Photos and article submitted by Rev. Roger Arnholdt
“There are rice and beans in the storeroom, but there is no water to cook them. So today, the school children will not be fed.” Those words of Pastor Michelet at Temple of God Lutheran Church (TOGLC) in Anse-a-Pitres, Haiti were my stark introduction to an endemic problem throughout Haiti – access to clean water, and in many areas, access to any water at all.
In April of 2015, my wife, Nona, and I journeyed to Haiti to experience firsthand “accompaniment” with the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Haiti (ELH). We traveled with the encouragement and support of our congregation, St. Armand’s Key Lutheran Church (SAKLC) in Sarasota, to explore opportunities for Servant Ministry partnership opportunities. Shepherded by Jorel Carte, staff member of ELH, we visited 5 Lutheran congregations widely scattered across Haiti. Each of the five pastors shared stories of their local ministry, as well as a short list of critical needs. As the poorest country in the western hemisphere, it does not take long to hear and see the many opportunities to address needs that would enhance the daily life of the Haitian people. The need for water was a priority at three of the congregations.
Following our “accompaniment” immersion in Haitian life through the ELH, we recommended to the SAKLC Servant ministry Team a project to complete a rainwater cistern just behind the church building of TOGLC. Some years earlier, a partnership of TOGLC, Florida-Bahamas Synod Together in Mission Fund (TiM), and the surrounding community had pooled funds and initiated construction of a rainwater cistern. Unfortunately, funds ran out when only the first 7 feet of the cistern walls had been built in a pit behind the church. TOGCL had already demonstrated their commitment to addressing this problem as well as their commitment to be in a ministry that served the whole community.
Access to water in these southeast mountains is very difficult. Families – often the children are tasked to do this – must travel long distances to find a water source (spring, river, or public wells in the major town perhaps 10 miles away), transporting water in 3 and 5 gallon containers (five gallons of water weighs over 42 pounds). The containers are carried, or precious cash is needed to pay a “moto,’ a small motorcycle, to carry them and their containers closer to home. Children loose valuable time that could be dedicated to their education – or just the joy of being a child. Adults must invest time and energy in securing water, limiting time and energy for investment in farming or other livelihood activities. For children and adults, securing water impoverishes their lives.
A covenant was developed that represented the agreements among SAKLC, ELH and TOGLC to partner in the rainwater cistern project. SAKLC would provide funds to purchase building supplies and skilled labor, as well as be present during construction to lend some “sweat equity” in the project; ELH would provide staff time, Jorel Carte, to lead the project and supervise the construction. TOGLC would provide all the water needed for mixing concrete, provide volunteer “sweat equity” to move construction materials and assist in the construction process, and provide midday meals for project workers.
The project was initiated in February 2016 and completed in the summer of 2016. All three covenant partners fully participated as planned. With the fall rainy season, and particularly Hurricane Matthew, the cistern was full to the top by November.
A new metal roof was installed on the church – along with gutters to collect the rainwater and PVC piping directed to the cistern nearby.
The cistern was dedicated in a special service on December 18, 2016. During the service a small troop of elementary age children lead a song/dance routine that involved the presentation of several gifts of local farming produce, packaged food that would only be purchased by Haitian families for special occasions, and an Haitian artisanal enamelware, cross-shaped with Mary, Joseph and baby Jesus – all intended to express thanks for the SAKLC partnership, thanks for which they cannot find enough words.
As is typical in Haiti, special guests worshiping with the congregation are asked to offer a sermon. I focused on the Isaiah text: ”The poor and needy search for water, but there is none; their tongues are parched with thirst. But I the Lord will answer them; I am the God of Israel, will not forsake then.” (Isaiah, 41: 17 and following) After the close of worship, members of the congregation presented a multi-scene skit that told the story of the burdens of securing water, the journey of the three partners working together on the project, and a final celebration of clear, clean water being poured into the water pails of congregational members. The dedication service was followed by a communal meal for the congregation, and an extravagant (by Haitian daily standards) table of food was laid out for me and the congregational leadership. It truly was a day of thanksgiving and celebration.
The cistern dedication service was followed by two additional celebrations. Members of surrounding churches were invited to share a communal meal with TOGLC members, a symbol of a shared faith as well as a shared mission to be God’s Work, Our Hands together. The second celebrative communal meal invited members of the surrounding community, including community leaders. A special invitation was made for the community’s “disabled and outcasts” to join with them in this communal gathering.
A cistern management committee has been formed with members from TOGLC and from the general community. The committee will develop and implement policies on distribution of the rainwater and ensure maintenance of the rainwater gathering, piping, and cistern storage capacities.
This rainwater cistern project was “accompaniment” at its best, with the full investment of the three partners in planning and implementation. It was – and is – a blessing for everyone involved. But the real blessing is this: it was not really about the cistern, nor really about the water, nor really about the time and effort securing water required, but ultimately, it was about enhancing the quality of life for the members of and the community that surrounds TOGLC.