There are very few moments - if any - where I have witnessed vulnerable, raw, piercing, gut wrenching gratitude like what I was privileged to witness in Zambia last month.
It took three flights, two long drives and nearly 40 hours of travel before we were unexpectedly greeted with a cheering mob of villagers. They were running through the dust to greet our SUV as we pulled through the bushes on the sandy road into the village of Mulibu. We hadn’t even done anything yet. In fact we - Kevin Colvett, Jon Lee, Troy Link and myself - were not going to do anything. We were just following The Living Water Project’s partner on the ground, Shadreck, to the site of the newest water well to be drilled.
Shadreck grew up in a town close by. He knows everyone in a 300 mile radius because he has ministered to these villages and facilitated over 70 new wells for many of them. Shadreck had already secured the local well drillers to come and they were about to get started on the laborious task of finding water beneath the drought-scorched earth.
We traveled over at least five dry creek beds on the way to this village. The sky was a brilliant blue, weeks void of rain clouds. The air was so dry I had gotten two nose bleeds since arriving the day before and lotion evaporated as soon as it touched my skin. I wondered to myself, “What if there is just no water?”
But the crowd was cheering.
They brought us to their current water source, a 10-12 foot hole in the ground with a mud puddle at the bottom. Retrieving half a bucket of nonpotable water took two people several minutes: one climbing into the hole, the other lifting the water out.
One of the men from the drilling team began the “Water Witching” practice - an exercise in walking around with two sticks waiting for them to cross, thus “revealing” water. Kevin, an Environmental Engineer, was loathe to admit that this ritual inexplicably seemed to work more than it didn’t.
When the team was satisfied, they began to drill one 15 foot pole into the ground at a time. Several hours, 11 poles and about 160 feet later, there was only dry, glittering, rock to be found. The hard decision had to be made to try another location.
So the process began again. Water Witching. Move the truck to a new spot. One 15 foot pole at a time drilled into the rocky ground. Men, women and children had surrounded the workers all day in the torrid heat. As the sun went down and the women began to leave to get back to their homes, we gave up for the day. On the long drive back to town, again, I wondered, “What if there is just no water?”
The next day, we got to the village very early but the people were already there. The workers began drilling again - another pole, 100 feet. The people began to sing. They sang their prayer of thanksgiving even before they knew there was water to be found. The workers drilled another pole. 115 feet. The people sang. Another pole, 130 feet. The workers drilled. 145 feet. The people sang. 160 feet.
And then the most miraculous thing happened - the glittery, sandy, rock dust was damp. There was water! The whole village erupted in louder song. And the workers kept drilling.
A couple of hours later, beautifully clear water sprayed from the new well for the first time. More drinkable water emerged with one pump of the well than this village had seen in months, and maybe a lifetime. By this point the people of the village were singing, dancing and cheering in a circle surrounding us and the well. “Praise God! The Kingdom of God has come! The Kingdom of God has come! The Kingdom of God has come.”
I was overwhelmed. This miraculous event, witnessing God bringing water from rock, was as sacred a moment as I have ever experienced. I just stood there, praising God with the people, wishing I could soak in their sheer faith and gratitude.
It left me wondering, how often do I sing praise to God in the midst of a scorching drought? Before God brings water to relieve my thirst and pain, do I praise God for what I believe God will do? How often do I stop my questions and just sit in gratitude? When was the last time I cheered while climbing into a pit to draw undrinkable water because I knew God would eventually restore me?
Of all the things I learned from the beautiful people of the village of Mulibu in Zambia, the most searing was their example of faith-filled unconditional gratitude.
Praise God! The Kingdom of God has come. May we all find moments, even in drought, to lean into unconditional gratitude.
(Find more pictures and videos on Emily's Blog.)