A Cup of Cold Water

Hannah Foust talks about her efforts to raise money for water wells in Burkina Faso during a report on the work of the Connectional Table at 2016 United Methodist General Conference in Portland. Photo by Mike DuBose

Hannah Foust talks about her efforts to raise money for water wells in Burkina Faso during a report on the work of the Connectional Table at 2016 United Methodist General Conference in Portland. Photo by Mike DuBose

By Courtney Lott

A fourteen-year-old named Hannah Foust from Indiana inspired the entire 2016 General Conference with a powerful mission story. She shared what life is like in Burkina Faso, a west African nation of 17.4 million citizens.

Described as the third most miserable place on earth, one out of three children will die before their fifth birthday for lack of clean drinking water. According to Foust, girls her age travel as far as seven miles to obtain water that looks like chocolate milk, water so dirty it will likely eventually kill them.

“Water is something we take for granted in the United State,” Foust said. “But in Burkina Faso, it is life.”

Overwhelmed by the poverty she had discovered, Foust felt a responsibility to help the children she learned about, like she was their big sister. “I went to bed that night praying, ‘please, God, tell me there isn’t really a place like this,” said Foust. “When I woke up the next day, I knew God was calling me to build a well. …In a truly poor country like Burkina Faso there are no simple solutions to the problem they face, but clean drinking water can change their lives.”

While many others might have, and often are, stalled by the fear and hesitation such large problems bring, this young woman chose to trust God’s power to use her to help his people. For the last two years, Hannah Foust did yard work, housework, baby sat, and shared her story to raise funds in order to build a well. Since then, she has funded three more wells and proclaims that she will continue to work until called to do something else.

This first small difference inspired others to help make a huge one. Because of her efforts, others were lead to help build thirteen additional wells. Thirteen wells that would provide up to 13,000 people with clean drinking water. Foust said that she found it difficult to believe a girl from Indiana could have such a powerful influence. But, she says, it is not all about her, but rather about how God is using her.

Foust likened this to a Bible story, one we are all familiar with but on which she shed a personal light. In John 6, after healing and ministering to a group of 5,000 people, Jesus asks Philip where they could find food to feed the crowd. Overwhelmed by the sheer numbers, the disciple laments that even if they worked for months they would not have enough money to buy all of these people food. Moments later, Andrew finds a young boy with five loaves and two fish, a small meal they bring to Jesus, a meal he turns into a feast with food left to spare.

“All my life, I believed there was only one miracle in this story,” Foust said. “And that’s that Jesus fed over 5,000 people with a little boy’s lunch. And that is truly a miracle because I don’t know many boys who would give up their lunch. But I think that there’s another miracle here. Because when Jesus said that he wanted to feed the people, his own disciples didn’t believe it could be done, and they had seen his miracles. …Their situation was so far out of their reach that they forgot who they were with. …[but] Jesus did what he always does. He made something huge happen with little things.”

Foust then proclaimed that adults share this power as well. She admonished her elders to equip young people to use their God given gifts to change the world. It was the encouragement of The United Methodist Church that gave her a voice, and empowered her to make a difference in the lives of those in Burkina Faso. Unified, Foust says, the Church does big things.

“We are a mission focused church,” Foust said. “I’ve seen how transformation takes place when United Methodists from all over the world respond to disaster with great generosity and bravery. I’ve been blessed with the hugs of little children, who’ve emptied their piggy banks to help kids that they’ve never met. I’ve seen the youth of congregations brought together at youth 2015 and truly be united like they’ve known…I’ve shared joys and tears with these people as we celebrate the work of God together. And it’s my dream that every young person can experience this.”

Finally, Hannah attributed her inspiration to the adults in her life and encourages those around her to inspire others too. Great miracles can be achieved if we work together, Foust said, but we must build relationships with others in order to be truly united “so that one day there would be no more empty plates, or cups, or hearts to fill.”

Courtney Lott is the editorial assistant at Good News.

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