A Legacy Built on Water
Every October in Wisconsin, something amazing happens. The humid, thick air of summer shifts to a crisp, cool, northern breeze. Trees exchange their green leaves for more seasonally-appropriate yellows, oranges, and reds. Everywhere you look, a pumpkin-flavored coffee drink is available for a limited time only.
But halfway around the world, it’s a different story.
In Indonesia, October is the start of the four-month rainy season. Water-logged storm clouds blanket the sky. Lightning and thunder take center stage. Rain—clean, precious, drinkable water—comes around “for a limited time only.”
Kingdom Workers has spent more than six years, six rainy seasons, working alongside communities in rural Indonesia to address the need for clean water. Together we've built sustainable water storage solutions and sanitation units. And at the start of this year, Ian Millen, a Kingdom Workers volunteer, led a water project at a local area high school in Indonesia. Ian, from New Zealand, discovered Kingdom Workers soon after he and his wife moved to Indonesia in the mid 2010's so she could work as a nurse for a few years. Ian has been helping with various projects ever since.
Ian Millen with his wife in Indonesia.
I met with Ian and Coral, our Southeast Asia Field Manager, via Zoom to talk about this recent project. It was a conversation that flipped everything I knew about clean water initiatives on its head.
My first assumption was that access to water would be far easier for students in rural Indonesia during the rainy season. More water equals more access, right? But Ian explained, “The water in the rivers runs very dirty. It pulls in a fine clay that seems to come out of the hills. During the rainy season you can’t keep up with it. You end up with six to eight inches of mud [in a water filter] in no time.”
So, rivers weren’t the best solution. Collecting water straight from the skies seemed like the next best option. Rainwater is already mud-free and tasty to drink. But this was another complex issue. “There’s a prejudice against rainwater in Indonesia.”
Coral expanded, “There are some villages that refuse to [drink rainwater] because they think that it’s not clean or that there is something wrong with it. You have to essentially break these stereotypes.”
“I had to explain to them that essentially all water is rainwater. That water flowing in the river was rainwater that fell down the mountains. That water in the springs came from the rain. I had to show them and help them understand,” explained Ian, “But now we have a whole group of young people who can go tell and show their parents that rainwater is safe.”
Coral, Southeast Asia Field Manager, walks along the road with young people from one of the rural villages.
Once everyone was comfortable with the idea of drinking rainwater, Ian, staff, and students at the high school began work on the water collection system. At the time when Ian, Coral, and I talked in early July, the project was nearly complete.
"And Jesus is the water of life who gives us this physical water and His spiritual water. Without Jesus, our program is incomplete."
Coral shared, “When this project is finished there will be five tanks and gutter systems on two of the buildings. In total this will help the school store 40,000 liters of water during the rainy season and beyond.”
Access to clean, safe drinking water is life-changing for the students and staff. The project has been spiritually fulfilling, too. “Everything is all so incredibly tied together," Coral shared. "If we don’t have water, kids won’t be successful in the classroom. Students wouldn’t be able to grow vegetables to help their bodies grow. Girls wouldn’t be able to care for their bodies as easily. And Jesus is the water of life who gives us this physical water and His spiritual water. Without Jesus, our program is incomplete.”
During the project, Ian talked with students about their futures. “I’m teaching them the importance of doing things correctly and how that spills over into our lives spiritually. I talk to them a lot about their walk with Christ... it’s important as they are thinking about what their next step is after school.”
For graduating students like Indah, that next step involves leaving home to go to university. A future she never thought possible until now.
Indah (left) with her mother (right) stand in front of their home in rural Indonesia.
Indah is the most recent recipient of the Martin Ntambo Leadership Development Scholarship. She grew up with her mother in a village high up in the mountains of rural Indonesia. Over the past few years, she has participated in Kingdom Workers clean water projects in her village and at the high school. She also played a role in the women’s health workshops and encouraged younger classmates to invest in their health and understanding of their bodies.
"But I have been blessed to have this chance to go to university. I want to be a blessing for others."
This fall, Indah will begin classes to become a teacher. In her scholarship application essay, she wrote about why she wants to do this. “I am very happy to be involved with Kingdom Workers during my time in high school. In my junior high school and here I have had really good teachers who inspired me. Since I was little, I wanted to become a Christian Indonesian language teacher. If I am able to become a teacher, I want to assist in Sunday school at my church. I want to be able to communicate the word of God and Christian love through my profession. Going to university will be a big challenge for me. But I have been blessed to have this chance to go to university. I want to be a blessing for others.”
As you read this, the rainy season will be starting, and Indah will be at university. A new class of students will begin their educational journey at the high school. Rainwater will collect in water storage tanks to be used for growing food, supporting good hygiene, and combating dehydration. Perhaps, in a few years’ time, students like Indah will return to walk with the next generation, encouraging them to pursue the plans God has in store for them.
Kimberly Magsig is the Content Specialist for Kingdom Workers. She enjoys getting to share God's word each day in her work. In her free time she enjoys spending time in nature, trying her hand at cooking new recipes, and having friends over for a game night.