By Tina Anderson
CONWAY—Water is essential for life.
It covers about three-fourths of the Earth’s surface. It is used for irrigation, to extinguish fires, and create electricity. It’s possible for a human to survive for several weeks or more without food, but only a few days without water.
Yet, according to numbers from the United Methodist Committee on Relief, 884 million people around the world have inadequate access to the life-sustaining substance.
These big statistics motivated a small church in Conway to do something. That something turned out to be building water wells in Africa.
Since building its first well in 2009, Union United Methodist Church has built a total of seven water wells and eight latrines in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.
The Union with the Congo Golf Tournament is the flagship fundraiser the church, with an average of 180 worshippers, uses to accomplish such a lofty mission project. Union’s recent sixth annual golf tournament garnered another $18,000 to help it continue its mission to provide clean water to a people who don’t have access to it for drinking, bathing, cooking, medical care, cleaning, waste disposal and agriculture.
“For a church this size, to generate $18,000 through a single event is absolutely amazing,” said Union’s pastor the Rev. James Grubb. “That is huge. Too often, a church the size of Union would look at the $7,000 figure for a latrine and say, ‘no way,’ but God placed it on these individual hearts to find a way.”
One of those hearts belongs to Union with the Congo Committee Chair Keith Collins.
The director of Conway-based Bucksport Water System believes God called him back in 2008 when Union began talking about the mission project.
“I want you to be a part of this personally,” Collins said God spoke to his heart.
So he talked with his then-pastor, the Rev. Scott Johnson, about being called to help out. Collins was immediately made chair of the committee.
“I asked for it and I got it,” he said.
The water wells and latrines in the Congo directly impact the communities they are placed in by providing clean drinking water. They also improve the quality of life for the people living there, especially women and children.
“You can live without a lot of things,” Collins said, “but you can’t live without water.”
Data provided by the UMCOR show that:
• More than 2.5 billion people worldwide lack basic sanitation. That’s about 40 percent of the world’s population.
• Because of unclean water, 5,000 children die daily from waterborne illnesses.
• Diarrhea kills 2.2 million people each year in developing countries.
• Women and children can commonly walk 4 to 6 hours a day to collect water.
• In many crisis areas of conflict or war, women may go into unsafe areas to collect water, putting themselves at risk of rape.
• Pregnant women often miscarry because the trails are treacherous.
• Children often miss school or drop out in the first grade because of the large amount of time spent searching and carrying water.
Collins said a great aspect of partnering with UMCOR is that 100 percent of all monies go directly to the project, with no administrative costs.
Another benefit is the African locals put the wells in under the supervision of UMCOR. The people are also educated about how to properly work and maintain the well.
One water well can typically service about 5,000 to 6,000 people.
Thinking outside the box
When Union first came up with the idea of finding funding for church property upgrades six years ago, it decided that for every $1 it raised, one dime would go to missions.
As the idea of that sunk in, the small group grew more concerned they were looking too inward.
“That’s not really enough,” Collins said, and the committee decided to go dollar for dollar. For every $1 raised for church repairs and renovations, it would also give $1 toward world missions.
The vision of doing missions both locally and globally caught on and spread quickly through the congregation. During the season of Advent in 2008, the people of Union donated $14,200. That’s $7,100 to build the first well in the Congo and another $7,100 to upgrade its own buildings—all without fundraising or seeking outside donations.
Since that time, Union with the Congo has raised more than $120,000.
Half of that has built the African wells and latrines and much of the other portion has went to upgrading the children’s ministry facilities of Union, called The Garden, “because that’s where we sow our seeds” and teach the children about God, Collins said.
This year, $9,000 will go towards upgrading and expanding the playground area of The Garden.
A good time and a good cause
While the golf tournament is intentionally a means to raise revenue, it’s also an excellent recreational and fellowship outlet.
“It’s an opportunity to help others, and it’s an opportunity to have fun at the same time,” said Nancy Tindall, Union with the Congo committee member and administrative council chair. “We always need golfers. They can’t hang out with a better group.”
Grubb and his wife, Claire, arrived at Union this past summer and have found that to be true.
“We both walked away saying it was one of the most enjoyable experiences we have had...even though it was a lot of work,” the pastor said. “It was just a joy working with the people.”
Many golfers return year after year because of the good cause and good time.
Along with the golfers, Tindall said Union’s dedicated Union with the Congo committee members make the event successful.
“We have so many really energetic committee members that have beat the bushes,” she said. “Everybody needs a cause, and this is a cause they believe in. It’s a place they feel they belong.”
Living and loving like Jesus
Despite the overwhelming generosity of the people of Union, Collins is quick to say God is responsible.
“He deserves all the credit,” Collins said, for both the amounts raised and the reason behind the fundraising.
“First and foremost, God has laid this burden on our hearts. God has tapped our church,” he said. “We want to reach outside ourselves. God said, ‘Tend to My sheep.’ That’s people all over the world. Our mission and our goal is to help those who can’t help themselves.”
“Jesus calls us to go into all the world and preach the good news. We can’t just get stuck doing it in our church or even in our own community,” he said. “To try to be witnesses for Christ, we have to be witnesses around the world.”
And it’s not just the mission-minded people of Union who make it all happen.
The Union with the Congo Golf Tournament primarily raises funds through corporate sponsorship, and the South Conway church is situated in a community of generous business owners.
“It’s really not just the Union people,” Grubb said. “It’s the city of Conway and beyond.”
By Tina Anderson