By Jeff Mullin, Senior Writer
Enid News and Eagle
ENID, Okla. —
Jesus offered the Samaritan woman at the well a drink of living water, saying, “Whoever drinks the water I give them will never thirst. Indeed, the water I give them will become in them a spring of water welling up to eternal life.”
Proclaiming the promise of that living water is one of the goals of Emmanuel Baptist Church’s mission in Niger, west Africa, but so is providing sources for good, clean H2O.
John Stam, Emmanuel’s missions’ pastor, has made a number of trips to Niger as part of the church’s ongoing mission there.
Emmanuel’s ties to Niger began more than a decade ago when Yacouba Seydou, and his wife, Renate, visited the church and asked for help in his efforts to improve life in his native country through their ministry, Hosanna Institute of the Sahel.
“Pastor Wade (Burleson) asked me into his office, and I met the two of them,” said Stam. “It was just one of those amazing visits. You don’t realize it’s going to be life-changing, but you know you’ve never run into something like this before.”
Emmanuel committed to helping Yacouba and Renate with their ministry. The first medical mission team from the church traveled to Niger in January 2004.
During that trip, Stam was confronted by Niger’s desperate need for clean water.
“We were waiting for a ferry, this archaic old ferry over the Niger river,” Stam said. “This young woman, probably 16 or 17, went out into the Niger river, squatted down, did her business in the water, then washed her face and then drank out of the river.”
When he returned to his office, he found on his desk an alumni magazine from his alma mater, Wheaton (Ill.) College, which contained an article about one of the school’s professors drilling water wells in Africa.
Stam spoke to the professor, Jim Clark, who referred him to an organization called Living Water International, based in Houston.
“We ended up buying a small, portable drilling rig they had helped design,” Stam said.
After sending several people to Houston to be trained to use the rig, Stam negotiated to purchase everything the church would need for two 100-foot wells. With the help of other churches, including Enid Mennonite Brethren, Emmanuel raised the money.
“We brought it here and practiced with it up on Bill Ward’s land,” said Stam. “Of course, none of us knew anything about drilling. We shipped it to Africa, and it was there waiting for us. We got two wells done on that first trip.”
That was in 2005. Since then a new drilling rig has been sent to Niger, and the church is in the process of completing “our 35th or 36th well,” said Stam.
“Some of those wells are really the primary water source for between 1,000 and 2,000 people,” Stam said.
The wells are communal affairs at which the water is drawn by simple hand pumps, which are easily repaired by in-country technicians.
Four drilling teams have been sent to Niger in the past year, and every year at least one medical team travels to the country.
“We’ll treat somewhere around a thousand people each year,” Stam said. “We’ve probably treated over 10,000 people in the past 10 years.”
Caring for the sick
Besides treating patients, the medical teams have engaged in training local people.
Enid physician Dr. John Provine, for example, provided instruction in resuscitation of infants.
“We’ve worked our way into the health system over there,” Stam said.
Among Emmanuel’s other partners is Humedica International, a German-based health organization similar to Doctors Without Borders.
“They’ve actually built a birthing clinic,” said Stam. “When we first started going over there the infant and child mortality rate combined was around 25 percent.”
When the medical teams first traveled to Niger, members learned quickly that crowd control was one of their biggest concerns.
“We’ve had machetes pulled on us, we’ve had doors pulled down, we’ve had babies pushed through windows,” said Stam. “What we learned was that the aggressive young mothers were bound and determined to have care for their babies, and if that meant pushing the elderly and the infirm to the back, they’d do whatever it took to see that their baby was taken care of.”
Now before holding a free clinic, the team hands out 200 tickets to the local mayor or leader, Stam said.
“We tell the mayor we want the sickest babies and the sickest adults,” said Stam, “then we’ll see your family members and last of all we’ll see the guards. Usually the toughest woman of the village is at the gate, and she lets in only people with tickets. We can see 200, 250 people in about six hours.”
The ministry has grown to the point they are close to having enough money to purchase a $500,000 office complex in Niger.
“That has come from some major donors here in Enid,” he said. “There’s been a real involvement in Enid.”
The church is branching out, beginning work in Poland with disadvantaged children.
“We’ll be taking one of our first mission trips there this summer,” he said.
Another trip is planned to Guatemala, where Emmanuel has an ongoing involvement with vacation Bible school.
Emmanuel also is involved in a ministry in New York City, targeting the homeless, drug addicts and alcoholics in some of that city’s most troubled areas.
“We have been involved with that ministry on and off for about 20 years,” he said.
Mission work is rewarding but challenging, Stam said.
“About halfway into the trip, when everything has gone wrong, you say, ‘What am I doing here?’” Stam said.
But he recalled a time four or five years ago on a well-drilling trip to an area near Niger’s border with Mali and Burkina Faso. There were myriad problems with drilling the well, but it was finally finished.
“I was sitting out in the desert drinking a Coke and I just thought, ‘I cannot think of anywhere I’d rather be, than right here.’ It’s a headache, it’s hard, but everything we do is on behalf of the ministry.”
Walking through doors God opens
Stam’s roots in the mission field run deep. His father, a physician, planned to become a missionary doctor before his children came along and changed his plans. Stam’s uncle was a missionary in Africa, his aunt a missionary in Ecuador. One of Stam’s great uncles was martyred in China while on a mission there in the 1930s.
In 1993, while a member of the Singing Churchmen of Oklahoma, Stam traveled to Russia.
“That was a life-changing experience for me,” he said. “That was kind of my introduction to missions.”
Stam said Emmanuel’s missions have exceeded his expectations.
“I’m not smart enough to have ever foreseen any of this,” he said. “God opens the door and we’ve walked through it.”h