Living Waters Empowers Locals with Clean Water

Jun 13, 2024

by Courtney Ellis

Globally, the average person walks three and a half miles for clean water. It was learning of these struggles that inspired Jonas Hayes to get involved. His first solo pastorate was at First Presbyterian in Greenville, Mississippi, a “Water Church,” the designation given to churches that partner with the ministry Living Waters for the World (LWW).

When Hayes accepted the call to Grace First Presbyterian in Long Beach eight years ago, he brought up LWW as just one new mission option they might pursue. “I didn’t want it to be pastor-led,” he said. The congregation quickly caught the vision. “This mission and ministry came from a grassroots effort,” said Hayes. His congregation has been involved with LWW ever since.

According to the organization’s website, Living Waters for the World “trains volunteers to establish and lead water mission teams that partner with communities to implement and operate sustainable water purification systems and health education programs.” The mission began years ago as a brainchild of the Synod of Living Waters, a Presbyterian Synod encompassing portions of Tennessee, Mississippi, Alabama, and Kentucky.

Since its inception, it’s trained over 2,500 volunteers through its “Clean Water U,” equipping them to work with volunteer partners around the world, providing not only clean water but community health education, too.

Grace First currently partners with Huánuco, a town in central Peru, connecting with locals to clean up their water supply together and educate their community in ongoing public health.

“Living Waters doesn’t dig wells,” said Hayes. “We work with the community and install water filtration systems. They need to have a water source already. This filters out the impurities.”

Leslie Reese, a member of Grace First’s Mission, Peace, and Justice Committee and retired faculty at Cal State, Long Beach, is on the team that travels to Huánuco. “We’ve made three trips now,” she said.

Part of the reward of partnering with LWW is its focus on education, she noted. “Our team members, trained at Clean Water U, provide lessons that include a spiritual lesson, a biblical lesson that’s related to water, and then also lessons about water contamination and germs, very basic germ theory, and how to use the water,” she said. “The idea is that we are training educators who are then going to do that education work in their own communities. In the morning they get the lesson and in the afternoon, they teach the lesson to a small group.”

Hayes extolled the importance of LWW’s ministry model. “One thing that’s really key in this is that it’s a teacher-to-teacher model,” he said. “We don’t just build a system and leave. We go into the community and have a team that mirrors our team. They actually assemble the water system because when they know the science behind it and how it works, they can trust it more.”

Church teams travel down to their host location a minimum of four times, giving them ample time to scout and determine sites, build teams and relationships, and then ensure that a system is working properly after its installation.

“The fourth [visit] is a sustainability visit,” said Hayes. “There’s a lot of community education.”

Back in Long Beach, Hayes and his church also host an annual Walk for Water, raising money and awareness for the cause. This year’s was planned for the day before Easter, Holy Saturday, but when storm clouds gathered, it was postponed until June.

Reese noted that the Walk for Water is about raising funds, but that “the purpose of it is really more of an awareness and solidarity with folks around the world, and in the US as well, who have water-related needs or experience water-related sickness and disease and are in need of clean water.”

The ministry of LWW is inherently collaborative for both churches in America and the volunteers they partner with around the world. Grace First’s participation in Peru is one of 35 sites LWW oversees. The Session at Grace recently voted to begin planning for a second site, a sign of the congregation’s deepening passion for this mission.

Hayes hopes that the vision can spread beyond just his corner of Los Ranchos. “We would love to work with other churches,” he said, noting that it would be a lot of fun to “be a Presbytery water team. There’s no rule of thumb that this has to be within one congregation! This is something that can be broader than a single church mission, you can share resources. Not just financial, but human.”

For congregations interested in learning more, Reese said she’d be happy to come and present. Hayes and Reese would both love to answer questions over email as well. You can email Jonas here. Leslie can be reached here. To make a donation to Living Waters for the World, visit their website.


Courtney Ellis, Associate Pastor at Presbyterian Church of the Master in Mission Viejo, is an author and storyteller. Courtney will be reporting over the next few months on the presbytery’s mission partnerships.

Courtney’s latest book is Looking Up: A Birders Guide to Hope Through Grief, published by InterVarsity Press.