Water to Thrive is a faith-based non-profit, and as we visit the countries and communities where we have worked to bring the blessing of clean, safe water, we reflect on each day’s journey with an evening devotional. You can follow those devotionals with the full set here.
Celebrating Wells of Love – Triumphant Love Lutheran Church
Honoring the Spiritual Leadership of TLLC’s Pastoral Staff
A Devotional to Accompany Travelers While In Ethiopia, May 26-June 6, 2016
Written by Pastor Norb Firnhaber
The Ethiopian people and their crying need for fresh water became even more clear via a Bible class at Triumphant Love Lutheran Church in 2007. The commitment and compassion of many people both in our country and in Ethiopia have enabled more than a quarter million people to drink and cook and bathe and worship with clean water. We are grateful for the privilege to be involved with this sanctified effort especially when contaminated water is the chief cause of sickness in this remarkable land.
Jim Sorensen wrote three devotional booklets for previous trips. His experience and expertise with the people of Ethiopia made for some informative reflections. I have not been to this remarkable land, but have shared the gladsome journey of Water to Thrive the past nine years. This trip is intended to honor the TLLC pastoral staff in the 39 years of our congregation’s history.
May I quickly add, ministry is a mutual endeavor of committed and gifted laity working with its pastors. I have included with these daily reflections a paragraph from William Sloane Coffin and his book Credo. He was the chaplain of Yale University and minister of Riverside Church. He was also a critical voice of the church in issues of hunger and justice and peace. His writing feeds me and I hope you also experience similar nourishment. God’s compassion accompany us as we dig wells, meet new partners, become more aware, reflect together, and pray.
– Pastor Norb Firnhaber
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Day 1: En Route, Anticipating the Blessing of Water Wells
John 4:4-7, 13-14
But He had to go through Samaria. So he came to a Samaritan city called Sychar, near the plot of ground that Jacob had given to his son Joseph. Jacob’s well was there, and Jesus, tired out by his journey, was sitting by the well. It was about noon. A Samaritan woman came to draw water, and Jesus said to her, “Give me a drink.”
Jesus said to her, “Everyone who drinks of this water will be thirsty again, but those who drink of the water that I will give them will never be thirsty. The water that I will give will become in them a spring of water gushing up to eternal life.”
Jesus’ longest conversation in the Gospels with a woman married five times…she is also a despised Samaritan…the news of forgiveness goes beyond these bounds…she sits at a community well in this dry climate some 2100 years ago…Jesus continues the conversation to describe himself as “living water” that can slake the deep thirsts of our spirit.
“Am I my brother’s keeper? No, I am my brother’s brother or sister. Humanity is not something we are called upon to create, only to recognize. We all belong one to another. That’s the way God made us. Christ died to keep us that way. Our sin is only and always that we put asunder what God has joined together.” – Sloane Coffin
We are en route to Ethiopia, home to one of the earliest Christian communities. Some traditions even suggest Pontius and Procla Pilate became Christians here and are listed as saints. There are more than 100 million people; 62% Christian with two-thirds of them Orthodox; 34% is Muslim (mostly Sunni); some 80 language groups and one of oldest alphabets still in use in the world; 75% of country is poor; 300,000 children under five die every year; “black gold” is the coffee bean…its soothing use originated here; 850 kinds of birds; only one-third of population has access to improved water supply; biggest health problem is communicable diseases.
Surround us, O God, with safety as we journey to this land across our world. We thank you for the privilege of being able to assist in extracting precious water with our brothers and sisters. May our efforts speak to us about the Water of Life whom we know most clearly in the Risen One, Jesus Christ our Lord.
Day 2: We Explore Addis Ababa
Genesis 1:1-2, 6-7
In the beginning when God created the heavens and the earth, the earth was a formless void and darkness covered the face of the deep, while a wind from God swept over the face of the waters…And God said, “Let there be a dome in the midst of the waters, and let it separate the water from the waters.”
Water is from the beginning; an essential product in God’s creative design. Hydrogen and oxygen; so simple, so profound, and it was “good”. Prior to the forming of humanity, the words of God give shape and purpose to what was chaos. That continues today with Holy Baptism a prime example.
