Many in Blantyre draw water directly from small creeks and streams, city water not commonly available in many townships and private wells (bore holes) too expensive for all but the wealthy. The water so drawn is used for bathing, washing clothes, and drinking. Apart from the inconvenience, sourcing water in this way would not be problematic, if the water were clean. Yet, like many third world countries, domestic water sources are often contaminated. This leads to enormous health concerns, as many Malawians suffer from water borne illnesses due to the dirty water. Many the NGOs and Church groups active in Blantyre are working to address the shortage of clean water by drilling wells and installing pumping equipment.
The first pictures are of the springs high on Mount Soche providing the water many of our members and their neighbors use:
These are not alpine springs flowing directly from underground waterways and chasms.
Not surprisingly, the water gets dirtier as it flows downstream and gets closer to town.
As you can see from the next two photos, the pollution problems become more acute the closer the water gets to the townships:
We expect people generally boil the water before drinking it, but do not adhere to the same sanitary precautions when the water is used for washing, laundry and other purposes.
It was against this backdrop that I recently re-read the fourth chapter of John, when Jesus meets the Samarian woman at the well. Thirsty, Jesus asks of the woman a drink of water. She is startled by the request, for the Jews were disdainful of the Samarians and avoided contact with them. Jesus then offers up his idiomatic reply: “If thou knewest the gift of God, and who it is that saith to thee, Give me to drink; thou wouldest have asked of him, and he would have given thee living water.” (John 4: 10) Like each of us, Jesus needed water; it was the source of life. The well in Samarian likely produced water as sandy and dirty as the spring atop Mount Soche. But nonetheless, that water was vital to sustaining life and restoring those parched with thirst. Jesus was not contemptuous of that. The body has its own demands that cannot be ignored. There is however a greater need—the need for the word of God—for that which gives eternal life. “Whosoever drinketh of this water shall thirst again: But whosoever drinketh of the water that I shall give him shall never thirst; but the water that I shall give him shall be in him a well of water springing up into everlasting life.” (John 4: 13-14)
One sees here an echo of Jesus’s reply to Satan when first tempted after forty days and nights of fasting. “And when he had fasted forty days and forty nights, he was afterward a hungred. And when the tempter came to him, he said, If thou be the Son of God, command that these stones be made bread. But he answered and said, it is written, Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of God.” (Matt 4: 2-4) In an impoverished country like Malawi, the needs of the body appear, at times, to overwhelm everything else. Many of those we meet are struggling to earn their daily bread; not surprisingly they focus upon the here and now; upon getting piecework to support their families; upon finding whatever edge they can to get ahead. Dishonesty and petty theft are a way of life among almost everyone. They see us, and indeed all westerners, as a potential source of money and aid. And while charity is certainly a part of our calling, it is really charity of a kind different than they expect—indeed, charity different than what they want and what they think they need. It is the full commitment of ourselves--the giving of our "heart, mind, might and strength"--to them and their welfare in such a way as to encourage or lead them to embrace the word of God. Whatever else we give will have little lasting effect.
In the “bread of life” passages of John 6, those of the House of Israel Jesus taught spoke of their fathers: “Our fathers did eat manna in the desert: as it is written, He gave them bread from heaven to eat.” (John 6: 31) But, while that bread was indeed necessary for sustaining the body, it was alone not enough. “Your fathers did eat manna in the wilderness, and are dead. This is the bread which cometh down from heaven, that a man may eat thereof, and not die. I am the living bread….” (John 6: 50-51) One cannot despise the bread of the body. Without it life is not possible. But in the end, only the true “word of God”-- the principles of the restored gospel—give eternal life, supplying the “living water” or the “bread of life.”