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Using water to ignite a fire

One Concordia University student combines compassion and action

Adam Myers has carried the jerrycan around Concordia University, St. Paul, this school year in order to raise money for building wells. Photos provided by Concordia University

Every human being needs water — even the Son of God. From the cross, Jesus declared, “I am thirsty.” That cry echoes today from nearly one billion people worldwide who lack access to clean, safe drinking water. It is a cry that Adam Myers, a senior at Concordia University, St. Paul, cannot ignore.

“By 2030, experts expect that two-thirds of the world will have severe water shortages. That’s not far away,” Meyers said. In the meantime, one in eight people worldwide are suffering right now.

Since learning of the global water crisis, Myers has worked to educate himself and his classmates. Last year, he took on water as a project for a class in intercultural communications. “I wanted to let people know we can all be part of the solution, both by being aware of our own water consumption and by helping others gain access [to clean water].”

In conducting the research for his project, Myers discovered the organization charity: water, which works to bring safe drinking water to people in developing countries. According to charity:water, unsafe water and lack of basic sanitation kill more people every year than all forms of violence, including war. Diarrhea, dysentery, and other illnesses are particularly lethal to children whose weaker immune systems make them particularly vulnerable. Ninety percent of the 42,000 deaths that occur every week from unsafe water and unhygienic living conditions are children under five years old. In four years, charity: water has raised more than $20 million and funded 3,196 water projects.

Through the organization, Myers also learned ways he could take action. “They have great fundraising materials on their Web site, and stories of people who have helped. There was a 7-year-old girl who ate only rice and beans for a month to raise money. She made close to $15,000. I wanted to do something like that.”

A course to change the course of history

Myers is currently at work on his senior thesis, a biblical study of poverty and justice. He decided that, along with a written exploration of these issues, he wanted to include an action component, something he could pursue that would be visible to the Concordia community and bring home the biblical call to justice and mercy.

Adam Myers’ constant companion, his jerrycan, shares his message about the need for accessible drinking water for all.

That is when he bought the jerrycan.

This large yellow container is how people the world over — primarily women and girls — haul water for miles from an available source, safe or not, back to their homes. Myers took to carrying the jerrycan around campus to spark conversation and collect funds.

“Some people would give me weird looks. I was asked, ‘Did you run out of gas or something?’”

With this prop, Myers meant to illustrate an even more ambitious endeavor: He vowed to raise $36,000 — the equivalent of tuition, room, and board for one year at Concordia — as a donation to charity: water.

“We’re all well aware that higher education is extremely expensive these days. But this amount could build seven wells and serve 1,800 people, which is about the population of this campus.”

How much water is enough water?

The jerrycan proved to be a great introduction, and Myers quickly won converts to the cause. Earlier this month, he rallied 15 students to participate in a 5-day “water fast” as part of a service learning project. As they were raising money, they all vowed to live on 20 liters of water a day, what the World Health Organization says is the minimal amount one person needs for drinking, cooking, bathing and personal hygiene, and washing clothes and dishes. The students learned quickly what scarcity really means.

“We tried to see which used less water, taking a quick shower or a sponge bath. We put a jug up to the showerhead to see how much water it uses. We filled a liter bottle in 10 seconds. So a one-minute shower uses 10 liters. That’s half the day’s amount.”

Myers knows his activism has already strengthened his faith life.

With a visible symbol and a strategic plan, Adam Myers strives to raise funds to build wells for people where clean water is scarce.

“Growing in an understanding of Christ’s response to the poor has really ignited my walk as a Christian. It’s a journey. These are new questions for me, learning about social justice and my role in it. It’s been a challenge in many ways, but it’s also beautiful to see the Lord’s Prayer acted out. ‘Thy kingdom come on earth as it is in heaven.’”

And he’s ready for others to join him in this work of the kingdom. “Asking, ‘What can one person do?’, that is really an illegitimate question. There are always creative ways to get involved and do whatever you can. We all have our own role to play. That’s the body of Christ at work.

“The root of the word mercy — it’s a misunderstood word sometimes, I think. But mercy means compassion plus action. You have to have both.”

Contributions to Adam Myers’ efforts for charity: water can be made at http://my charitywater.org/compassionplus action.

Kimberly Burge is a freelance writer who splits time between Washington, D.C., and South Africa. She formerly was senior editor for Bread for the World.

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