THAILAND (BP)–In the mountains of northern Thailand, a woman with a squirming baby strapped to her back approaches the village water tank. She fills a cup with the unsanitary fluid and drinks it down quickly even though she knows it might make her sick. In the hot sun, even impure water feels refreshing.
Just down the hill are four blue cylinders that will solve her village’s sanitation problems. The cylinders are water filters paid for by Southern Baptists and delivered just an hour earlier by a team of Thai and American volunteers — a gift from American Christians who care about people in desperate need.
Wearing shirts proclaiming, “God is Love,” Southern Baptist Norah Hatley* and other American and Thai volunteers spent four hours distributing food, water filters, school supplies and toiletries to people from four villages who had gathered in the shade at a rural school building.
Hatley, one of the project’s chief organizers, said the predominantly Buddhist Thai staff at a local business inspired the event and petitioned American Christians to partner in the project. Once they had everything ready to deliver, the Americans and several Thai believers were invited to help distribute the supplies.
“This was a chance for us to give in such a way as to show God’s love,” Hatley said.
The donations tackled a host of village problems -– especially water-borne illnesses. Arunothai Cheewitprasert, a teacher from one of the villages, Ban Huay Mannang, explained that even though people boil their water, they still suffer from parasites. She has to go to great lengths to keep her students healthy.
Water-borne diseases are the leading cause of disease and death around the world, according to the United Nations. Forty percent of the world’s people do not have clean water to drink, and as many as 2 million people die from diarrhea each year — about 90 percent of them children under age 5.
“The most important thing for us is the water…. Sometimes, I have to buy water in the town and carry it up the mountain,” Cheewitprasert said.
For Cheewitprasert, “carrying it up the mountain” means maneuvering a truck up a winding dirt road often made treacherous by heavy rain. Before the filters came, she made the trip once a month. Now, she can serve her students clean water without leaving the school.
The project was an excellent example of healthy partnership in community development, said Ben Wolf, who with his wife Pam directs work in the Asia Rim for Baptist Global Response, an international relief and development organization. Money for the project was channeled from the Southern Baptist World Hunger Fund through BGR.
“Outsiders meeting all the needs of the community is not the objective of good development,” Wolf said. “Community development is never about what outsiders bring into a community and give away. It’s about partnership, joining hands with community leaders and national believers and collaborating to help communities help themselves.
“It’s exciting to watch as volunteers from the United States come alongside new friends from the community and the love of God becomes real in people’s lives,” Wolf said. “God created us to enjoy abundant, meaningful lives filled with purpose, and it’s wonderful to watch as people discover that for themselves in these projects.”
Along with water filters, the village teachers said they had other needs and talked about inadequate supplies and few books. None of them even had a chair to sit in during the school day.
The team had planned to help with some of those needs, as well. They arrived bearing books, pencils, shoes, sports uniforms, toys, mosquito nets, blankets and other small necessities. Baptist Global Response also used money from the Southern Baptist World Hunger Fund so teachers could have wheelbarrows, seeds, rakes, hoes and shovels to give hands-on agriculture lessons to their students — improving not only their health but also their chances for a better life.
Although the cross-cultural team knew they could never meet all the village’s needs, they brought joy to at least one little girl in dusty flip-flops who had just received her first pair of tennis shoes.
“I’ve never had any before!” the girl exclaimed.
Shortly after receiving the sneakers, the girl and her classmates tucked their new treasures into book bags and headed home. They said “Thank you!” and waved goodbye to the people who had reached out to them.
That night, the volunteers learned from school official Sanan Kaoy Yang that the villagers they had just met do not follow any religion but live in fear of evil spirits they believe inhabit their community. Those beliefs have slowly torn the villages apart. Fearing the supernatural, the people have begun to leave their homes and move to the city, where they hope for safety. Yang said the villagers needed a common belief to tie them together and relieve their fears of demons.
“They need something to hold their hearts,” Yang said.
In response, the believers clasped their hands and prayed. They asked God to fill the void and prayed the villagers would see His love descend upon them. They prayed God would reveal Himself and that the villagers would recognize their water filters had come from Him.
They prayed the villagers would realize it was God who had filled their cups.
*Name changed. Shiloh Lane is an international correspondent for Baptist Press. Baptist Global Response is located on the Web at www.gobgr.org.