UOC of the USA members who attended our Sobor in October 2022 learned of a new ministry that was just beginning to be formed at that time. This article describes the work of the Isaiah 44 Project’s most recent activity.
A Sacred Outpouring of Grace - The Isaiah 44 Project – Wells for Malawi
Clouds of choking dust rise from dry dirt roadways – the diesel truck engine groaning as gears are shifted to navigate the turns and potholes on what we, in America, would hardly call a road. But the crew is upbeat and undaunted as they turn the corner and make their safe arrival at a rather unusual sight in the center of Africa – an Orthodox Church. Fr. Ermolaos, Pastor of St. Anastasia Church, greets the team as they jump from the truck accompanying the massive well-drilling rig and everybody is anxious and enthusiastic to start the job. The unspoken feeling in their hearts is, ‘Let’s find these people some water!’
The priest is dressed not in his cassock, but in work clothes and rubber work boots - with the hope that there will be water sloshing around soon. Children run to the church and hang out, as they often do in this village called Masauli, so Fr. Ermolaos has to set aside his outdoor labors with the drilling team to greet the children and give them a treat. The word spreads fast in the village – a borehole! Coming to our village! Let’s go and see!
The team wastes no time as the rig is set up and begins to grind its way through the crusty ground and deep into the earth, as aqua blue well casing is inserted as they go deeper. When they reach 140 feet – a big shout goes up! They have reached water!
There’s such great hope now – that the water can be brought to the surface for everybody to use for their daily needs, together as a community. No longer will the women of this village have to leave at 4am every day to walk to the water hole kilometers away – dragging empty plastic buckets. During their trek they must suppress their fears, and remain hopeful there will still be water when they arrive there especially when the water supply has been diminishing fast during the dry season. And if they get water, they hoist the containers onto their heads and trudge back, for hours, just so that the basic needs of life can be met at their homes. Even those not in the village of the borehole celebrate, because their walk may only be one hour to the new well-borehole, instead of two hours.
The borehole at St. Anastasia was made possible through the kindness and generosity of a number of members and friends of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the USA. By participating in the Isaiah 44 Project, they extend their love and spiritual care to the people of Malawi by supporting well-drilling projects like this. The Isaiah 44 Project is a cooperative effort with the international missionary organization Equipping Leaders International (ELI), that supplies the well drilling equipment and the staffing to strike water deep in the earth, and the pumping capability to bring it to the surface. In the vision of the Isaiah 44 Project, the ELI team consults with Malawian Orthodox Christian clergy to identify suitable sites for these essential projects.
After completing the initial setup for the well, the pipe is capped, and the day draws to a close – a beautiful Malawi sunset holds great promise.
Day 2 – Completed Installation
As Day 2 dawns, the drilling men of the ELI – Malawi team hop off the truck again bright and early to complete the ‘civil work’ to make ready the borehole for public use. They uncover the pipe at the top of the well; then the team unveils the gleaming new, double handled steel well pump! After securing the massive pump to the well head they proceed to an important next step – pouring a concrete base for the well pump and the drain that channels excess water away from the borehole site. That concrete drain is important because it keeps stagnant or polluted surface water from contaminating the clean water in the borehole. Next Duncan, the local ELI team leader, energetically pumps the handle up and down with two hands again and again – and everyone is ever hopeful. Then behold - the water pours out of the pump spout! Everybody is amazed and rejoices – their lives are being changed before their very eyes!
But the celebration will be delayed, just a bit. That’s because it’s necessary to allow the concrete to set properly so that the installation will last a long time. But everything is being made ready. The pump is locked down but everyone anticipates the public opening which will take place very soon! The concrete requires several days to cure, so everybody waits. It’s like waiting for Pascha. But they’ve been waiting for a long, long time so what’s another day or two?
The New Day
As the Day of Dedication dawns, the Christian faithful of St. Anastasia Church invite the local community of the village to begin the new day by turning to God – ‘Let us give thanks to God!’ Just a few weeks earlier at Theophany, the faithful of our Ukrainian Orthodox churches heard the prayers that recalled the mystery of God’s grace present in the blessing of the Jordan water. These prayers are now offered to God in a foreign tongue in a far-off place in the midst of a new people of God. The Malawians understand what these prayers say and mean – that water is the sustaining force of their lives. These waters that will sustain them physically but also spiritually are a gift from God the Father through Jesus Christ.
Today, another vehicle comes bouncing down the dusty road from the north. St. Anastasia parish will welcome a special guest – the spiritual Father of the parish, Archbishop Fotios. Accompanied by senior priests from the archdiocese, Fathers Chyrsanthos and Nikodemos and other guests, they will gather with the people of the village as well as Duncan and his friends from ELI to celebrate together this New Beginning.
A small bowl of water is prepared and blessed. Then, the bishop circles the borehole and sprinkles everything and everyone with the water – which is now holy water because the people see God as its source. And then the Archbishop steps up to begin the release of water himself, making the sign of the cross three times, then he starts to vigorously pump the handle. After several enthusiastic efforts the water flows out in abundance! The scores of people gathered about raise up and shout for joy, accompanied by an enthusiastic hand-clapping! As the water flows, they rush for their buckets and wash off and splash the water all about playfully. Men step up one by one, greeted by the bishop, to do the heavy-duty pumping work. All are filled with joy and singing breaks out. The women begin the customary rhythmic dance and song that accompanies the praise of God in their culture. Some of the locals hold up two banners for all to see, one describes the ‘Isaiah 44 Project’ and the second is a message to us all, ‘You are making a difference’! Some young men make videos to share, explaining their gratitude for the borehole, and their commitment to be good stewards of this gift, on behalf of the community.
Prayers are also offered in the hearts of the faithful that, by the grace of God, the second dimension of the Isaiah 44 Project will be fully realized – an invigoration of a growing, flourishing local Church, through the ministry of Fr. Ermolaos and the Parish faithful. This will lead to the spiritual salvation of the people of the Chirazoulou region through the outpouring of the grace-filled waters of Holy Baptism - and their spiritual formation in the Church as Christians.
The Chirazoulou Isaiah 44 Project borehole in Malawi is dedicated to the Lord in thanksgiving - and in celebration of the holy ministry of His Eminence, our Metropolitan Antony, our prime hierarch. With deep gratitude we ask the Lord to bless the people of Chirazoulou through this well for years to come. It is notable that this drilling project began on the Feast of St. Antony of the Desert. Our own Metropolitan Antony, who has faithfully labored in the vineyard of the Church as a priest for over 50 years and as our Metropolitan for 10 years, begins a ‘new year’ and a ‘new decade’ of his holy ministry. He will be remembered not only in the United States, but also now in the center of Africa, the very homeland of St. Antony.
In hearing of the completion and blessing of the borehole, Metropolitan Antony wrote,
“How wonderful is our God, who provides for people of faith, hope and love!!! Peace, Love and Joy to all who will be blessed with the water that pours forth from this well - a Gift from God manifested through the kindness and generosity of many fellow Orthodox Christians!”
Additional boreholes in Africa are desperately needed. By the grace of God, one by one, through the spiritual work of people whose hearts who are touched and moved to generosity, the mission to bring life-giving spiritual water will be fulfilled. We are deeply grateful to the ELI organization for their spirit of cooperation in joining in this common, Christian effort.
If you would like to learn more about the Isaiah 44 Project in Malawi or join in this effort and fellowship, please contact Fr. Robert Holet at 434-987-8170, or via email at email@example.com. Additional information will soon be posted on www.orthodoxsteward.com
Photos: courtesy of Fr. Robert Holet