I take far too many things for granted—like food in the fridge and running water at the kitchen faucet. I’ve never known the fear of food insecurity but I do remember a day when I would have given my left arm for a cup of cold water.
One summer, three teenagers in my church youth group begged me to take them on a weekend camping trip to Red River Gorge. Jeff and Charlie were experienced Boy Scouts and bragged of knowing the trails. They had all the equipment needed to survive in the wild for two days. Sure enough, when the day of our hiking trip finally came they showed up with tents, sleeping bags, backpacks, flashlights, a ton of beef jerky, military looking canteens, and water purifying tablets in case our water supply ran short. Patrick was not as experienced, nor prepared. I knew this right away when he showed up with a box of Fruity Pebbles instead of beef jerky and sandals instead of hiking boots.
It was a typical August day in Kentucky. The temperature was pushing triple digits and the humidity was thick enough to cut with a knife. During the first two hours of our hike Charlie reminded us every fifteen minutes to conserve our water. We would drink less in the morning and save our water for the heat of the day. We pressed on for another hour. Three hours in I was drenched with sweat, exhausted from the heat, and ready for a break.
We sat side by side on a moss–covered tree trunk that had fallen across the path years before. Charlie removed the cap from his canteen and turned it up to his lips for long slow drink. He took the canteen and shook it; he turned it sideways and looked into the canteen like he was peering through a peephole in a door. He turned it upside down and shook it harder and then hurled the empty canteen as far as he could. The Boy Scout we trusted with our lives forgot to fill his canteen with water. All we had was an empty canteen; two water purifying tablets, a half–eaten box of Fruity Pebbles, and a hope we might find a fresh water stream along the trail.
Four hours later we came to a clearing in the forest and spotted a lake across the meadow. Our hope of refreshment quickly evaporated when we discovered the lake was stagnating and covered with layers of black bacteria. Charlie grabbed his canteen, along with the purifying tables and waded into the water. He reasoned, we could either die of thirst or die from a waterborne disease. While Charlie was filling his canteen with black water, we heard a voice from across the lake. It was the sound of angels inviting us to their camp for a drink.
The four of us cheered and with our last bit of energy, ran to meet our new best friends. When we stumbled into their camp they opened their cooler and offered us an ice–cold beer. Bud Weiser and Coors Light were the only options. Immediately, I found myself in another dilemma—Do I let these teenage boys drink a beer, lose my job, and go to jail; or do we return to the lake and take our chances? Before I could see my way clear on the moral dilemma, Patrick—like a true man of the wilderness—said, “Let’s drink the melted ice!” Moments later our canteens were filled to the brim with pure cold ice water.
For me it was more than a miraculous provision from heaven; it was a life lesson to never take water for granted and to always be prepared to share water with other thirsty travelers I meet on life’s journey.
For those of us who are “Thinking Red” we must pause and wonder if we have a role to play in helping our thirsty neighbors find pure water to drink? In Matthew, chapter 10, Jesus says, “If anyone gives even a cup of cold water to one of these little ones . . . truly I tell you, that person will certainly not lose their reward.” If you want to find ways to give cups of pure water to thirsty children but don’t know where to begin, let me introduce you to Waterstep. They, like my friends at the lake who offered us cold ice water on a hot day, are finding ways to empower and help thirsty people create innovative solutions to meet their water need. Believe it or not, there are multiple ways you can be involved and help provide clean and safe water for our neighbors who thirst.
Larry Stoess is an author, public speaker, and urban church planter. He loves telling stories about how dreaming with God will empower people to make old and broken things new again. Larry and a band of friends founded the Church of the Promise in Louisville's Portland neighborhood; The Table, a pay-what-you-can community café; and Promise Housing Plus, a non-profit construction company. He has written about their experience of dreaming with God in his new book: Think Red.