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Digging deep to construct wells

An Ethiopian boy drinks water from a well like the one paid for by Nokomis Heights Lutheran Church as part of its “tithe.” Photo provided by Water to Thrive

It all started with a little two-paragraph article in The Lutheran, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America’s denominational magazine, according to Nokomis Heights Lutheran Church member Bill Kaemmerer. He noted with interest an article about a Bible study group at a Lutheran church in Austin, Texas, that was working with indigenous people in Ethiopia to construct wells and improve lives.

“Congregations are incredibly important to our mission. About 80 percent of our project sponsors are congregations.”

The article was memorable for Kaemmerer because “the Bible study group wanted to do more than just read about the issue; they wanted to act on it.”
Kaemmerer similarly did more than just read about the need for clean accessible water. In May 2009, when the congregation’s council okayed a proposal for a $300,000 capital campaign, he and others suggested that some of the money be tithed to groups outside the congregation. “The congregation made a conscious effort to encourage giving [to the capital campaign] through giving [to nonprofit efforts].
The congregation identified three beneficiaries for its tithe of 10 percent, or $30,000. First, Nokomis Heights had originally been “planted” by Trinity Lutheran Church on Riverside in Minneapolis. The congregation decided to make a legacy gift back to this congregation, which now has a high number of Ethiopian members.

The Rev. Susan Debner (left), pastor of Nokomis Heights Lutheran Church, Minneapolis, welcomes Dick Moeller, founder of Water to Thrive, a faith-based organization that raises funds to help local groups build wells in Ethiopia and Sierra Leone. With congregant Gregg Kelly (right), they celebrate in the congregation’s narthex/courtyard the completion of Nokomis Heights’ first “well” in Ethiopia in November 2010.Photo provided by Nokomis Heights Lutheran Church

Second, they contributed $9,500 to Books for Africa, a nonprofit that collects and sends academic and leisure reading books to schools and libraries in Ethiopia. (A connection to Anne Jensen, a former church secretary, facilitated this gift.)
While deciding on the third gift, Kaemmerer remembered the article about Water to Thrive. He thought this group would round out the recipient list nicely, so he called Water to Thrive. Founder Dick Moeller eagerly agreed to meet Kaemmerer the next time he came to the Twin Cities for a Thrivent Financial for Lutherans board meeting. “The rest is history,” said Kaemmerer with a smile.
“Congregations are incredibly important to our mission. About 80 percent of our project sponsors are congregations,” Moeller told Metro Lutheran. “And, for a relatively modest cost of $5,000, an Ethiopian community’s residents can have access to clean water” at a much more convenient site.
This proved to be just the type of project Nokomis Heights, the only Minnesota congregation currently in the program, was looking for. So the congregation committed to raise funds for three well projects, one during each year of the capital campaign.
“The campaign has been a success,” explained stewardship committee member Carol Kaemmerer. “The theme that developed, with the connection to Ethiopia, made it easier to explain the campaign. And, Water to Thrive does such vital work.”
The first article in this series is available at

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