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The Last Well: Answering a Threat More Deadly Than Ebola

Courtesy photos.

ROCKWALL, TX (November 13, 2014) Todd Phillips spent the last day of July watching a country shut down. Government offices and schools closed; stores and marketplaces emptied. The Ebola outbreak had turned parts ofLiberiainto ghost towns—practically overnight.

Dr. Phillips, of Rockwall County, is Executive Director of The Last Well, a ministry that provides clean water to Liberia. After driving back to the capital of Monrovia that day, he and his team members counted down the hours until their separate flights would take them away. But they also recounted the blessings they’d seen.

Earlier that day, they’d attended a water-well dedication. One woman danced around the well, shouting thanks to God. Having lost her daughter and granddaughter to cholera, she rejoiced that others wouldn’t die from drinking dirty water.

Life-giving combo:  water and the gospel

The Last Well originated in an unusual way six years ago, when Phillips served as pastor to young-adults at Frontline, a “generational” church within a larger church in the Washington D.C. area. Several thousand members were inspired after viewing Amazing Grace, the movie about the 40-year effort of William Wilberforce to end slavery. When Phillips heard of their desire to “end something”, he prayed about it and did some research.

He learned that Liberia was ranked as one of the worst places to live—number two on the CIA’s “misery index”; it’s greatest need: water. Without sanitation and infrastructure, the coastal West African country suffers from surface water contamination. However, its topography would allow successful drilling of wells with few limitations. Further, the country’s relatively calm political climate would accommodate the work.

Phillips founded The Last Well in 2009 as a mission with a dual goal: “to provide safe drinking water to the entire nation ofLiberiaand preach the message of Jesus Christ to those we serve.” They hope to achieve this by 2020, which means completing approximately 3,500 water projects (mostly hand and machine-dug wells, and some bio-sand filters).

Momentum 

The Last Well completed 25 projects its first year, and more than doubled that number in 2010. The numbers fell to 37 in 2011, after Phillips left his D.C. ministry to move to Texas for a teaching pastor position at Lake Pointe Church in Rockwall. The lost momentum reversed in early 2012, after a large church missions offering allowed them to complete another 207 projects.

When Dr. Phillips’ two-year role at Lake Pointe Church ended, The Last Well board members encouraged him to lead the mission full-time. He says this meant a radical ministry shift, stepping away from his love of preaching; “but under the compelling conviction of the Holy Spirit, it would have been disobedient to say no.”

Yet Phillips’ real passion is evangelism. And he says the mission strategy is sound: “the drilling, evangelism and church-planting partners are in place.” So far, they’ve provided clean water and the gospel to 600,000 Liberians. After seeing the well dedication last July, he recalled Isaiah 49:13: “Shout for joy, you heavens; rejoice, you earth . . . For the Lord comforts his people” (NIV).

Despite Ebola 

Arriving back in the U.S. in early August, Dr. Phillips faced sudden media interest about Ebola. But the numbers in his head kept him firmly on mission: While Ebola had claimed 700 lives in five months, more than 700 Liberians died from water-borne diseases every week.

“The Ebola outbreak in Liberia is indirectly related to bad water,” Phillips says; “their bodies are already sick from a lack of clean water.” His recent ministry update did not ignore Ebola’s growing threat, but focused on lives saved so far this year from water-related death: “an estimated 10,000 Liberians.”

He says their 2020 goal is still reasonable. They completed 222 projects last year, and estimate another 400 by the end of 2014. As of October, six of seven partners in the field continued working at 100-percent capacity.

The Last Well needs to finish approximately 450 projects per year for the remaining six years to accomplish the mission. Their progress depends on financial support—$20 helps one Liberian; $3,000 supplies an entire village; and matching grants are provided through ministry partners. Dr. Phillips says his expenses are paid by a small group of donors; all other giving “goes to the ground and the gospel.”

Despite Ebola, they continue working to “end something” that needs to end. 

Todd Phillips speaks to church and young adult groups. Visit http://thelastwell.org, or contact or 972.412.2912.  

By Blue Ribbon News contributing writer Patti Richter of Heath. Courtesy photos.

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