PMA ministries work for safe water in the U.S. and around the world
May 19, 2017
In response to water-related crises around the globe, Presbyterian Mission Agency (PMA) ministries are working at home and abroad to help bring safe drinking water to the 663 million people who lack it.
In places as diverse as Flint, Michigan, and Huancavelica, Peru, PMA ministries seek to ensure that communities have access to safe and abundant water. The efforts in Michigan and Peru are made possible via funds from the One Great Hour of Sharing annual offering received by most Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) congregations on Palm Sunday or Easter Sunday.
A lead-contaminated water system in Flint precipitated a major health crisis and is an ongoing national news story. In 2016, members of Presbyterian Disaster Assistance’s national response team began working with the Presbytery of Lake Huron to aid the traumatized community. PDA’s efforts have included:
- helping to distribute emergency water supplies, filters and filter replacements;
- resourcing community education efforts to raise awareness about lead poisoning and its treatments;
- identifying and reaching at-risk homes and families;
- working with community response efforts and hospitals to fund community health resources that monitor at-risk individuals;
- supporting spiritual care and reconciliation;
- assisting Presbyterian congregations as they test for and remedy lead contamination in their own physical plants.
“For the congregation to hear that the national church is interested and taking time to take part in this, that speaks volumes,” says the Rev. Paul Ytterock, associate pastor of First Presbyterian Church of Flint.
“It’s one thing to read about it in the Book of Order — that we are connectional — but to live it is amazing,” says the Rev. Desiree Lawson, pastor of Trinity United Presbyterian Church. “People are still calling wanting to know how we are doing. It makes me even more glad that I’m Presbyterian.”
While failure of local public infrastructure caused contaminated water in Flint, global climate change plays a large role in a water shortage in Huancavelica.
Alpaca farmers in Peru contend with parched grazing land and contaminated groundwater brought about by environmental degradation. (Photo courtesy of the Presbyterian Hunger Program)
In a conversation with alpaca farmers about installing an irrigation system, Presbyterian mission co-worker the Rev. Jed Koball learned that the system alone would not solve the problem of the parched pastureland that surrounds Huancavelica. The farmers pointed him to the issues that threaten their livelihoods: Mountain icecaps that feed springs and lakes to the north are receding due to climate change, corporate farms on the desert coasts are piping water down the mountains, and mining activity is contaminating the groundwater.
“Global warming is the greatest threat humans have ever faced,” Koball says. “Communities like this are feeling it right now.”
Koball works with Joining Hands Peru, a ministry of the Presbyterian Hunger Program that links churches and other organizations in Peru with U.S. congregations. They work together on issues of hunger, poverty and environmental degradation. The long-term solutions that Joining Hands seeks in Huancavelica and elsewhere necessitate involvement in the public policy arena, Koball says. “We are learning about and participating in public policy discussions at the local, national and even global levels.”
In the Philippines, Koball’s mentor in mission, Cobbie Palm, helps manage the Silliman Water Ministry, a service arm of Presbyterian-founded Silliman University. When Koball served as a Young Adult Volunteer (YAV) 20 years ago, Palm coordinated the YAV site in the Philippines. That role is now shared by Palm and his wife, Dessa.
The Silliman Water Ministry helps communities develop sustainable water sources, and it trucks emergency water supplies to communities when their water systems fail.
Two years ago, Silliman helped Balili, Valencia, a community in the foothills of the Cuernos Mountains, avert a disaster. A prolonged dry season had depleted the springs that supply most of the community’s water.
Rosalina, a mother and community leader, organized Balili’s women into a task force to distribute the water Silliman delivered. “Organizing our women, particularly the mothers, is not difficult,” she told Palm. “That’s because our hearts ache when we look into the eyes of our children. They are thirsty, they are hungry, and we feel for them deeply.”
In Africa, mission co-worker Jim McGill has helped communities address water and sanitation issues for more than 20 years. McGill and his wife, Jodi, have ended service in Malawi and will soon move to Niger to continue their work. Jim, who holds a master’s degree in geological engineering, will serve alongside the Evangelical Church of the Republic of Niger. He will also travel to South Sudan to work with the Presbyterian Church of South Sudan in its water and sanitation efforts. Jodi, a nurse, will teach at a new nursing school in Niger.
“Lives in many Malawian communities have been changed thanks to the work Jim and Jodi have done with our Malawian partners,” says the Rev. Debbie Braaksma, Presbyterian World Mission’s coordinator for Africa. “I look forward to seeing what God will do through them and our partners in Niger and South Sudan.”
Pat Cole, communications specialist, Mission Engagement and Support
Today’s Focus: One Great Hour of Sharing – Safe and Abundant Water Around the World
Let us join in prayer for:
First Presbyterian Church of Flint Staff
Joseph A. Novak, pastor/head of staff
Paul Ytterock, associate pastor
Angie Field, director of Children and Family Ministries
Jim Pope, director of Youth Ministries
Vicky Brownell, administrative assistant, Operations
Dennis Goodman, facilities manager
Trinity United Presbyterian Church Staff
PC(USA) Agencies’ Staff
Let us pray:
Gracious God, we give thanks for those moments when we can see the fruit of the work we undertake in your name. We are so grateful that new life can arise from loss, and possibility from disaster. We thank you for those who give of themselves so that others might have hope. Amen.