An 82-year-old woman finishing the Detroit Free Press 5k.
A Chattanooga Ironman triathlon finisher.
A woman battling breast cancer
All running for the same purpose and wearing the same thing: blue Hope Water Project Jerseys.
In the early chill and darkness of October 18, I found myself one of 27,000 runners and walkers at the Detroit Half-marathon and marathon. Me running a half-marathon is amazing in and of itself due to my inherent aversion to running, but that’s a story for another magazine.
After the shotgun sounded, and I got my pre-race jitters out within the first few miles, I began looking around— at something other than my own feet—and I saw blue.
Hope Water Project jerseys. Everywhere.
I’d heard about Hope Water Project only a short time before the race. I knew one or two people involved in it, but I had not imagined so may were running or walking for the Pokot who have little or no access to clean water.
It might have been the cold air or the burn in my lungs or the ache of my legs. Maybe it was the sheer emotion of running a half-marathon, but I could hardly keep the lump in my throat from growing. The sight of those blue jerseys, worn by hundreds of local church and non-church people joining for a mission greater than themselves; the friends and families lining the route with Hope Water Project signs; the groups of half-and full- marathoners inspiring each other with songs of worship. They all made a stunning blue mosaic for my 13.1 miles.
A thousand stories for one story—the story of the Pokot.
The Hope Water Project Story
The Pokot—which represents nearly one million people—is an impoverished people group in western Kenya. Hope Water Project, part of Kensington Church in Troy, Michigan, assembles teams of runners, walkers and bicyclers to participate in events in Michigan and Florida, raising money for clean water for the Pokot. Kensington Church has partnered with the Pokot since 2004, working to provide health and hope in their communities.
Current water sources are shared with animals (and who knows what else) and are riddled with disease. The Pokot suffer from illnesses—some known and some unknown— due to dirty and dangerous water. Often sickness is visible on their very faces.
Community wells help solve basic needs plaguing the Pokot communities. Clean water aids in healing and preventing diseases, allowing them to survive and thrive.
But it’s more than just water. Hope Water Project uses clean water wells to provide the Pokot with health and opportunity.
Clint Dupin, lead pastor for Kensington Church’s Birmingham, Michigan campus and co-chaplain for the Detroit Pistons, is part of the Hope Water Project leadership team. He reports the time it takes for the Pokot members to find water each day could be up to four hours. Four hours! Children and adults cannot receive an education, capitalize on opportunity or be involved in a church because it takes too much time—time they must spend finding what they need to survive: water, food, shelter.
“These people are real. They’re beautiful. They sing, they dance; they’re full of life,” said Dupin. “Water provides temporary relief. But Jesus offers eternal hope.”
The Pokot have so much life—so much potential. But it is being stolen by filthy water, by the time it takes to find it and by the disease it brings. Hope Water Project is returning life and potential to the Pokot people by digging wells that supply water for entire communities.
The Mosaic of Stories
The week following the race, when my legs came back from their mushified state, it became even clearer to me. Like when you walk up close to mosaic artwork and see all the tiny pictures that make up the big picture, I finally saw the beauty of the individual stories that made up the Hope Water Project mosaic.
Like my friend, Deb Potts, whose grandsons came to cheer her on in her first half-marathon.
Deb was inspired to walk the half- marathon by her prayer partner, Magdalena, a Pokot woman. Magdalena, a widow and a grandmother, has raised ten children and is now raising her late sister’s three children. Because of the well in her Pokot community, she doesn’t have to spend four hours a day finding water for her family anymore; Magdalena is now able go to church, be active in a women’s ministry, play soccer everyday, raise three more kids, love God and pray for Deb.
“I walked so others could have that advantage as well,” said Deb. “Clean water means so much more to them than physical health.”
And, true to a mosaic, Deb’s story joins so many others who realized the weight of their race, each step motivated by the Pokot.
“Three weeks ago, I was diagnosed with breast cancer. I had a first chemo treatment, and I had surgery in the last two weeks, [but] I wasn’t going to let that stop me. I have a job to do here, and while I’m here, I’m going to do that job.”
“I’m thinking about how far the Pokot have to walk to get something that is so accessible to us.”
“I will not stop. I cannot quit. They are dying; they have no water. We’re saving lives.”
And then. AND THEN. I saw the photo of Reuben Meriakol on Hope Water Project’s Facebook page.
Reuben Meriakol—what a perfect last name—is the first Pokot to run in the Detroit Free Press Marathon.
The HWP Family
Over 1,300 Hope Water Project runners and walkers participated in the 2015 Detroit Free Press marathon events. Other events include One Day Ride Across Michigan (ODRAM), the Hope Water Project 5K and the Walt Disney World® Marathon.
Altogether, over 4,000 participants have contributed. As a result, Hope Water Project has dug 45 wells to date in the Pokot region, providing hope for physical health and offering a spiritual cure to over 90,000 individuals.
It’s a story worth getting into, and it might just be something that gets into your story, too. Bill Clark, executive director of Hope Water Project, says the impact is more than just Kenya—it’s here at home, too.
“Hope Water Project gives people a chance to be part of a bigger purpose while building community through our Group Runs and Rides. We’ve seen new friendships formed, addictions being beat, relationships mended and the feeling of being connected to a community that is changing lives,” he explained. “When you put on a Hope Water Project jersey, you are more than a team member. You are family.”
Emily ran the Detroit half-marathon for Hope Water Project. Are you a runner or a cyclist? Join the HWP team and give water and hope!