(Video above: Neverthirst, an Alabama-based ministry, is building wells in some of the world’s most impoverished places.)
There are moments in each of our lives that are pivot points — events or experiences that send us careening in unexpected directions, like pinballs bouncing off of a bumper.
For Mark Whitehead, one of those moments took place in February of 2006 during a church service in Birmingham, Alabama. Dr. David Platt, then the pastor of the Church at Brook Hills, was delivering a sermon on Psalm 67:1-2 titled “The Ultimate Disconnect.”
“May God be gracious to us and bless us and make his face to shine upon us, that your way may be known on earth, your saving power among all nations.”
In those verses, Platt explained, is a singular “truth that is absolutely critical to understanding the purpose of your life in this world. Here’s the truth: God blesses his people for the sake of his praise among all peoples.”
With that truth in mind, Platt asked the congregation a simple question. “Have you disconnected God’s purpose with God’s blessing?”
As Whitehead considered that question, he thought about the physical blessings we enjoy in the United States, and how meeting the physical needs of impoverished people in other parts of the world could open doors to meet their deeper, spiritual needs.
At that time, 1.2 billion people on Earth lacked access to clean water. If a team from Alabama could help change that stunning fact one village at a time, Whitehead thought, they could also have unprecedented opportunities to share the Gospel with people to whom they would otherwise not have access.
Neverthirst was born.
“We felt called to the hard places,” Whitehead told Yellowhammer. “It all started in January of 2008, but we did not even have a focal point for the ministry until traveling to South Sudan later that year. There are less than 50 miles of paved road in the entire country. It’s very remote. Out of curiosity, we stopped in a tiny village called Witto and asked the chief to show us where they got their water from. He took us about a mile off the road and showed us a pool of green, stagnant water. Up until that point, we were really clueless about the water crisis — even though we were four months into being a water ministry. God led us to that village and made his vision crystal clear: You can meet this massive, overwhelming need — 1.2 billion people need clean water — and you can use it as a platform to advance the Gospel around the world.”
On December 8, 2008, in the tiny village of Witto, South Sudan, Neverthirst drilled its first well.
“Seeing that project come together is hard to put into words,” said Whitehead. “The whole village knew it was coming and there were about 1,000 people there waiting for us when we returned to see it completed. It was humbling.”
That experience helped Whitehead understand how meeting people’s physical needs can break down barriers.
“When people are dying from not having water, they’re not going to give you the time of day if you just come up to talk to them,” he explained. “But when that physical need is met, they’re more apt to listen.”
To make those conversations more likely to happen, Neverthirst empowers local pastors to helm their drilling projects.
“It’s all connected to the pastors in the area,” said Whitehead. “The well gives the pastor a platform and opens a lot of doors.”
Neverthirst and other water ministries have made tremendous strides in recent years.
Since 2008, Neverthirst has completed over 5,500 projects, providing over 400,000 people with clean water. During that same time period, the total number of people without access to clean water has dropped from 1.2 billion to 663 million since 2008.
But it all wouldn’t be possible without the support of Alabamians back home, and others around the country.
“We have a lot of church partnerships, individual donors, lemonade stands, garage sales, car washes — people can get as creative as they want when raising money for clean water projects,” said Whitehead. “It can be really fun.”
Many gyms, for instance, have organized large workout events and used them as fundraisers to benefit Neverthirst. To connect it to the water ministry, the workouts included large containers full of water that could be carried or lifted while doing various exercises.
Today, Neverthirst is doing work in India, Cambodia, Nepal, South Sudan, Sudan and Chad. The goal for 2016 is to complete over 2,000 projects throughout Africa and Asia that will bring water to over 72,000 people.
“These projects make an incredible impact on the lives of these families,” Whitehead said. “Just think about the fact that, instead of spending all day finding water for their family, kids can go to school. That alone changes everything.”
And the more people here at home get involved, the more lives will be changed.
“Ultimately we want to work ourselves out of business,” he concluded. “We want to see the number of people without access to clean water go away. God has already done some incredible things, and we put it all in his hands.”
For more information about Neverthirst or how you can provide clean water solutions for a community in North Africa or Southern Asia please visit www.neverthirstwater.org