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Watch What You Drink

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I can remember only one time in my life when I desperately needed some water. I was 16 years old and living in Hong Kong with my parents, who were missionaries there with the C&MA for 51 years. Hong Kong, contrary to the thinking of most people, has more steep mountainous terrain than it does city areas, and I loved to hike.

Two friends and I were on a four-day hike, and in the blazing heat, we had run out of water. We started to get dizzy, and our lips became cracked to the point where we could not speak. We were desperate, but the streams were bone dry.

We rounded a corner on the trail, and there was a rice paddy with about a foot of water in it. The race was on to get our packs off so we could drink. I lay on my back and let the precious, life-sustaining water seep into the sides of my locked lips. It was wonderful. I could not get enough of it. The bright sun was hurting my shut eyes, but the paddy water was slowly putting life back into my thirst-ravished body. Slowly, my lips opened, and I could gulp the water down and speak. We congratulated each other like men who had just discovered oil on the farm. We were ingesting life itself. The strength to carry on slowly crept back into our thumping chests, and we were ready to continue our hike.

I had learned the meaning of the word “thirst,” but I was soon to learn the meaning of the phrase “wrong water.”

Several days after returning home and telling everyone I knew about the meaning of real thirst, I started to notice that my skin was turning yellow, and the whites of my eyes looked more like egg yokes. I started to get weaker, and although I tried to hide the symptoms, my parents soon noticed. The doctor confirmed that I had “yellow jaundice,” which one generally gets in Hong Kong from drinking “bad” water. I confessed my paddy field experience and was placed in bed, where I remained for almost three months. It was a miserable experience. I could not bear bright light, eat anything, talk, smile—I was one sick boy.

Hong Kong had a serious water problem. Our missionary residence had water every fourth day for four hours, during which we filled every receptacle in the house. We boiled our drinking water for two hours in order to kill anything that might harm us. We captured every drop of rain water, BUT we were careful what we drank.

I have learned a lot about thirst and water across the world in the years since that terrible experience. I have seen the joy of a village when the drilling produced the first clean water they had ever seen. I was there after the storm when water filters were introduced to provide clean water for an entire community. I was in a desperately poor section of Nairobi when a lady slipped and her foot went into the “water” in a ditch. Panic took over as they were desperate to wash her feet and throw away her shoes.“Water can kill you, they declared.” I have been desperate to keep a baby quiet on a 15-hour flight only to discover that all he wanted was a drink. He was thirsty.

Aren’t we all? We are born thirsty. Psalm 42 reads: “As the deer pants for streams of water . . .,” and I now understand the full meaning. That insatiable panting is from God, but watch how you satisfy it and what water you “pant” for. Drink the wrong water and you think that you will satisfy your God-given thirst—but it can be lethal. Seek Jesus and never thirst again. But, as the pitchmen say on TV, call right now and we will double the offer. This promise of living water gets even better. Listen to this: “If anyone is thirsty, come to me and drink. Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, streams of living water will flow from within him’” (John 7:37–38).

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