As the bombs began to fall, we grieved that we could leave but they could not.
My wife, Emily and I are members of Watts Street Baptist Church in Durham, N.C. In November, 2012, we had the unique opportunity to visit Gaza with a delegation of Interfaith Peace Builders. This was an opportunity practically no Americans have had in the past decade.
A single portal that connected Gaza with the rest of the world was opened for a very brief moment in time permitting our entry. There, we saw what life was like for the 1.7 million residents. We saw the wall that surrounds this most densely populated area of the world. We walked through the rubble of homes and buildings — the remains of an assault four years earlier. These were homes that could not be rebuilt
The delegation witnessed the curtailment of construction, farming and fishing that had decimated the economy. We met with families that lost children either because of military action or because they were unable to leave Gaza to obtain medical care. We met with families of husbands imprisoned for unlimited duration without charge and with no privilege of family visit.
Refugee camps have existed in Gaza since 1948. In these camps, electricity is often available for only a few hours a day and access to water is severely limited. Twenty-eight percent of the people living in the access-restricted area of Gaza receive water one day a week for a few hours.
Thirty-one percent receive water two days a week for a few hours. Ninety-two percent of the water coming from Gaza wells is unfit for human consumption — contaminated by salt and nitrates.
Gazans, who have a 30 percent unemployment rate with 70 percent of the population on food assistance, spend an average of 25 percent of their household income on water.
Our delegation left Gaza as military action began. On our last night in the Gaza strip our hotel was shaken by multiple air strikes. Members of our delegation grieved that we could get out the next day but Gazans were not allowed to escape. According to United Nations investigators two-thirds of the deaths in Gaza were civilians.
On returning home there was ample opportunity to tell the members of Watts Street Baptist Church about conditions in Gaza, conditions which most Americans do not have an opportunity to know or understand. We as a congregation decided to do what we could for the people of Gaza.
In 2008, the Middle East Children’s Alliance (MECA) started collecting funds to install reverse osmosis units in United Nations schools in Gaza. These units which make the water safe to drink are produced in two sizes.
A small unit which can supply the needs of up to 450 children costs $4000. A large unit which can supply the needs of up to 2000 children costs $11,400. Over 50 of these units have been contributed from groups all over the world. It is estimated that approximately 80 more units are needed.
Our church set as a goal raising $4000 which would be matched by an anonymous donor to purchase two of the small units. Members were asked to make either a pledge of a fixed amount or a pledge for every time they turned on the tap at home for one week.
We dubbed this effort, “Water in Desert.”
We chose Isaiah 35:6-7, as the scripture to go with our campaign, “Water will gush forth in the wilderness and streams in the desert. The burning sand will become a pool, the thirsty ground a bubbling spring!
The congregation, youth and adults, collected an amazing, including the contribution for an anonymous donor, which will permit the purchase of one large and one small reverse osmosis unit. These two units together can supply the needs of 2,450 children.
They should be installed in the coming months. A large sign over each will indicate that they were donated by Watts Street Baptist Church and Friends in Durham, North Carolina, USA.
Children in Gaza will learn that Christians in North Carolina really care about them.
Watts Street would like to encourage other congregations to undertake similar efforts. If your church would like assistance in initiating such a project, Watts Street members welcome the opportunity to provide additional details about our experiences. To learn more, connect with Ralph McCoy here.