news!’” (Rom. 10:14–15) The people of Burkina Faso also need access to the Living Water. As followers of Christ, we must PRAY and SEND. Others must GO. WE must go.

In our first well project fundraiser at the beginning of August, our youth group proclaimed the needs of Burkina Faso to hundreds at our booth at the Dearborn Homecoming street festival. Many fellow believers, Muslim neighbors and others who refuse “to love the truth and so be saved” (2 Thess. 2:10) participated in our own Project Experience, as our youth shared with them the heart-breaking statistics about Burkina and our mission to build a well there. Many people, including Muslims, were touched by our mission and gave toward the well. We not only told them about the project but also gave them information about the Living Water. We pray that the money we raise will enable the people of Burkina to have access to both clean water and the Living Water, too. May all of them in both Dearborn and Burkina thirst for Jesus Christ and ask Him to “Spring up, O Well, within my soul… and give to me that life abundantly.”

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