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Wednesday, January 2, 2013

The Transforming Power of Water and the Word
Many Believed Because of the Testimony of the Woman at the Well

By Jerry Wiles, President Emeritus, Living Water International
Special to ASSIST News Service

HOUSTON, TX (ANS) -- The story of The Woman at the Well, recorded in John, chapter 4, is central to the vision and mission of Living Water International. Some of our organizational goals are that all of our staff, affiliates and partners learn and be able to tell this story, and that everyone who benefits from the clean water solutions has the opportunity to receive and experience the Living Water of Jesus, which alone satisfies the deepest thirst.

Jesus meets with the woman at the well

In most places in the world, it's the women and children who are carrying water every day from a water source to their home or village. Many will spend several hours daily carrying 30 to 40 pounds of water on their heads, which is a major cause of health problems.

The story of The Woman at the Well is amazing in the way it can be used to connect with people, find common ground and result in life-changing conversations. This story was recently told at a new water well, and a woman who was passing by overheard part of the story. It captured her attention; she turned around and went back to hear more. As a result, she responded to the message of the gospel and received Christ. She was transformed by the “Living Water” that Jesus talked about.

It's sometimes difficult for those of us who have clean, safe drinking water so readily available to realize how precious and valuable it is to the millions who are without access to clean water, sanitation services and hygiene education. It's also a challenge to comprehend the fact that 2.2 million people die every year from some kind of water-related disease, and that a child dies every 15 seconds because of bad water. Many women spend 20 or more hours per week collecting water, some walking 7 miles a day, often for contaminated water. It is the women and children who suffer most without water, and who benefit most from access to it.

I was in a West African country a few years ago and met a young pastor who had just lost his six-month-old baby because of the lack of clean water in his village. He told us that he and his wife had lost their 18-month-old daughter the year before because of a water-related disease. When we look into the eyes of these dear people who have suffered such loss, we naturally ask, “What can we do about this?” There is, of course, much we can do. It is a great blessing to be part of an effort that saves and changes lives.

Carrying water creates many health
problems for women and children

Clean water really does save lives and change destinies. However, the living water that Jesus talked about in John 4 and John 7 has a more long lasting and eternal impact on individuals, families and communities. Water and the Word truly are transformational. As important as the physical transformation is, it is the spiritual transformation that changes people's eternal destiny.

Because most of the people of the world are oral learners, it is the stories of Jesus that bring them into a relationship with the living God. Stories are universal and are transferable to any place on the planet. When people hear and learn stories, they tend to tell and retell them. When a community or village learns a story together, they reflect upon it, discuss it and tell it over and over again. The reproducing and multiplying effect is amazing. Oral cultures seem to have a greater appreciation for repetition and talking together about the things that are important to them and have changed their lives.

There is much we in the Western World can learn about community, relationships and sharing life together from the oral cultures of the world.

One story can become a vehicle for communicating many theological truths and lessons. For example, the story of The Woman at the Well can be used to communicate and teach lessons about God, humanity, worship, relationships, transformed lives, sharing our faith, dealing with conflict and many more biblical truths.

Sharing the Word and Living Water
at the Well

In our orality training and disciple-making efforts, the following are a few of the questions that we use to bring out the lessons that apply to our lives:

* What do we learn from this story about the humanity and deity of Jesus? We discuss the significance of Jesus sitting down by the well to rest. Then we discuss the fact that He identified Himself as the Messiah.

* What do we learn about dealing with people of different racial, ethnic or tribal backgrounds? In relation to the background and context of the Jews not associating with or having anything to do with the Samaritans, we find application to racial, ethnic, tribal or cultural problems today.

* What was this woman's life like before her encounter with Jesus? Why did this woman go to the well to draw water by herself in the middle of the day? These two questions help bring out the fact that the woman was a different race and gender than Jesus. She was also a social outcast from her own community. Yet, Jesus showed love and concern for her.

* Do we see a change of attitude in this woman as a result of her conversation with Jesus? In our post-story discussion we observe the difference in the way the woman addressed Jesus. During their conversation she began to call Him “Sir”, which she did not do in the beginning.

