From Katherine Parker, United Methodist Missionary who has been sent from California to Phnom Penh in the Royal Kingdom of Cambodia in Southeast Asia.
To the community of God that is in Bakersfield, to the children and youth and adults who gather this week for study and prayer and work and celebration, together with people from around the world who call on the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, both their Lord and ours: Grace to you and peace from God our Creator and Jesus the Christ.
I want to say hi to you with this formal greeting in the style of St. Paul's letters to the churches throughout the Mediterranean, to remind us that the church has always been more than a group of people in our own town with which we get together on Sunday. Rather, it is a community of people around the world who believe that we are called to love God and to love our neighbor. And, whether we see each other every day or every few years or we never get to meet, we are still a family, a community that supports each other to be the best that we can be.
I grew up in a town in California very similar to yours, participated in Vacation Church School in the summer like you, and then went to college to study biology. Now I live in Cambodia where I work as a missionary for our church.
And, one of my jobs now is to teach both children and adults about clean water.
Do you know what bacteria are? This is part of what I teach in Cambodia. Bacteria are very, very, VERY small creatures. Some bacteria can live in the water; and some bacteria can make us sick if they are in the water we drink. But we can't easily see bacteria because they are so small! So, how do we know if water has harmful bacteria in it?
In America, we have scientists who help us. They test the water, and if there are any bacteria in it, they kill them, and send us fresh, clean water through the pipes into our homes. But this is not the case everywhere; most people in Cambodia don't have water that comes into their homes through a pipe.
Right now, it is the rainy season in Cambodia. Every other day in the afternoon, the wind starts to blow and the clouds creep in and we have a fantastic rain storm with thunder and lightning. Many people here in the countryside have roofs made of leaves. They try hard to save their money to buy a metal roof. A metal roof makes a lot of noise when the rain comes and it is hot in the sun, but if your roof is metal rather than made of leaves, you can collect the water that comes off the top into a jar! If you keep the jar clean, this is very good water to drink.
How do you stay clean and prevent the spread of diseases? One part that is very important is to wash your hands, especially after you go to the bathroom or play with an animal. One of the games we play is about how to wash your hands. We practice washing our hands for 20 seconds to kill all of the bacteria. One way for the children to learn how long they need to wash their hands is to learn a song they can can sing while washing. But, let's get back to the water.
In the dry season, it doesn't rain for weeks and weeks, so then you want to have a well where you can get water to drink and to wash. Most wells are "open"; this is not so good, because then leaves and dead frogs and other things can get into the well and then more bacteria that can make you sick also get in. Some wells have a cover on them; this is much better, but sometimes the bacteria can still get in . Just like in America, if we know that the bacteria are in the water, then we can treat the water to kill the bacteria.
One way we kill the bacteria is by boiling the water. But, families in rural Cambodia don't have a nice gas stove or electric tea kettle; they have to collect wood to heat the water. Whose job do you think it is to collect the wood? The kids! Can you imagine if you had to go outside and look for wood for an hour everyday before you went to play with your friends? Not much fun. So, it is good to know which water has bacteria and which water doesn't.
I work with people here in Cambodia to test all of the water sources that they have. We test the rain water in the jars, the deep well water, the shallow well water, the pond water, the water in the rice fields and the water that people filter or boil. Then we can count the bacteria from the different sources. Here are some pictures of the water we tested. Can you tell which is best to drink?
There are many people in Cambodia who are teaching about clean water. What we are doing is important for two reasons. First, it helps people to see, often for the first time, that there are actually bacteria in water that looks clear and beautiful. Second, it gives people here a tool so that they can monitor their water supply the same way that scientists in America monitor our water supply. This way, if the community knows that its water is clean, then the children can spend their time going to school and playing with their friends, rather than collecting fire-wood.
And you are part of this too. Every time you drink a glass of clean water from your kitchen sink you can remember how wonderful it is to have good water come right into your house. We know that it will be great when everyone in the world has clean water just like we do, but how is that going to happen? It will happen because we learn together and work together. And that is what the church is. We are a group of people who support each other all over the world to work together to help our neighbors. You help your next-door-neighbors right there in Bakersfield and you help your neighbors in Cambodia to have clean water through your prayers and learning and gifts.
I am strengthened each day with the knowledge of your faith and the ways you show caring compassion to each other and to your neighbors.