Turning Wine into Clean Water?
An invitation to Explore the PossibilitiesChurch Planting Movements are changing the spiritual landscape among many poor populations. The intention for such movements to be self-funding through bivocational leadership suggests a natural synergy with “Business For Transformation” (B4T).
Could Church Planting Movements be peculiarly suited for synergy with business models for delivering clean water to the poor?
This question became personal for me during four weeks in January with leaders of “some of the biggest harvests in the world today.”1 Despite faith and prayer, I had “traveler’s tummy” by the third day. My experienced companion combined prayer with local and U.S. remedies to restore me swiftly, then said:
Some young people I brought to India felt their faith was adequate to drink the local water, so I invited a top-notch missionary doctor to talk to them. When she told them she boils every drop of water she drinks, they asked if faith wasn’t enough. She replied, “The first eight missionaries to come here all died of water-borne diseases within six months. I think they had as much faith as I do.”
Still, I wondered, “Aren’t the locals resistant to local bacteria?” No. I soon found one of my hosts suffering as I had. (Since then I have learned that, in some parts of the world, half of all hospital beds are filled with victims of water-borne disease.)2
Yet water contamination is perhaps the most addressable factor in material poverty. And the economic benefits to both the poor and their communities are undeniable:
Sustainable access to improved sanitation, good hygiene habits and decent water unlock the door that bars so many millions of people from climbing out of poverty. It is the poor who suffer most now, so improving their health provides the biggest returns: essentially, the healthier they are, the better they will be able to work. They will grow more, and their nutrition will improve.3
In recent years these compelling benefits have stirred aggressive charitable efforts to provide clean water—both secular and faith-based. Yet the vast majority of those who still lack clean water are also the poorest people on the planet (see sidebar).
Two recent books4 may suggest how Church Planting Movements can employ a business model to …
- create employment opportunities that
- serve the poor in particular, and
- improve local access to clean water.
Water, Water Everywhere
The link between poverty and water can be measured in competition, cost/convenience, purification, and sanitation with education.5
Competition arises where limited water is available for drinking, irrigation and industry. Those in power control water resources, and the poor lose when the supply is reduced.
Cost/convenience reflects the daily effort required to access sufficient water. People can only live near water, but for the poor, the time-cost of obtaining “cleaner” water often interferes with education or profitable employment. The poor frequently…
- fetch water from a distance,
- use sources of questionable quality,
- risk contamination of stored water,
- rely on unethical providers, and
- pay more than those with plumbing.6
(Many excellent charity-based well-drilling ministries are whittling away at this access problem.)7
Purification is an increasing global challenge—from biological, natural, agricultural, industrial, and pharmaceutical contaminants.8 The poor must use the most questionable water, and can become a breeding ground for diseases that threaten everyone in their communities. So helping the poor access clean water benefits their whole community. Historically, purification has only been viable at a community level, through urban treatment filtering of well water. (Wells improve quality and access, but must be monitored, maintained, and protected.)
Sanitation with education is another vital factor. The poor most often lack basic understanding regarding contamination, and opportunity to apply that understanding. This is one reason literacy is such a powerful weapon against poverty.9
New, inexpensive filter purification technology makes possible a revolution in clean water access akin to what the cell phone is doing for services and information.10 Individual house churches or families can now use and care for their own personal filter and share it with others, enabling use of local unimproved sources and serving as a safety net for community treatment.11
When disasters compromise community water treatment,12 portable filters can continue serving in an evacuation.
Turning Wine into Clean Water?
Steve Downey13 and Nick Noll,14 my collaborators for this article, have identified two filters developed since 2008 (Sawyer® and Berkey®) which exceed EPA standards for water purifiers and appear most useful for missionaries and those they serve.15 Neither is yet capable of turning wine back into water, but both are …
- effective for nearly all pathogens,
- low-cost and low-maintenance,
- long-lasting and fully portable,
- and “fail-safe” (plug up rather than allowing pathogens through).
Church Planting Movements
Large-scale efforts to address poverty can be hindered by corruption at high levels and/or spiritual forces which rob the poor of their initiative and creativity. The collective discipling, personal transformation and trust relationships which develop in Church Planting Movements (CPMs) produce the kind of “spiritual capital”16 necessary to sustain businesses that break the poverty cycle.
CPMs are flourishing among the poor, and the relational discipling of CPMs creates an ideal environment for the propagation of literacy and hygiene education. Even before the advent of CPMs, Frank Laubach is credited with bringing literacy to a hundred million people through his emphasis on How to Teach One and Win One for Christ; Christ’s Plan for Winning the World (Zondervan, 1964). How much more will God do in our day as we encourage and assist CPMs to be active in lifting their members and their communities out of poverty?
The Business of Business
A few years ago Landa Cope’s materials first helped me see the key role business has in providing employment and reducing the cost of goods and services. Charity can help in a crisis, but generally …
- reduces personal initiative,
- undermines local businesses,
- hinders long-term growth, and
- are unsustainable.
In contrast, business models can …
- cultivate personal initiative,
- generate income for house church leaders and their coaches, and
- sustainably reduce the local cost of goods.
The time is ripe for business initiatives to reduce the cost of clean water through the sale of new filtering technology. Through microfinance loans individuals could purchase filters on credit to be repaid from …
- reduced medical expenses,
- productivity gains, and/or
- selling clean water to others at a reduction of their current cost.
Of the two filters mentioned above, the Sawyer® is best suited for poverty contexts with high levels of water-borne disease. It…
- improves health and productivity,
- is low-cost and lasts for years, and
- filters rapidly enough for on-demand use.
The other filter mentioned above, the Berkey®, removes a much wider range of EPA recognized dissolved contaminants17 and still costs less than 2¢/gallon for replacement filters. Both companies are owned by Evangelicals, but Sawyer® is more aggressively pursuing sustainable business models for providing the world’s poor with clean water.
Retired missionary Lou Haveman is coordinating Sawyer®’s global distribution. To learn more visit Business-Connect.net/water-business.Note: As of this writing, none of the authors of this article have a financial interest in Sawyer® filters. However Nick’s business sells 40+ other brands of filters, including Berkey® filters, and will soon be carrying Sawyer® filters as well.
Toward experimenting with business models that reward everyone’s involvement, Robby and Nick have worked out a deal for interested individual missionaries and their friends to share in a group discount on Berkey® filter systems and portable water bottles, plus a commission for referring others. See the paid ad for Berkey® filters on page 13 of the PDF version of this issue.