Deep river, living waters
By Yvonne Hileman
The pathos of the African American spiritual “Deep River” defines the theme for the second day of the Churchwide Gathering, Thursday, July 19. An excellent recording of the spiritual was accompanied by an interpretive dance in which the dancer, carrying an empty urn, made supplicatory gestures, as if seeking water to fill her urn. As the first plenary speaker noted (and the second and the third, too), for much of the world’s population, the water is deep but not accessible. There is, at times, too much water. There is, at the same time, too little.
After Cassandra Carmichael spoke about widespread pollution and the personal choices for avoiding toxins, Kathy Angi, teaching elder and former mission coworker in Hungary, spoke of solutions. She began by saying, “God has created a good creation. In this creation, water is cleaned through a natural cycle, trickling through sand and soil, which remove debris, to rock and bacteria that remove contaminants, to springs, lakes and rivers.” She went on to talk about what has happened in the area of eastern Europe where she worked as a mission coworker.
“In the western part of Ukraine, a very large country in eastern Europe, is an area called Carpath-Ukraine. Nine times in the last 100 years, the citizens there have changed citizenships, because of redrawn borders after wars and the fall of the Soviet Union. Little money has been invested by any of those governments. Though rich in minerals and fertile farmland, the soil has been left contaminated by chemicals left from mining. Water has been contaminated.” A large government investment would make an important difference, she said, “but that is a tall order.” It will take hundreds of years for the natural cycle to cleanse the earth of the contaminants left by mining. “In the meantime, people and animals suffer.”
As a partial solution, Kathy said the Presbyterian Church is placing clean water systems in communities not served with government infrastructure. “We are called to prepare the way of the Lord,” she said.
Pix Mahler, mission coworker in Haiti, further demonstrated how use and abuse of God’s creation causes suffering to God’s children. She opened with Psalm 46:1–5, which speaks of the river of hope, then she let “my sister Haiti, who is wrapped in hope” speak for herself. Haiti spoke through a powerful slide presentation, in which she said of water: “There is too much, there is too little; it is too fast, it is too expensive.” She spoke of her people, her “children” who are poor and thirsty, because Haiti’s riches have been abused and misused.
Haiti told of her Arawak children who were killed when European colonialists arrived. She told of her foster children who arrived from Africa, then were enslaved. Haiti was fought over by competing nations, but finally claimed independence. “I have 9 million children and half of them have no clean water. Waterborne diseases lurk. Dehydration kills quickly. The greedy took the trees. Now the few trees that are left are cut for charcoal. Now, rains make floods.
“When the rains do not come, my children must make deep wells. When the wells fail, my children must depend on the rivers. And many wells and water systems have been damaged by earthquakes. My hills need trees.”