Can one young woman change the world? Can she change living conditions for thousands of people?
Jena was a young girl on the way to a restaurant with her mother for lunch when she encountered a homeless and hungry man begging on the sidewalk. She was shocked, having faced the brutal reality that not all people were blessed with food and shelter like she was. After lunch, her uneaten burger was boxed up. She and her mom went back to the place where the man had been but he was gone. She never saw him again but that experience gave her the insatiable desire to have her life matter.
As a teen and college student, she worked in soup kitchens, feeding the homeless. Her life took a turn when, through another, she met with Jars of Clay, a contemporary (Christian) music group who had a desire like hers. They were concerned about the lack of clean water in Africa, as well as its untreated HIV-positive people. Blood:Water was born when Jena was twenty-two. Their audacious goal was one thousand wells.
She writes of her trips to East Africa, observing groups with which they would partner in work. Some projects would be fixing existing wells. Other projects would be transporting clean water from a distant source. They helped build a clinic. They struggled with their identity as a “Christian” organization and what that meant.
I was especially interested to read of the insights Jena gleaned about this kind of development work. There had been many previous attempts to provide water to African villages. Many of the projects failed. Some well projects succeeded only to have the well or machinery fall into disrepair. Jena realized that the local people needed to be involved in the project and take ownership of it. Partnering with grassroots organizations in Africa would be the way forward.
What an encouraging book! Jena's writing is well done, much of it in an almost poetic voice. She is very honest about her dreams, questions and struggles. She shares the hard lessons she learned about life, service, and marriage. At times she was overwhelmed with feelings of hopelessness, betrayal and disillusion. At times she was celebrating a glorious victory.
It is better, her mentor said, to be doing something than be doing nothing. Jena's book is a challenge to be doing something, to be honest about the world yet live in hope. It reveals that even a small group of people dedicated to helping others can initiate a work that has helped millions. I highly recommend it.
My rating: 5 stars.
You can find out more about Blood:Water at http://www.bloodwater.org/. You can watch a video about starting Blood:Water here and the journey to one thousand wells here.
Jena Lee Nardella is co-founder of Blood:Water and one of Christianity Today's 33 Under 30. She has received several honors and awards for her humanitarian work. She serves on the team of Praxis and served on the board for Equitas Group. She and her husband and their son live in Nashville and East Africa.
Howard Books, 288 pages.
I received a complimentary egalley from the publisher for the purpose of an independent and honest review.