Woman and El Salvador carrying
water back to her village

* Why were the disciples amazed and surprised when they saw Jesus talking with this woman? In that culture it was not customary for men to talk with women in public. We observe that Jesus continually demonstrated that He was very cross-cultural in the way He related to people.

* What did Jesus mean when He said, “If you knew the gift of God?”

* What do we learn from this story about witnessing or sharing our faith?

* What do we learn from Jesus? What do we learn from the woman? Jesus did not lecture or preach to her. He asked a question and found common ground for a conversation. The woman left her water pot, went back to her village, told a story and asked a question. Of course, these are simple things that apply to every follower of Jesus who wants to share his faith with others.

There are numerous other questions that can be asked about this story.

These are a few additional examples:

* What do we learn about the character of God?

* What do we learn about worship?

* What do we learn from the fact that the woman left her water pot in order to go and tell about her encounter with Jesus?

* What did Jesus mean by Living Water?

* Does Jesus still offer this Living Water to people today?

* Have you received this Living Water?

* Would you like to receive this Living Water?

All of these questions, and many more, create opportunities for rich conversations and teaching theological and biblical truths. It is always amazing to observe how faithful the Holy Spirit is to reveal the main messages and important lessons to people and give understanding of how they apply to their lives.

Numerous people have come to Christ as a result of hearing, understanding and responding to the message of this one story, and, as you can see, many biblical truths and lessons can be shared through it. A key factor is asking the right questions in the pre- and post-story discussion and dialogue.

In our work with Living Water International, countless women come to a water well every day, and there are opportunities to tell stories and ask questions. Water pots or containers, wells and water are very common around the world. It's a very natural way of connecting, communicating and seeing transformation in people's lives. It is also reproducible and has a multiplying effect.

While it may not be practical for all of us to directly bring clean water to people in need, it is possible for every follower of Jesus to share the Living Water of Jesus with spiritually needy people every day, wherever we go.

We often hear amazing stories of transformed lives through our short-term mission trip program. Approximately 8,000 volunteers have gone on more than 800 LWI mission trips over the past 10 years. On those trips, the gospel has been presented in a wide variety of ways, including distribution of Bibles and gospel literature at well dedications, showing the JESUS film, using audio devices, as well as oral Bible storytelling in the communities. Follow-up strategies, orality training workshops and partnerships with local churches and other mission organizations are also an important part of our efforts in advancing the Kingdom of God.

A Living Water mission trip coordinator recently shared some feedback from a team that made a trip to Central America. The mission team found it necessary to hire an additional van and driver to transport them to the project site. The team had taken Bibles to pass out at the dedication of the new well. The van driver they hired planned to steal one of the Bibles, but he felt bad and put it back. When one of the team members learned of his interest in having a Bible, he told him he would give him one the next day. The driver later sent a text message and said, “Thanks to God I have decided to look for a new life. The six days I spent with you guys opened the door of my heart and I am willing to follow.”

It is encouraging to realize that God is not limited to any one method of sharing the gospel and making disciples. Jesus said in John 7:38, “Out of your heart will flow rivers of living water.” He was illustrating how the redemptive activity of God is like a flowing river that has great force and cuts its own course. It is exciting to see how God intervenes in people’s lives to break the cycle of relational, spiritual and physical poverty when His Word is presented in a way that they can understand, respond to and reproduce. In many cases it is the water that opens the door for the Word and opens people’s hearts to the message of Jesus.

Volunteers who go on mission trips are often transformed as much as the people in the communities. Many times at a well dedication, there is not a dry eye in the crowd. People in the community are filled with joy and gratitude. They know that their lives will never be the same again.

For more information, please go to: and I can be contacted at: 

Jerry Wiles serves as president emeritus of Living Water International ( Living Water is one of the world’s leading faith-based water solutions organizations with operations in Asia, Africa, and Central and South America. Having gotten involved in orality-based evangelism and disciple making strategies in the 1980s, he has been a paradigm pioneer in the orality movement and presently serves on the advisory council of the International Orality Network. Wiles has more than 35 years experience in ministry and international mission work. He can be contacted at

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