RIVERSIDE, Calif. A decade ago Eric Green paused from his relief work in war-torn Sudan to watch several cows drink from a nearby mud hole. Moments later a group of women knelt beside them and drank the same filthy water. The scene changed his life forever.
Back at the nearby village, doctors explained to him that 70 percent of those waiting to be seen were suffering as a direct result of contaminated water.
"Any filthy mud hole was their drinking water," Green said. "It broke my heart."
Green, a licensed general contractor, took action. He returned to the states, learned to drill and install water wells, and, in 2006, founded H2O International, with the mission to bring clean water to those in Sudan and Kenya. His motivation is as crystal clear as the drinking water his wells provide.
"Every eight seconds a child dies from drinking contaminated water," he said. "The gift of water is the gift of life."
Each year, millions of people die each year from contaminated water. "It's a silent genocide," Green said. "It's worse than the massacres we see on the news but it isn't deemed newsworthy because there are no graphic images."
The Riverside, Calif. native kept his day job and continues to build custom homes in Southern California. But, several times a year he puts together a team of volunteers and leaves his family to drill water wells in Kenya and Sudan. Although his ministry is just getting off the ground, he already has eight operational wells under his belt.
To determine where to place the wells, Green, who attends Calvary Chapel San Jacinto, teams with local African ministries. And he brings more than clean water to the thirsty villagershe also brings the living water of the Gospel.
"It is great they get a well and fresh water," he said. "But it is more important for them to get Jesus Christ."
During the five days it takes to drill each well he and his team make time to attend local church services.
"One time I asked everyone to raise their hand if they knew for sure they're going to heaven. Not one person raised their hand. So I shared how we're really saved and justified. They listened intently. They really want to know Jesus. It is exciting to see the work God does."
Once installed, one well can serve 500 grateful people.
"They're so excited and blessed," Green said. "They walk for hours to get the fresh water."
Green's drilling rigs are small, portable, converted post-hole diggers which were shipped over from Texas and remain in storage when he returns home. Sinking a well is an expensive proposition$4,500 in Kenya and $10,000 in Sudan due to the longer flight and poor roads. And, in spite of the cost, Green said he doesn't cut corners. He uses only stainless steel parts, which adds hundreds of dollars to the cost of each well, but substantially extends the longevity of each installation.
Finding the water comes easily in Kenya but can be tricky in Sudan, especially in rocky, mountainous areas. On his first drilling attempt there he kept burning out the drill.
"We drilled so many holes in the Blue Nile area they dubbed us the 'Swiss cheese patrol.'"
Green readily acknowledges God's hand of protection on him during his trips. When bringing a $2,000 drill bit into Nairobi, the customs agent demanded taxes be paid on the expensive equipment. Green protested.
"We're doing this to help our African brothers and sisters," he insisted. When the official discovered that Green planned to drill a well, he waived the fees and requested they come to his village. Green agreed and plans to fulfill that promise in the near future.
In one village Green found an existing well locked.
"Most wells are available to everyone," he said. "I was afraid someone was charging for the water."
As Green prepared to unlock the well a man appeared and threatened him.
"He told me he was going to go get his grenade and AK-47 and kill me if I unlocked the well. It turned out the man was told to guard the well to prevent fights during the heat of the day, but to unlock it in the early morning and evening hours."
Green and his team endure the discomforts common to missionaries. They sleep in a bug-screened tent and work in 120 degree, 100 percent humidity. In order to identify with the people they eat the local food.
"I've had food poisoning a few times but that's just a part of missions work," he said. "Honey pudding may sound good, but it tasted absolutely disgusting. One time there were some small fish lying on the concrete that smelled really bad. That night they became our dinner."
The team often travels with armed soldiers. Even though most regions of Kenya and Sudan are peaceful right now, Green insists he will continue to go even if war breaks out.
"The need continues," he said and insists he feels safe when he is drilling. "They'll take a bullet for you because they know you're risking a lot to help them."
Yet, cultural hardships and physical dangers pale in comparison with the spiritual warfare they sense.
"I've often felt God's hedge of protection about us," Green said. "We've been in villages that were attacked the day after we left. There have been times I could feel people back in the United States praying for us. I could almost reach out and grab their prayers I could sense them so strongly."
Green's long-term vision is to raise up groups of mature, local Christian men to drill full-time in both Sudan and Kenya so that the rigs would never be idle.
"I want to install as many wells as possible and save as many lives as possible," he said.
To that end, he and his family are praying about moving to Africa. When the founder of this international ministry is asked why he doesn't cry when he sees the starving people and all of their suffering he has a ready answer.
"The way I see it is, if we didn't come and we weren't helping it would break my heart even more," he said. "Everything we do saves lives. And we see people come to salvation. There are more people in heaven because of the work we're doing.
For more information visit projecth2ointernational.org.