Ecumenical Water Network

The EWN is a network of churches and Christian organizations promoting people's access to water around the world

Sweet water

The third reflection of the "Seven Weeks for Water", of World Council of Churches’ Ecumenical Water Network, is by Rev. Dr Dario Barolin, a pastor of the Waldensian Church in Uruguay. He is also the executive secretary of AIPRAL, the Alliance of Presbyterian and Reformed Churches in Latin America. In the following reflection he recalls an encounter with two youths of his church who are trying to revive a creek which has lost its freshness due to water pollution by industries. He then draws a parallel to the story of Exodus where Moses turns the bitter water of Marah into sweet, fresh water with the help of a plant, thereby implying plantation being key to watershed.
Sweet water

Rev. Dario Barolin. ©Marcelo Schneider/WCC

The third reflection of the "Seven Weeks for Water", of World Council of Churches’ Ecumenical Water Network, is by Rev. Dr Dario Barolin, a pastor of the Waldensian Church in Uruguay. He is also the executive secretary of AIPRAL, the Alliance of Presbyterian and Reformed Churches in Latin America. In the following reflection he recalls an encounter with two youths of his church who are trying to revive a creek which has lost its freshness due to water pollution by industries. He then draws a parallel to the story of Exodus where Moses turns the bitter water of Marah into sweet, fresh water with the help of a plant, thereby implying plantation being key to watershed.

Text:

Exodus 15:22-26

Reflection:

Uruguay established in 2009 the National Water Policy through the law 18,610. This law clearly emphasizes “the sustainable management, in solidarity with future generations, of water resources and the preservation of the hydrological cycle that constitutes matters of general interest.” However, a different reality emerges when we take a closer look at many rivers, creeks, lakes, etc. in our country.

Leticia and Juan are working hard to plant a dozen native trees on the shore of a small creek. The creek does not look good; it is sick, just like many of the rivers and streams of water in Uruguay. They are suffering direct aggression from agro-industrial wastes, especially pesticides that bring a high level of phosphorus in the water. In addition, in most of the cases the urban waste is directly sent to rivers without any kind of treatment. This process of sickening watersheds is reinforced through a constant practice of destruction of the native forest and vegetation. On top of all these, recently, the congress approved a law on irrigation (law 19,553) that will negatively affect the health of the watershed.

Leticia and Juan explained to me how these native trees used to be abundant in the area and how with many other aquatic plants, they helped keep the creek clean and enjoyable. Their memories of a better time for this creek do not date back too far. “Twenty years ago, our parents would bring us here to swim and have a nice place to cool down when the summer was too hot. Now it is impossible, it smells so bad and there are many wastes on the surface. This is why we are working to clean the creek and planting native trees in the shore. Trees are vital to keep the watershed alive,” they conclude.

Their story of life and struggle to keep this small creek alive bring to my mind the Biblical story of Exodus 15:22-26.

The oppressor has been defeated (14:31). Exodus 15:1-18, evoking creational language describes how God has used water to restore the lost equilibrium that oppression has brought to the Cosmos. God’s people have celebrated their freedom with songs and dances (15: 1-21), and now is the time to continue the walking.

Moses makes the people move into the wilderness of Shur. “They walked for three days in the wilderness and found no water.”  I imagine that some expectations and hope appear when they started to see a place with water and trees or at least bushes. I visualize their thirsty faces dreaming of water. Water to drink, water to refresh, water to celebrate.

Nevertheless, when they arrived at Marah, as the name of the place suggests, they could not drink water because it was bitter (v. 23a). The deception and fears did not take much to come again and despair may have run wild among the thirsty walkers. Unlike other cases, the murmuring of the people against Moses is based on a tough reality: "What shall we drink?" (V. 24).

The answer from God and Moses does not wait. In nine words, the narrator describes how Yahweh and his servant solved the trouble and transformed the bitter water into a sweet, potable one. They used a bush or a tree to sweeten, to heal the water. The verb translated as “show” (yarah) has a deeper meaning; it seems to point out a process of teaching about the bush, its properties and how to use it. A similar use of this verb is found in Exodus 4:12-15 where it is correctly translated as “teach”. Therefore, God instructed Moses about the possibilities that are in creation to heal/sweeten water.  Moses threw the bush into the bitter water and it became sweet. It was not like at the wedding at Cana (John 2) but I am sure it also was a feast. Without that bush, which transformed the water, the people would be unable to survive in the wilderness.

Leticia and Juan did not know this biblical story, but they know about the properties of native plants to heal that creek that they felt was so close to their lives. It is not an instantaneous thing, it is a long and constant process that needs to be done, but it is doable. In the meantime, they enjoy being co-workers of God in healing creation. They enjoy the future to come, with children swimming again under the shadows of native trees.

Questions:

  • How is the situation of the watershed in your area?
  • Do you know of any native forest and/ or  have you explored one? If so what possibilities do you see to improve the conditions of the forest?

Suggestions:

  • Acknowledge the legislation in your country and region related to the use of water and get involved with groups researching this issue.
  • Identify the watersheds in your area and research their conditions, use and situation. Get involved in practical actions to keep them clean or to heal them.

Links