As published in the January 2016 issue of The Western Kentucky Catholic.
The Jubilee Year of Mercy was established by Pope Francis to last from Dec. 8, 2015 to Nov. 20, 2016. As a special series celebrating the Works of Mercy, The Western Kentucky Catholic is highlighting stories of individuals who live these Works around the Diocese of Owensboro. This month’s article tells the story of Water With Blessings, whose mission for clean drinking water exemplifies the Work “Give Drink to the Thirsty.”
By Elizabeth Wong Barnstead, The Western Kentucky Catholic
Sister Larraine Lauter, OSU, the cofounder of Water With Blessings, has always worked under the assumption that “God has put smart women everywhere.”
Therefore, establishing an organization that prioritizes women – mothers, specifically – as “agents of transformation” just made sense to this Ursuline Sister of Mount St. Joseph.
Water With Blessings trains and equips women in communities of survival to purify water for themselves and their neighbors, drastically decreasing illnesses and deaths from unclean water.
To date, more than 110,000 people have been touched by WWB’s lifesaving mission – and WWB has only been an official non-profit since 2011.
“When I work in communities with a lot of needs, communities of survival, I pretty universally find that women, especially young women, are a very untapped resource,” said Sister Lauter.
An idea that blossomed
The concept of WWB started when Sister Lauter, who does medical mission work in developing countries, together with teammates Arnie LaMay and Jim Burris, realized their medical team was overwhelmed with water-related sicknesses.
LaMay, a hospital engineer, found that after water-related stomach parasites were cured, “people are sick again in two weeks,” Sister Lauter recalled.
“We began researching everything,” said Sister Lauter. The idea appeared in 2007, and by the following year the three friends were attempting the water-purifying technology now used by WWB; the Sawyer PointONE filter.
But while the filters could have been distributed to developing communities as is done in countless cases of mission work, the WWB wanted the communities to thrive and continue to teach others how to use the water filters long after the medical missionaries left.
There was also the crisis faced by young mothers, those who with their children are at the very bottom in terms of vulnerability and survival: “Especially single mothers because those children are most likely to die,” said Sister Lauter.
The key was to invite the mothers themselves “to be agents of compassion and clean water. By doing that, we could multiply their impact.”
Starting in Honduras, WWB has now reached 31 countries.
Ranni Dillard of Holy Name of Jesus Parish, Henderson, met Sister Lauter when a WWB demonstration took place at the parish. Dillard, the parish’s social action coordinator, was interested in bringing the filters to the Diocese of Mandeville in Jamaica.
Members of the Diocese of Owensboro had already ministered in Mandeville on numerous occasions, but WWB’s healing touch had yet to reach Jamaica.
In 2014 the parish fundraised to purchase water filters for WWB, with the goal of bringing the technology to Jamaica. The local community, including a nearby Methodist church, pitched in to help, even knitting special covers for the filters.
“We raised enough money for 40 water filters,” said Dillard. “That would help 160 families. In November 2014 we went down to Jamaica with a team of six of us, and trained four water teachers.”
Dillard said that it was exciting “to know that the program was continuing and it was making a difference in the health of the people receiving the water filters.”
“You are living that Work of Mercy – providing drink to the thirsty, reaching out to those in need, helping the least of these, which is what Jesus is asking us to do,” she said.
Friendship & sisterhood
Sister Martha Keller, OSU, is an Ursuline sister like Sister Lauter, who also happens to be a good friend.
“I have been impressed with the mission of WWB from its origin,” said Sister Keller, who serves as pastoral associate at St. Jerome Parish, Fancy Farm.
Sister Keller and St. Jerome’s pastor, Fr. Darrell Venters, brought Sister Lauter to present WWB to both the adults and the kids during their summertime formation programs.
“We shared our dream with the parish and quickly got 60 sponsors,” said Sister Keller. St. Jerome’s raised close to $17,000 to allow 10 parishioners to take filters to Mandeville, Jamaica in 2015.
In four weeks the group could not take any more filters because of the two-suitcase limitation: “We slipped the filters in between other medical supplies, clothing, empty medication bottles, educational material, pencils, papers, crayons, markers (and) shoes,” said Sister Keller.
Sister Keller said she can think of nothing that the world, Church and families need more than “to embrace and focus on the call to be, show and accept mercy, and to commit to intentionally growing and living as disciples of Jesus Christ.”
Sister Lauter herself is very grateful for this collaboration with her fellow sisters and from her community at large.
“Ursulines are supposed to be risk-takers, so they supported me in that risk” of establishing WWB, said Sister Lauter.
“I am grateful for my community giving me the opportunity to try this out and see if it would work,” she said.
Learn more about Water With Blessings by visiting WaterWithBlessings.org or calling (502) 356-9281.