Liberian Objectives in Sight
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The joint project is unique, according to AG world missionary Gaylord M. Brown, 65, who serves in West Africa with his wife, Fredna. Brown says he hasn’t had such an opportunity in his 14 years in Africa.
It began with a connection made by Darrel Larson, the missions pastor at Newbreak Church in San Diego. Larson also works as international director for Sawyer Products, which manufactures industry-leading water filters. Sawyer partnered with the The Last Well and other Christian organizations to provide clean water and the gospel to every Liberian by 2020. Larson, working with an initiative organized by SoCal Network Superintendent Rich Guerra and AGWM, wondered if the AG in Liberia would be interested in joining the effort.
“There’s no better missions organization than the AG to do this,” Larson says. “Nobody cares about the gospel, church planting, and unreached people groups more, or does it better.”
Upon introducing himself to Brown via email, Larson learned that the AG in Liberia had recommitted to planting 650 new churches by 2020, and begun operating church-planting schools throughout the country to train pastors on an accelerated schedule using Africa's Hope curriculum. The convergence of goals created instant momentum, and the SoCal Network made the Liberian effort its missions focus for 2018.
“We were able to create an evangelism strategy to provide holistic missions — human relief with clean water, planting churches, evangelism, education, and Bible school training,” says John E. Johnson, assistant superintendent for the SoCal Network.
Every AG ministry in the SoCal Network is supporting the Liberian effort this year. For example, Speed the Light paid for 20 “jungle bikes,” motorcycles that teams use to reach remote villages, plus 20 Android tablets to collect data in the field. The Network surpassed its goal of $1.2 million to build a new school for church planters in Sierra Leone, to provide scholarships and curriculum help to train 900 workers in Liberia and Sierra Leone, and to invest in the clean water project.
In practice, the project works like this: teams of people from Liberian AG churches, trained by The Last Well, take donated Sawyer water filters and buckets into every known village. (All villages and churches are tracked with software that reveals relevant statistics about how each has been served.) Transportation through jungles requires driving motorcycles, paddling canoes, or just plain hiking.
“These guys walk miles in the bush carrying buckets on their heads or in wheelbarrows,” says Johnson. He says villagers often express gratitude for the gift of clean water that prevents babies and elderly from dying from typhoid and cholera. That compassion opens the door to evangelism and church planting.
The team gives filter systems to each household, and trains family members how to use them. Sawyer’s filters use microscopic membranes so small that no bacteria, protozoa, cysts, or sediment can pass through. This means E. coli, typhoid, cholera, and all other bacteria-based diseases are blocked.
The filter system is deceptively simple: one 5-gallon bucket of dirty water is connected to Sawyer’s small, gravity-fed filter. The water flows down through the filter into a “clean” bucket at a rate of one liter per minute. The only maintenance is to flush the filter regularly with a syringe that is supplied for years of clean water for each family.
While training the users, teams talk about Jesus, the Living Water, and how clean water is a gift from God to their family. Weeks later, teams revisit the same villages to ensure that residents are using and cleaning the filters. The national church then sends newly trained pastors to plant churches there.
Already, the filters have dramatically reduced the amount of diarrhea and illness in these villages. That leads to more productive days at work and school, fewer visits to hospitals, and savings on buying purified water. Because of the effort, five of Liberia’s 15 counties already are certified by the government of Liberia to have clean water.
“We’re going to parts of the country where nobody is working,” says Larson, who estimates that AG in Liberia teams will install filters for 10,000 homes each year through 2020. “They are out there in the remotest villages that everybody said was impossible to reach.”
Of all the organizations working in Liberia with The Last Well, the AG is by far installing the most filters of any group, according to Larson.
Brown says the effort has revitalized the national church.
“It’s given hope for the future and a fresh call to be about the Master’s business,” Brown says. “The pastors are posting on Facebook about all the churches being planted.”
The SoCal Network also committed as part of the initiative to build a new Bible college in neighboring Sierra Leone.
“Liberia will be the first developing nation with universal access to clean water and arguably the nation most saturated with the gospel,” Larson says. “We feel like this is the clean water equivalent to breaking the four-minute mile or walking on the moon. If Liberia, one of the poorest countries in world, can do it, other countries can, too.”