Growing up on a farm, one of my jobs was to carry water to the chickens. I thought I was working hard. I carried water maybe 30 feet, sometimes making two trips so the bucket wouldn’t be too heavy. The water never ran out. No one else was waiting to use the faucet.
Women in Africa spend 40 billion hours a year walking for water and carrying it home. According to the World Health Organization, climate change and increasing water scarcity are creating difficulties. By 2025, half of the world’s population will be living in water-stressed areas.
We North Americans think little about water, unless we have too much and it floods our fields and neighborhoods. Or we live in a place like Flint, Mich., where it’s hard to trust the safeness of the water. Or we feel guilty for not recycling our plastic water bottles.
Water has always been a valuable commodity. Mix in greed, and those on the margins are left to bear the impact. Who gets to water their chickens or sheep first? Not the marginalized or the women, but the powerful.
Moses faced conflict over water miles before the wandering Hebrews complained about lacking water. This earlier encounter with tensions over water occurred as he was escaping from Pharaoh. Moses’ empathy for a nameless beaten slave led him to intervene and landed him on Pharaoh’s wanted list. Moses flees to Midian.
While sitting by a well, the daughters of a Midianite priest come to water their father’s flock. Dominating shepherds arrive and drive the daughters’ sheep away. Again, Moses isn’t able to stay neutral. His empathy for the exploited, even the unknown and foreign exploited, moves him to action. Moses enters the clash and enables the daughters’ flock to drink (Ex. 2:11-15).
Moses’ empathy and passion raise unsettling questions. We look around and see women who have little control over their water. They have no control over the climate change that is reshaping their land. Dominating corporate herders put themselves first in line. They control the water, carbon emissions, fossil fuel consumption and more.
Moses reflects God’s passion for the mistreated and the exploited. God recruits Moses to free the Hebrew slaves. We may not be called to act as dramatically as Moses did, but God is still recruiting people to act with empathy for the mistreated. How does it look to notice the people waiting for water, waiting for food?
We like to think we are like Moses, standing up for the oppressed, but too often we are the ones expecting more bricks for our building projects. We thoughtlessly fill our water bottles, not seeing those waiting for water. Pope Francis’ encyclical was clear. “The warming caused by huge consumption on the part of some rich countries has repercussions on the poorest areas of the world, especially Africa, where a rise in temperature, together with drought, has proved devastating for farming.”
Water and climate change are pro-life issues. Do we have the courage to take on the corporate herders and Pharaohs? How do we respond to the many unknown people being told to wait for water, being told they don’t count? Do we have empathy for demoralized foreign strangers?
When was the last time our empathy got us in trouble? Are we willing to speak out against those drinking and consuming more than their share of creation’s resources, even if it includes us? Are there ways to respond lovingly even to those first in line?
Jane Yoder-Short attends West Union Mennonite Church in Parnell, Iowa.