“One of my favorite stories concerns a beggar in sixteenth-century Paris who, desperately ill, was taken to the operating table of a group of doctors. In Latin, which they were sure he would not understand, the doctors said, ‘experiment in anima vile’ (Let us experiment on this vile fellow). The beggar, who was actually an impoverished student, later to become a renowned poet, Marc Antoine Muret, replied from the slab on which they had laid him, ‘Animam vilem appellas pro qua Christus non dedignatus mori est?’ (Will you call vile one for whom Christ did not refuse to die?)…If Christ did not refuse to die for any of us, who are we not to live for all of us?” – Sloane Coffin
Addis Ababa “new flower” or “natural springs”, home to three and a half million people is a mile-high city at 7,500 feet. The largest groups are the Amhara and Oromo people who mostly speak the Amharic language. The city a center for international diplomacy concerning Africa. UN Economic Commission for Africa in this large metropolis with an 80% literacy rate.
Bless our families and those we prepare to meet as we become more acquainted with a new land and culture. In Christ, Amen.
Day 3: To Lalibela and Living Rock
I Corinthians 10:2-4
“And all were baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea, and all ate the same spiritual food, and all drank the same spiritual drink. For they drank from the spiritual rock that followed them, and the rock was Christ.”
Paul uses more than 50 images to describe the Christ. The “Rock” is one of them. It is almost a parenthetical statement by Paul as he wants to replace the Corinthians’ idea of wisdom with Jesus being the primary instrument of forgiveness and life…rock is firm yet alive and beautifully portrayed with the concept of church…carved in these monolithic structures in the 12th and 13th centuries.
“He who is kind to the poor lends to the Lord.” Isn’t that a wonderful thought? If we voluntarily give of our surplus, and if we fight for justice, we are helping the poor, yes, but more than that: we are helping the Creator of heaven and earth; we are helping God with a loan! “He who is kind to the poor lends to the Lord.” And I leave it to your experience and imagination to surmise what the repayment of that loan might be, for “eye has not seen, nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of man, the things which God hath prepared for them that love him.” – Sloane Coffin
Lalibela is one of Ethiopia’s holiest cities with a population almost completely Ethiopian Orthodox and layout intended to be representation of Jerusalem. There are some 11 churches carved from “living rock”. The largest one called “House of the Savior of the world.” “Built on a rock the church shall stand; longing for life everlasting.” ELW #652.
May I continue lending to the Lord so that his holy work may be hastened through the clay and spirit of my life. In Christ. Yes.
Day 4: Axum, the Ark, and Mary
“Then he went down to Nazareth with them and was obedient to them. But his
mother treasured all these things in her heart.”
The Ark of the Covenant was the receptacle that carried objects representing
Israel’s faith and history, e.g. tablets of the commandments and manna and
Aaron’s rod. It was a portable throne of the presence of God; referred to in
some 200 references in the Old Testament. The Ark was seen as the closest
embodiment of the presence of God. It was the Holy of Holies in the Jerusalem
temple separated by a curtain, which Matthew describes as being torn at
the crucifixion, now direct access to the Holy through the Son of God. I include
the early Lucan passage of Mary because of its personal content as the
family returns to Nazareth…she dieterei…keeps and treasures these early
events in Jesus’ life…the Mary tradition is manifested in the Church of St.
Mary of Zion in the northern city of Axum…the Ark has been housed in this
church some 3,000 years.
“The world, of course, is in a frightful mess, but because of us, not because
of God. God could only clean up the mess by taking away our freedom. But
without freedom where could love be? So paradoxically, it is because God is
a loving God that there is somuch suffering too, and suffering also through
the bodies and souls of his creatures, which is why Paul writes, ‘For while
we live we are always being given up to death for Jesus’ sake.” – Sloane Coffin
Axum is one of oldest continuously inhabited places in Africa. Tradition says
St. Frumentius brought the Good News and converted the ruler. The son of
the Queen of Sheba and King Solomon, Menelik, grew up in Ethiopia and
traveled to Jerusalem and brought back the Ark. We join the many pilgrimages
coming to Axum.
Day 5: Partnership in Water
“For in him all things in heaven and on earth were created, things visible and
invisible, whether thrones or rulers or powers–all things have been created
through him and for him. He himself is before all things, and in him all
things hold together. He is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, so that he might come to have first place in everything. For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, and through him God was pleased to reconcile to himself all things, whether on
earth or in heaven, by making peace through the blood of his cross.”
For me this Scripture is one of the most profound statements about Christ
and his deity. Everything was created through Jesus Christ! He is not only a
fine teacher, he is “before all things.” Yes, not the second or third born as we
will be, but the firstborn from the dead! (Another exclamation mark! And
Easter shout!) Nothing less than the fullness of God lived in him. Each sentence
is both astounding and true. These people of the Relief Society of Tigray
are partners with us in helping to alleviate thirst in this part of God’s
world. This partnership is a precious kind of mutual ministry.
“Jesus is both a mirror to our humanity and a window to divinity, a window
revealing as much of God as is given mortal eyes to see. When Christians
see Christ empowering the weak, scorning the powerful, healing the wounded,
and judging their tormentors, we are seeing transparently the power of
God at work. What is finally important is not that Christ is Godlike, but that
God is Christ-like. God is like Christ. That’s what we need to know, isn’t it?
Then we know how to pray–“through Jesus Christ, our Lord,” who gives us
the right and confidence to pray the way we do.” – Sloane Coffin
We pray for all partnerships in life that, through Christ, expand our own efforts and life, even across our world, which Christ made.
Day 6: Holy Wells
“I am standing here by the spring of water; let the young woman who comes
out to draw, to whom I shall say, ‘Please give me a little water from your jar
to drink,’ and who will say to me, ‘Drink, and I will draw for your camels
also’–let her be the woman whom the Lord has appointed for my master’s
son. Before I had finished speaking in my heart, there was Rebekah coming
out with her water jar on her shoulder; and she went down to the spring, and
drew. I said to her, ‘Please let me drink.’ She quickly let down her jar from
her shoulder, and said, ‘Drink, and I will also water your camels.’ So I drank
and she also watered the camels.
And Rebekah becomes the wife of Isaac. Holy conversation around a well of
water that refreshes body and spirit. Some 3,000 years ago God’s design and
narrative becomes another beckoning of faith and purpose. And so it is today
as we see and ponder these wells. Water. Conversation. Hope. Life.
“The world with its triumphs and despairs, its beauty and ugliness, has today
moved next door to every one of us. Only spiritual deafness can prevent
our hearing the voice of God in the clamor of the cities. Only blindness of a
willful sort can prevent our seeing the face of the Risen Lord in the faces of
the suffering poor. The glory of God is the human race fully alive, and that
means at least minimally fed, clothed, and housed.” – Sloane Coffin
I am struck by the word oasis as it appears in our travelogue. A word of hope
and water and refreshment in an arid land. We see more TLLC funded wells
and places of history around the “holy city” of Axum. Queen Elizabeth II visited
here after the Church of Our Lady of Zion was rebuilt to fulfill her
pledge to Emperor Haile Selassie.
Prayer (from a Celtic Prayer Book):
“From the holy well of our faith and trust,
New hope for better days.
From the holy well of patience.
Endurance till better days come.“
Jesus, keeper of the holy wells,
Let us draw up energy.
Jesus, your well of love is deep.
Let us draw up healing. Amen.
Day 7: Faith and Water
Matthew 14: 26-33
“But when the disciples saw him walking on the sea, they were terrified, saying,
‘It is a ghost!’ And they cried out in far. But immediately Jesus spoke to
them and said, ‘Take heart, it is I; do. Not be afraid.’ Peter answered him,
‘Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water.’ He said, ‘Come.’
So Peter got out of the boat, started walking on the water, and came toward
Jesus. But when he noticed the strong wind, he became frightened, and beginning
to sink, he cried out, ‘Lord, save me!’ Jesus immediately reached out his
hand and caught him, saying to him, ‘You of little faith, why did you doubt?’
When they got into the boat, the wind ceased. And those in the boat worshiped
him, saying, ‘Truly you are the Son of God.'”
An unusual passage for this journey…Peter addresses him with “Lord” language
signaling divinity…how easily we begin to sink when our eyes get distracted
from the face of God…one of earliest references in the gospels to disciples actually worshiping Jesus and this time after experiencing rescue in the storm…their verbal expression in worship is the strong confession “you are the Son of God”…we know that a paucity of water or a storm of water both carry problems…in our journey we see again how our humble efforts with God can enable water to lift life…as we confess that Jesus is the Son of God!”
“In the best prophetic tradition Jesus stood for the relief and protection of
the poor and persecuted; for such use of the riches of creation that the world
might be freed from famine, poverty, and disaster. And in the best prophetic
tradition, he saw that the real troublemakers were not the ignorant and cruel,
but the intelligent and corrupt. In contrast to so many of today’s pulpiteers,
Jesus knew that ‘Love your enemies’ didn’t mean “Don’t make any!'” – Sloane Coffin
– Why does Jesus speak “fear not” more than any command?
– What is the shape of some of the large waves in our life?
– Why is loving the one who reduces my life not natural but truly supernatural?
Prayer (Iona Abbey Worship Book):
Look at your hands, see the touch and the tenderness.
Look at your feet, see the path and the direction.
Look at your heart, see the fire and the love.
Look at the cross, see God’s Son and our Saviour.
This is God’s world. And we will serve God in it.
Day 8: Pastoral Care and Mekele
Acts 8: 26-31
“Then an angel of the Lord said to Philip, ‘Get up and go toward the south to the road that goes down from Jerusalem to Gaza.’ (This is a wilderness road). So he got up and went. Now there was an Ethiopian eunuch, a court official of the Candace, queen of the Ethiopians, in charge of her entire treasury. He had come to Jerusalem to worship and was returning home; seated in his chariot, he was reading the prophet Isaiah. Then the Spirit said to Philip, ‘Go over to this chariot and join it.’ So Philip ran up to it and heard him reading the prophet Isaiah. He asked, ‘Do you understand what you are reading?’ He replied, ‘How can I, unless someone guides me?’ And he invited Philip to get in and sit beside him.”
It is difficult to travel Ethiopia and not choose a reading like this. In fact, the only other place where Ethiopia is mentioned in Scripture is in Jeremiah. Here is Philip, one of the seven deacons of the early Christian community, being summoned by a ranking Ethiopian official to teach and guide him. The reason he traveled the lengthy distance to Jerusalem … was to worship! And the Spirit also summons Philip. And he proceeds to instruct and guide this nobleman in the Good News of Isaiah. We can only surmise how this encounter affected the early Christ community in this large northern African land. And he invited Philip “to get in and sit beside him.” A whole book of pastoral ministry could be written about that phrase, not lording it over but “being with” – sharing life and faith and love…and lives being changed.
“Ponder the fact that all those conspicuously ‘called’ in the Bible — like Moses — were called through the voices, the sorrow of the poor. All the prophets responded to the voices of the oppressed. Think then of what we receive when we accept the invitation to become Good Samaritans. We receive our identity; we receive our life. Once again we ‘pass out of death into life because we love the brothers and sisters.’ Yes, indeed, as Saint Francis said, ‘It is in giving that we receive.'” – Sloane Coffin
We overnight again in Mekele, a city of 200,000 and over a mile high. Ninety
percent of the people are Ethiopian Orthodox. The city faces a severe water crisis. Numerous historic rock churches are in this region. We remember the pastors and faithful laity of Triumphant Love in the gifts they have provided to be the church of Jesus in our community and world. Today we inaugurated two additional water well projects honoring the mutual ministry given to us.
We praise God who gives us the privilege to be servants of the Gospel. Amen.
