“What are you giving up for Lent?” I usually have mixed feelings when I hear that question this time of year. On one hand, I deeply value Lent as a way to prepare myself to celebrate the death and resurrection of Christ. I appreciate the opportunity to grow in one specific aspect of my faith and character for a defined amount of time. On the other hand, I often don’t know what exactly to do, and the churches I’ve attended rarely have done anything together, so I flounder.
But five years ago a group of friends came up with the most inspiring Lenten idea I’ve ever encountered. They were concerned by the painful fact that one of every eight people today has no access to clean water. Women and children must trudge long distances to find dirty, bacteria-infested water, keeping them from school or productive work. Once they drink it, they inevitably get sick. But my friends also pointed out that those of us from more privileged backgrounds often pass up free, clean, healthy tap water to drink sodas and other high-fructose concoctions that are prime contributors to the obesity and diabetes epidemics.
The great thing about my friends’ response is that they didn’t just think about these hard truths, which feels bad. They did something about it—which feels good! They called it Project 440. The nine of them, inspired by their faith, decided to drink only tap water for the duration of Lent, bringing attention to the issues while saving themselves money and improving their health. Meanwhile, through March Madness basketball pools, raffles at house parties, and matching grants, they raised enough money to drill deep-water wells for five villages in Haiti. Not a bad answer to “what are you giving up for Lent?”!
I think Project 440 was so memorable for me because it convinced me that small groups of friends have big potential to make a difference–both for themselves and for people like those in Haiti still drinking clean water today. In fact, I’d like to celebrate Lent in a similar way every year. But unfortunately, for the last few years I haven’t been in close proximity to like-minded friends, so I’ve let my vision languish a bit.
So this year, using this space now available in the blogosphere, we’d like to propose a new Lent experiment. We’re calling it the Simple Living Challenge, and we hope it’s a fun, meaningful way to concretely reflect Jesus’ justice and compassion, even if we’re separated by distance. Here’s how it works:
- First, let’s commit to giving up all beverages except tap water for the entire duration of the forty days before Easter. Every day will be a chance to appreciate the gift of clean water. You’ll save money, simplify your life, and maybe even feel better without the unhealthy stuff we drink in our “comfort beverages.” If forty days seems too hard, join anyway and challenge yourself to make it as many days as you can!
- Second, let’s find sponsors to support our tap-water-drinking efforts. Just as race sponsors donate a certain sum per mile run, we’ll ask folks to donate something for every day we drink only tap water, up to forty. We’ve set up a page at the charity: water website which will direct 100% of our tax-deductible donations to support clean water efforts throughout the world. And after Easter we can even see on Google Earth exactly where our donations are put to use.
So what’s next? This Ash Wednesday, the first day of Lent, we’ll kick off a six-day window for everyone to sign on. The Simple Living Challenge will begin at sunrise on Tuesday, March 15. If this sounds like something you’d be excited about, we’d especially encourage you to spread the word and participate together with friends, family or church small groups. Please consider joining us!
Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. For . . . . I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink.