Blood:Water Mission Sparks Movement In East Texas
By PATRICK BUTLER
(c)2008 Tyler Paper
Event organizers estimated 2,000 people filled the park's amphitheater and overflowed into the grassy areas beyond its walls. What drew the multi-denominational, multi-racial crowd was ostensibly to hear the spiritual free-flowing "mind-talk" of hip "Blue Like Jazz" author Donald Miller and the pensively passionate poet-singer Sara Groves. The two were part of the Ride:Well cross-country bicycle tour of 15 riders raising money for clean water wells for African children. Ms. Groves is part of the International Justice Mission and Food For The Hungry.
But clearly, said George Montalvo, who spearheaded the last-ditch organizational effort for Blood:Water Tyler, Miller and Ms. Groves were not what ultimately drew the people. Organizers had a matter of days to prepare for the unscheduled tour stop in Tyler.
"There were people here tonight who had no idea who Donald Miller or Sara Groves are," said Montalvo, as he surveyed the crowd happily basking in the rays of a sinking, golden sun before the concert. "People came," he said with a big smile, shaking his head. "Amazing. It's a miracle."
Not only did they come, Tylerites donated twice as much as organizers had hoped for.
"We hoped to raise enough to build 10 wells for African families, which costs about $40,000," said Canal on Wednesday. "We came away with almost $80,000. That's 20 wells and enough to service a city the size of Tyler with clean water for an entire year. Think of how that's going to impact people in Africa."
Tyler's estimated population topped 100,000 a few years ago and is still growing.
The Rev. Doug Clark, an avid bicyclist, had brain-flashed with Canal in May about bringing Miller and Ride:Well to Tyler. Canal is the president of Tyler's Bike Club.
Clark shook his head in near wonder on Wednesday, recalling the previous night's concert.
"It was a move of the Holy Spirit," he said. "Tyler was just ready to do something like this, I guess. I think people in area churches have been looking for a way to do something significant and do it together. I'm the new guy in town but I haven't even heard of anything like this, much less seen it."
Neither had the Rev. Reginald Garrett, who has worked in Tyler for 21 years. Garrett is senior pastor of New Days Community Church in north Tyler, a predominantly African-American congregation. Garrett and his staff were in excited conversation about the Bergfeld Park experience on Wednesday when the Tyler Paper called.
"Oh, it was great. We loved it," he said. "I was absolutely overwhelmed. Tyler can really be proud of what happened last night. I've never seen anything like it before. We have the Martin Luther King Jr. Rally every year, but there were far more people at this."
The draw for his congregation was the ease and significance of the mission, Garrett said.
"I'd never heard of the blood:water mission before this," he said. "The project itself -- to give a single dollar for a single African child to have clean water for a single year -- who could say 'no' to that? That's why we came."
Even East Texas homeless couldn't say "no" to giving what they had. Joel Heflin of New Gate Mission in Longview mentioned in a Friday Bible study a year ago at the mission that a single dollar could save people's lives.
"I've been familiar with blood:water for five years," Heflin told the Tyler Paper. "I'd told the study group that as bad as things were for them, there were people in worse situations. In America, we have access to clean water all the time in water fountains, but others don't. I showed them how many people die in Africa each year from disease from bad water. A dollar can get one person clean water for a year, and be healthy to go to school or avoid HIV/AIDS." CHANGE
A woman named Donna spoke up and said, "I bet we could even do that. You can find a dollar in change lying on the ground. I bet we could find a $100 in change on the ground if we tried."
A goal of $100 was set and pennies started coming in, said Heflin.
"We soon met that goal, and we set another goal at $500. Then $1,000."
At Tuesday's concert, Heflin and 13 homeless or out-of-work attendees at New Gate presented Sara Groves with $1,850. Their gift and effort was what Blood:Water Mission was all about, said Ms. Groves.
"Your story is so amazing, and it's really the heart of everything what we're doing," she said from the stage. "One person reaching out and making a difference, even in their own situations. You're an inspiration to all of us."
"It was surreal," said Heflin. "I'm still trying to process it all. It's awesome to have an amazing artist like Sara Groves recognize our people. They have been trampled on and not shown respect by so much of society. For them to see they could be used by God and inspire others was amazing."
Montalvo forwarded New Gate's story to blood:water and they sent it out to the world from there, Heflin said.
"We recieved e-mails at New Gate from all over the world from people who were inspired by our efforts," he said. "It showed everybody that homeless people can contribute and provide for others."
And if there's a secret to blood:water mission, it's the belief that a single, involved person with a single, small contribution combined with others like them, can make a huge difference.
"We didn't go after big contributors," said Montalvo. "We just asked regular people to give what they could. We broke the money-counting machine at the bank with the bills we had. We still have bags and bags of coins."
At the concert a man in a baseball cap casually leaned over the stone wall of the amphitheater, soaking up the joyful scene before him.
"This is faith the way it oughtta be," he said with a smile. LOVE
The flavor, the creme of the coffee at the low-key, informal and family-like Bergfled event appeared to signal a new direction for some Smith County faithful. There was no contemporary "worship" band. No pastor-driven speeches, sermons or ultimatums. No insistence that Jesus is the way, and no one comes to the Father but by Him -- just a simple request.
"Don't let your love grow cold," Ms. Groves sang in her opening number. The enthusiastic response at song's end seemed to signal they would not.
The young Miller's writings have been held up as indicator of the new look of the 21st-century faith journey. "Blue Like Jazz" is Miller's chronicle of his often-confusing and seemingly paradoxical search for meaningful relationship with God. The Houston native now lives in the Pacific Northwest. The book "quietly made" Miller said, the New York Times best-seller list. He's described "Jazz" as "me just talking to myself." His writing appeals to young adults, but also to a wider spectrum of people sensing there is something more to their spiritual experience.
God, and church, is still a mystery to him sometimes, he told the Tyler Morning Telegraph "I still struggle with attending church," Miller said. "I leave feeling I'm not doing it right. I love church. I'm part of a great church in Portland, and the pastor is my best friend, but I don't go there much."
Miller attends the Imagio Dei Community in Portland. Instead of services, Miller says he reads two books consistently.
"I have the Common Book of Prayer and a Catholic devotional I use most. I spend a lot of time in prayer. I like to pray."
He's not quite sure how God speaks to him.
"I don't know how he does it," Miller said. "I see things in front of me -- social injustice, hurting people -- and God seems to talk to me through that. On this tour, I've been learning to love people that I can't see (those in Africa) and I've never done that before."
Asked if God speaks to him, Miller said, "Whether he talks to me directly, I don't know. I can see things, like love or jealousy, in front of me, and I learn from that. But I do act on things I think God has said to me."
And how has that been working for him?EPILOGUE
Miller broke into a big smile. "That's been working great!" he said.
The "leadership" of the Bergfeld encounter with Christ are bemused when it comes to tapping in or sustaining what happened. They would like to sustain it somehow; it's needed, it would help the city, they said. But how does anyone go about replicating what took place?
"That's what really is needed in this town, someone to provide that leadership," said Garrett. "I think there needs to be more cooperation between black, white and Hispanic churches. It hasn't really been all that effective in the past. I don't know why that is, but if there is a project of common interest to all of us, I think we've shown that we'll all rally behind it."
Canal said, "It wasn't us, it was sovereign. This was beyond any one church. There were churches represented here, yes, but it was a movement of people beyond church lines. It was people who wanted to taste the living water."
For more information visit the Web at www.bloodwatermission.com. www.ridewelltour.com. or