Day 9: For Little … Much
Matthew 14: 16-21
“Jesus said to them, ‘They need not go away so that they may go into the villages and buy food for themselves.’ They replied, ‘We have nothing here but
five loaves and the two fish.’ And he said, ‘Bring them here to me.’ Then he
ordered the crowds to sit down on the grass. Taking the five loaves and the
two fish, he looked up to heaven, and blessed and broke the loaves, and gave
them to the disciples, and the disciples gave them to the crowds. And all ate
and were filled; and they took up what was left over of the broken pieces,
twelve baskets full. And those who ate were about five thousand men, besides
women and children.”
A deep borehole in Gadamba is similar to five loaves and two fish in Galilee.
They both satisfy thirst and hunger for about 6,000 people each. By themselves
they have little effect. With the power of the Son of God working in
and among Galileans and Ethiopians…and us(!) we see blessings that help
with hunger and thirst—but take our breath away! This well is Water to
Thrive’s largest project. The bread and fish on a hillside and fresh H2O from
a borehole carry the spirit of the Eucharist: this is “for you” to see more
clearly the grace of God.
“When Jesus says, ‘Our Father, who art in heaven,’ I listen. Even during my
doubting days in college I listened, and carefully, because Jesus knew not
only more about God than I did–that was obvious; he also knew more about
the world. He could talk to me convincingly about living at peace in the
hands of love because he knew that the world lives constantly at war in the
grip of hatred. He could talk to me of light, and joy, and exultation, because I
knew that he himself knew darkness, sorrow, and death. That’s why, eventually,
Jesus became for me too my Lord and Savior, and that’s why I think it
right to say that the authority of the Lord’s Prayer stems from the reliability
of the source.” – Sloane Coffin
-Moments in life when the “small” bursts with power.
-Ponder the multiple nature of 6,000 watered and fed…and gifts we’ve experienced.
-How is the music and dance with sisters and brothers liturgical this eve.
Prayer (ELW Pastoral Care):
O God, full of compassion, be the goal of our pilgrimage. Give us
refuge from the turmoil of distractions beneath the shape of your wings. Let
our hearts, so often a sea of restless waves, find peace in you, through Jesus
Day 10: Mekane Yesus – The Church
I Corinthians 12:4-5, 12, 13
“Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit, and there are varieties of services, but the same Lord…For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ. For in the one Spirit we were all baptized into one body–Jews or Greeks, slaves or free–and we were all made to drink of one Spirit.”
It’s realities like more Lutherans in Africa than America or the Ethiopian Evangelical Church Mekane Yesus (almost six million) and the second largest Lutheran church in the world among some 65 Lutheran communities…then the concept of Christ’s Body, the Church embraces more time and places than my limited mind could absorb. And we are only a rather small portion of international Lutheranism. It keeps things in perspective. We have a unity with other Christians that is so much larger than our denomination or heritage. We were all baptized into one body. Yes, water again! It washes and forgives in the Spirit of Christ…and integrally connects us with Christ folk across cultures and our world. St. Paul, in his more limited world of 55 AD, had the right idea.
“So every church worthy of the name, Sunday in and Sunday out, must proclaim the Good News that Christ is the ‘lamb of God that taketh away the sins of the world,’ that ‘God was in Christ reconciling the world unto himself,’ and yes, that there is more mercy in God than sin in us. And just as in life, so in death ‘nothing can separate us from the love of God.’ We may not know what lies beyond the grave, but we know Who is there. Death is inevitable and death is awesome, but it is the fear of death that is its sting. Remove that fear, and there’s not a one of us that cannot say with Paul, ‘O death, where is thy sting?’ ‘O grave, where is thy victory?’ What could better symbolize the defeat of death than those tombs that God caused to open up even before Christ was laid in his own!” – Sloane Coffin
W2T has worked with this largest Lutheran church in Africa’s agency called the
Development and Social Services Commission. We have contracted with them to
dig wells here. The church makes clear that they are commissioned by the Gospel
of Jesus to meet both the spiritual and physical needs of people through what they call “Wholistic Ministry.” We are grateful for our kinship with the waters of wells and the waters of baptism. We board an airplane this evening and thank God for a new vision of mission…and we ask his holy angels to surround our travel home.
GRACE AND PEACE…through our Lord Jesus.