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Deep Water Wells
and Olive Branches

How Clean Water is Mitigating Peace in Northern Africa

In a northern state of Nigeria, circa 2017, lies a place that has endured unimaginable suffering for the past six years. This region in Northern Africa has become an epicenter of human anguish, plagued by extreme poverty and the relentless violence of jihadists. The consequences have been dire, with hundreds of thousands of individuals displaced from their homes. Among them, approximately 200,000 have become internally displaced persons, forming a wandering diaspora predominantly comprised of women and children who have been widowed or orphaned.

Efforts to alleviate this tidal wave of misery have faltered, making entire regions inaccessible to some of the world’s foremost humanitarian organizations. As documented by the International Crisis Group, millions of people find themselves devoid of basic healthcare and clean water. The absence of these fundamental necessities alone has greatly contributed to the instability in this part of Africa, fostering a multifaceted crisis that encompasses ideological, economic, and humanitarian dimensions.

This incredible devastation is what makes the area’s more recent transformation nothing short of miraculous. Little by little, these once-troubled areas in Northern Nigeria are today experiencing a shift towards safety and diminished risk. The bloodshed inflicted by insurgents and the conflicts rooted in tribal divisions is in retreat. The economic landscape is showing signs of improvement on a broader scale and gaining momentum as villages and communities embrace sustainability through small-scale farming, enhanced sanitation, and improved nutrition.

A noticeable trend emerges when one takes a step back and carefully examines the journey since 2017, particularly in the Northern Nigerian states of Bauchi, Gombe, and certain regions of Kaduna. It becomes evident that the situation is steadily progressing in hundreds of villages, benefiting tens of thousands of individuals. At the core of this transformative change, the introduction of clean water by WorldServe International and its implementing partners stands as the primary catalyst.

Years ago, meeting WorldServe’s president, John Bongiorno, and his son, David (WorldServe’s Director of Operations), I didn’t fully appreciate their statement “It all begins with clean water.” Now I know these words speak a simple truth: while clean water leads to better health and improved socio-economic conditions, it can also mitigate conflict, help educational opportunity to flourish, and enhance and grow Christian churches, allowing communities to worship openly and peacefully. As these positive changes unfold – often in concert with a local church as host for the clean water – more and more people are drawn to the message of Christianity, resulting in a multiplying effect.

A remarkable example of this transformation can be found in the Northern Nigerian state of Bauchi, a region I have personally visited numerous times. This area was deemed unsafe for years due to pervasive violence and religious persecution. The local Christian community constantly lived under threat, with lives lost and villages pillaged and destroyed.

However, in 2017, an opportunity arose to engage with tribal leaders. Through these interactions, a program was initiated to provide clean water to drought-stricken villages. This endeavor paved the way for other humanitarian initiatives, including livestock vaccination programs, mobile medical clinics, and educational programs for children. In just a few short years, what was once considered a place to be avoided at all costs gradually transformed into a relatively peaceful region, vividly demonstrating how clean water can reduce conflict and save lives.

In July 2022, I had the honor of standing inside a newly constructed Christian church in this very area, listening to the High Chief, who was once a persecutor of those outside his tradition, offer his words of blessing. Decades of futile attempts to bring peace to this part of Bauchi State were erased. It all began with clean water.

And just this week, a report crossed my desk, highlighting an ongoing and multiplying reality. WorldServe was on-site in a remote region of Kenya plagued by extreme poverty, health crises, and tribal tensions. Through their clean water initiatives, John reported that their medical team provided care to over 200 people in just three days. They assisted 49 individuals with dental services, distributed 1,398 prescriptions, and witnessed 44 people celebrated a new faith in Christ. Furthermore, a 5-year-old boy was urgently transferred to a district hospital for life-saving surgery. These testimonies from Emang’ata Village and Olmolog are micro-examples of the larger-scale impact as WorldServe brings both physical and spiritual water to a world that is thirsting and desperate for both.

“Water will gush forth in the wilderness, and there will be streams in the desert,” declared the ancient prophet Isaiah, capturing the essence of any number of the missions carried out by WorldServe. Isaiah continues: “The burning sand will become a pool, and the thirsty ground bubbling springs. Gladness and joy will overtake the people, and sorrow and sighing will flee away” (Isaiah 35:6, 7, 10).

The miracles that unfold through water in our world are undeniably real, offering a tangible experience of renewed hope and spiritual vitality. Across the vast expanse of Sub-Saharan Africa, in regions as inhospitable as the denied-access territories of Northern Nigeria or as remote as Turkana, streams of water are emerging. Both physical and spiritual deserts are being revitalized, and the burdens of sorrow and sighing are giving way to the symphony of joy and song.

Through the relentless efforts of WorldServe and others, the gift of clean water not only quenches the physical thirst but also nourishes the thirsty souls of countless individuals. In an oasis of transformation, lives are touched, communities are revived, and the eternal message of hope finds its way into the hearts and minds of those who have long yearned for something greater.

Indeed, the impact of water goes far beyond its life-sustaining properties. It catalyzes profound change, breaking the chains of despair and ushering in a future characterized by abundant blessings. As water springs forth, it breathes new life into barren landscapes, and its ripple effect cascades through generations, shaping a destiny brimming with gladness and joy.

So, let us join hands in celebration and gratitude, our songs of gladness and joy echoing across the plains and valleys, as sorrow and sighing find refuge in the distant past. For where water flows, hope rises. And where hope flourishes, a world transformed emerges, brimming with the beauty of redeemed lives and the melodies of an unwavering faith.

Lee Cantelon
Seymour, Connecticut

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