During the (hopefully) hot summer, many are preparing to give away water to our visitors. I’d like to explore some of our motivations for doing this, and suggest some different ways to set up distribution.
And whoever gives one of these little ones even a cup of cold water because he is a disciple, truly, I say to you, he will by no means lose his reward.
Matt 10:42 (ESV)
So giving away water is biblical. But other than a direct response to that verse, what missional reasons could you have for wanting to give away cups of water?
A: To stop people getting heat exhaustion and care for their basic material needs
You’ll want to get as much water out as possible, to the widest group of people. Bottled water is quick to pick up, and surprisingly cheap – as little as 8p per bottle. You may choose this if you’re near a stream of pedestrians, eg on a busy road or outside a train or tube station.
You’ll need volunteers who are physically strong, and some way of moving through a crowded area without creating an obstruction. It’s worth chatting to the police, volunteers and station staff on duty, to explain what you’re doing, and check it’s alright on the day. And do respect local shopkeepers – if they’re expecting to make a living out of selling bottled water, your free gift may not be such a blessing!
B: To provide a way to chat to people, and provoke conversations and friendship
You’ll want to spend as much time with each of your visitors, so efficiency isn’t really the object here. Think the opposite of the Subway model, towards one of personal service – if the same person greets you, offers you a drink, then goes to take a cup and pour water for you, there’ll be a far longer time in which to introduce themselves, ask how your day is going, and relate to you than a ‘greeting guy’, ‘cup guy’, ‘water guy’ and ‘bin guy’. Some of the2012′s training events gave people an opportunity to improve how they shared their faith with others, so do ask your young people for advice.
You’ll need some urns, runners to keep them filled up from your nearest tap, and lots of ice. Lots of volunteers who are good at relating to people quickly is essential, as are quite big paper cups (and associated recycling bags), or glasses which need to be left onsite (so people have to stop). Those who find it less easy to strike up a conversation can be deployed behind the scenes, keeping the water, ice and cups flowing. A table slightly away from the flow of people will give guests space to stop for a chat.
C: To offer hospitality
Hospitality has to be inviting, providing an environment that people want to be in. While enjoying it, they may not want to interact with their hosts very much – a family may wish to have the space to rest and to feed lunch to their children without the distraction of enthusiastic welcomers – but they will need to use basic facilities. If your space is suited to this, some dry chairs or benches away from the road may be all you need, with rubbish bins, well-signposted toilets, and some free or affordable refreshments (though make it clear people are welcome whether or not they buy your refreshments).
Your staff and volunteers should be clearly identifiable, keep the place clean and presentable, and be ready to serve guests. If this is being done outside and within your building, be ready to answer questions about the building, and allow guests to explore and enjoy it for themselves.
D: To meet other Christians and work together
The Salvation Army are coordinating a ‘million cups of water’ programme, at which all are welcome to volunteer, through More than Gold. This could be a great way to meet other Christians, and interact on a team with visitors from all over the world. Serving together is a great way to build friendships across the body of Christ.
To volunteer for this, visit the More than Gold website.
Training your volunteers
Obviously, if you try to offer someone training to give away a cup of water, they will think you are little odd! But gifts of evangelism, friendship, hospitality and ecumenical unity take time and thought to develop. These may be suitable subjects for homegroup discussion, sermons or other teaching, so that everyone who gives away a cup of water will do so as part of their discipleship.
If you’re planning to give away water, I’d love to put your location on our app, so visitors can find you. Please get in touch (Email: elizabeth.harrison [at] london.anglican.org).