A Job Well:Done

The stage was set. The goal that was just a flicker of a dream five years ago had set fire to a movement and swept a nation.

As Dan Haseltine, lead singer for Jars of Clay put it, “This is a night of celebration. Celebration of imagination, that the people of Africa can imagine a better life. Celebration of courage, celebration of generosity and a celebration of hope.”

The night was hosted by Blood:Water Mission, marking the completion of their 1,000 Wells Project, which brought 1,000 new sources of clean water to people across Africa.

And the entire movement began with a small band of musicians and a 21-year-old college student with no experience who decided to take the first step.

Blood:Water was founded 10 years ago by the band Jars of Clay and Executive Director Jena Nardella, who was just a college student with a passion at the time. It began as an answer to the overwhelming need for HIV/AIDS crisis relief in Africa. Having discovered the vital link between living with HIV/AIDS and the need for clean water, Jars launched the organization in 2001 and the 1,000 Wells Project in 2005.

According to Haseltine, what began as 1,000 wells quickly became a call not just to dig wells but to provide clean water and sanitation to 1,000 communities across Africa by capturing rainwater, filtering spring water and digging wells.

When asked why they set 1,000 as their goal, Haseltine admitted, “One thousand is a number that only God can do.” US Programs Director at Blood:Water Mike Lenda added, “We thought we’d never reach 1,000, and we did it in just seven years! It shows us that everything is possible.”

The celebration began with opening statements from renowned producer Charlie Peacock. With congratulatory videos from figureheads like Governor Bill Haslam, Donald Miller, Third Day, Little Big Town, Switchfoot, Charity: Water Founder Scott Harrison, Tony Campelo, Anne Jackson and Senator Bill Frist; one couldn’t help but be awed by the breadth of support and recognition shoring up this organization.

In a nutshell, Blood:Water Mission has raised millions of dollars through the efforts of hundreds of thousands of individuals and communities seeking to make a difference. At the completion of the 1,000 Wells Project in 2010, they could point to partnerships with 1,000 communities in Africa that aid in the life-saving water and healthcare for more than 600,000 people in 11 countries.

Along the way, the 1,000 Wells Project expanded to include several clean water solutions, sanitation and hygiene training, funding for health clinics and workers to support communities affected by HIV/AIDS.

One of the resounding choruses of the night came from the Jars of Clay song, “We Will Follow,” with the line “Where You lead us we will follow” speaking to the goal of the whole organization.

Among those inspired by the work of Blood:Water were the many performers of the night, including Derek Webb and his wife, Sandra McCracken. Webb likened the celebration to the promise-marking rituals of old, saying, “An Ebenezer is a pile of rocks where God meets us, and I dare say that God has met the people of Africa at every well built.”

Lenda said the most significant message of the night was that the ‘power of small’ does great things. “Our grassroots campaigns, from lemonade stands and weekly allowances donated to families who give up their Christmas gifts, shows the magnitude of how far even $1 can go.”

One of the sweetest examples of the grassroots life-blood running through this organization is bundled up in a young girl named Lulu. Lulu was nine years old when she had a simple lemonade stand that quickly grew into Lulu’s Lemonade Warriors, a group that raised a significant amount of money for communities in Africa.

Now, Lulu is 12 and hosts her own philanthro-parties, which she described as parties in which the birthday guy or girl forego all presents and instead have their friends and families make donations to Blood:Water. After Lulu hosted her first philanthro-party, several friends had such a blast that they followed suit.

Another highlighted grassroots campaign was that of Erin Morris’ Ride:Well cycle across America. Morris and a close-knit team rode from California to Delaware, traveling 8- to 12-hour days and an average of 80 miles per day in the sun and the rain—all on a very tiny seat. Though she admitted it was a crazy time of fun and delirium, she also said it was phenomenally rewarding.

Worlds came crashing together when Erin got to meet Ida, a woman from the project in Kenya for which Erin’s ride had raised money. Ida spoke about the effect of clean water on the people in her community with HIV/AIDS. She described the low quality of life for even those “healthy” people in her area when they have only dirty water to drink.

Inspired by the stories of grassroots initiatives, Hanson added their congratulations for the night’s celebration with their (OK, I admit) incredible performance. Hanson, who have taken part in Water Walks, which challenge Blood:Water fans to walk the equivalent distance indigenous Africans have to walk to their water source, told stories of their experiences before emerging from their “MMMBop” stereotype and bringing down the Ryman.

Jars of Clay also delivered an emotionally charged performance before Brite’s own Matthew Perryman Jones, long-time friend and advocate of Blood:Water, added his voice to the performance of “Eyes Wide Open” alongside Derek Webb.

“Where you lead us, we will follow” seems to have been the calling on the lives of those who began this organization. And when they sang this song, the chorus sprang forth from the crowd like worship.

“God has a heart for the poor,” Haseltine shared. And it is evident that Haseltine’s heart beats to the same rhythm.

Jars introduced two men who have partnered in an exchange of ideas and technology to benefit their own respective African communities: Evans from Zambia and Delayo from Uganda. These men described the Africans for Africans program, which works to empower Africans to help one another. Blood:Water does this by contributing financial aid and expertise to train Africans to sustain their own communities.

The final performance of the night was from Kenya’s own Eric Wainaina. The audience witnessed first-hand the eclectic sounds and African showmanship that had so impressed Jars on a visit to Africa. Wainaina’s music brought the whole crowd to its feet and made even the ‘whitest’ audience member attempt to dance.

Nardella closed the night with this promise: “Although the 1,000 Wells Project is completed, we aren’t moving on; instead we’re moving deeper. There are still millions without safe water, and our commitment to them continues.”

Haseltine agreed: “This is a story that doesn’t have an end.”