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Don't Drink the Water!

One of the first things you hear when you mention that you are traveling to Mexico is “Don’t drink the water!” Despite it being a cliché, it is still very true. Water in Mexico is actually purified, just like in the U.S., but after the water leaves the purification plant, it often travels through old pipes that may contain heavy metals, parasites, bacteria, and other unpleasant things. Even for locals, drinking the tap water frequently causes vomiting and diarrhea. Thankfully, getting clean water is no problem in most cities. Bottled water is inexpensive and can be purchased in large quantities: a five-liter bottle is less than $2.

So you may be thinking, “No hay problema!” Just keep a bottle of water handy for drinking and problem solved. Hardly! What we don’t realize in America is how often and in what ways we use water and how much we take for granted clean tap water.

When you take a shower, do you focus on not having the water run into your mouth or up your nose? Do you keep a bottle of water at the bathroom sink to use to brush your teeth? When you prepare a meal, are you careful to only use bottled water? Have your fruits and vegetables been soaked in treated water to make sure they don’t carry deadly viruses or toxins?

The necessity of clean water was especially brought home to us when we first arrived in Mexico. Our temporary lodgings had only cold water in the kitchen. The bathroom had an electric heating system attached to the showerhead- a little invention used all over the world that missionaries like to call “widow-makers.” Touching the showerhead when it is on causes a nasty electrical shock. An improperly installed device can…well, the nickname says it all.

Three times each day, I watched as Alan carried three containers of warm water from the bathroom to the kitchen for washing dishes. Because of the poor water pressure, he would have to hold the large containers above his head to catch the trickling water as it came out of the faucet. At times, he would get a little too close and touch the showerhead. The shock of the current would often cause him to involuntarily spill the water all over himself and the floor. Once the containers were filled with warm water, he added dish detergent to the first, for washing. The second was for rinsing. The third would be treated with chlorine to kill germs. Too little chlorine and the water would not disinfect properly; too much chlorine and it could poison us. Each dish, utensil, and pan would be washed, rinsed, and then soaked in the treated water before setting aside to dry. Dishes could not be used until they had dried completely. What an ordeal to go through three times every day!

When we moved to our next place, one of the first things he did was to check to see if there was warm water in the kitchen. He was overjoyed to find that there was! It was a reminder to me that I take too many things for granted, especially when there are so many people who live in conditions that we cannot even imagine. It made me grateful that we even have clean water available in Mexico. So many people around the world do not.

More importantly, it was a reminder to me of the story of the woman at the well (John 4). How tedious it must have been for her to trek from her home to the well and back each day carrying that heavy load. But it wasn’t her physical burden that Jesus chose to deal with; those burdens are temporary. Instead, He offered her the Living Water that is eternal. The best gift that could be given. Our prayer is that we will be effective bearers of Living Water to those in Mexico and Central America. Your prayers can help to answer ours.

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