“Finally, after 47 years, our thirst is quenched!” The statement came from an elderly gentleman whose gnarled hands and weather-beaten face testified to a hard life lived in the oppressive heat and dryness of Chad’s climate. He was the chief of a small village called Naara-Bousso. Around him were gathered 15 other men from the community. I sat across from him on a straw mat, along with four other Americans. Brandon Pangman and Wes Vlcek hailed from Bethesda Lutheran Brethren Church in Eau Claire, Wisconsin. Eddy and Shane Newman represented Bethel Lutheran Church in Fergus Falls, Minnesota. We were all sitting under a tree, which provided a little relief from the equatorial sun beating down on us. Between us was a well-used tin basin, filled to the brim with cool, clean water. On the surface of the water there floated a bowl-shaped gourd used as a communal drinking vessel. The water had just been drawn from a new well installed with donated funds from a Lutheran Brethren congregation in North America.
The basin was passed around and we relieved our parched lips and throats with the cool water. And we talked. We visited about the well, and the blessing that it was to this community. We listened to stories of how, previous to this well, their women and children had to spend five hours a day walking to and from a distant river in order to fetch as much water as they could carry in basins on their heads. We heard that the water was often dirty, contaminated by the waste of cattle and goats drinking and wading in the same river.
We talked about more than water. We learned about their hopes for their people, for health and education for their children. We learned about their faith in Islam. We heard them give thanks to Allah for our visit and for this well. And we shared with them our faith, our hopes, our joy at meeting them face to face, as the neighbors that God has called us to love and to have relationship with. And we shared with them the words of Jesus, who said that whoever drinks the water that he provides will never thirst again in the spiritual sense.
A couple of hours later, as we said our goodbyes to these newfound friends, the chief made another comment: “I know there are other organizations that help Chadian people by putting in wells. But no one has come to us like you have, from so far away, and sat down on our mats with us, drank our tea and talked with us face to face, as brothers do. This is a miracle that can only be from God.”
With encouraged hearts, we traveled on. Over the course of a week, we visited twelve communities, each of which had received a well due to contributions from CLB congregations. We targeted those communities and people groups that our churches have adopted, namely the Fulbe, the Bagirmi and the Bilala. And we had many similar conversations.
This is what the adoption of a people group looks like: It is engaging the people on a relational level, as Jesus did for us. It means meeting them where they are at, as Jesus did for us. It means sharing the story of the one who can quench our eternal thirst, as Jesus did for us. As these relationships are built with our newfound friends, the Gospel goes forth and thirst is quenched. That is a miracle that is truly and only from God!
Dan Venberg serves with Lutheran Brethren International Mission. He and his family are currently living in Fergus Falls, MN.