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Floating for a Purpose: Saving Lives in Liberia

(ROCKWALL, TX — October 15, 2018) Drivers and pedestrians along Lake Ray Hubbard may have noticed a barge with black and blue banners. Since October 10, the 20- by 22-foot barge provided by Chandler’s Landing has facilitated a fundraising campaign, Hope Floats, which may appear more like a stunt than a mission effort.

Heath resident Todd Phillips has been living day and night in a tent on the open-air barge, and he agrees that “stunt” is a fair word. But the founder of The Last Well said, “You’ll do anything when kids are dying every day.” The Hope Floats initiative is his organization’s boldest fundraiser yet on behalf of the West African nation of Liberia. The reservoir setting serves to perfectly illustrate Liberia’s critical need for clean water.

The spate of unseasonable storms in mid-October is currently testing Phillips’ resolve to stay on the lake until $2.2 million is raised—enough funding to provide water projects that will serve another 500,000 Liberians. The cold winds battering his tent and preventing his sleep may have him wishing he’d planned to scale a mountain. But he’s already done that and more to help The Last Well complete nearly 6,400 water projects that have saved the lives of an estimated 90,000 Liberians.

Mountain-Top Beginning

Phillips will use a variety of products provided by Sawyer Products, Inc. to aid him while on board the barge, including bug spray, sunscreen and this water filtration system to filter water from the lake.

A decade ago, Phillips was serving as a pastor to young adults in a large Washington D.C. church. That’s when his flock became inspired by the movie Amazing Grace, the story of William Wilberforce’s 40-year effort to end slavery. Phillips responded to their desire to “end something,” with prayer and research.

That was six years before Liberia’s 2014 Ebola epidemic. Phillips said the sub-Saharan country made the CIA’s list of worst countries to live in and sat near the top of the “misery index” that measures economic conditions. Liberia’s bad water has been a chief culprit; its lack of infrastructure and surface contamination affects general health.

Phillips found that some positive factors would facilitate outside help for Liberia: English is an official language; the political climate is relatively calm; the topography allows for successful drilling of wells.

Liberia, as Phillips further discovered, also has spiritual contamination issues. The historically Christian nation mixes Christianity with ethnic traditions including animism and ancestor worship. Too many Liberians “have no idea of a relationship with God and salvation through Christ,” Phillips said.

His young-adult group chose Liberia in their mission to end something awful. Since 2009, The Last Well has raised funds “to provide safe drinking water to the entire nation of Liberia and preach the message of Jesus Christ to those we serve.” The lofty vision includes a completion date of December 31, 2020. Fundraising campaigns the first few years featured some serious mountain climbing.

After Ebola

The Last Well completed a good number of water projects in the first two years, until Phillips moved to Rockwall County for a teaching-pastor position at Lake Pointe Church. The mission lost momentum afterward but revived after Phillips stepped away from preaching and took a fulltime role as executive director of The Last Well in 2013—shortly before Liberia’s Ebola outbreak.

The disease provided more opportunities for Phillips to explain Liberia’s need for clean water. While Ebola claimed 700 lives in five months, the same number of Liberians had died from water-borne diseases every week, and “about half of those were children,” Phillips said.

The organization works with around 18 ministry partners (Samaritan’s Purse is one) for both the water and gospel efforts. The water projects provide jobs for local individuals, and Liberian pastors and teams do the preaching and church planting. Phillips said their partners “provide gospel resources and train people to carry on when we’re no longer there.”

A successful Hope Floats campaign could put the mission on track to provide safe drinking water to the entire country in the next two years.  Phillips said, “We estimate 3000 projects this year alone and another four to five thousand to finish.”

Statistics on Liberia now show the number of those dying to water-borne illness has dropped dramatically in recent years. That’s a lot less misery.

Todd Phillips, meanwhile, is enduring some miserable conditions. To help him go home soon, visit www.TheLastWell.org.

By Patti Richter. Photos by Austin Wells, Blue Ribbon News.

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