By Kathy L. Gilbert
A UMNS Report

 

A family in southern Indiana is providing safe drinking water mixed with a generous portion of "living water" to parched people around the world.

 

New Life International, a nonprofit Christian ministry started in the 1970s by Byron and Yvonne McGuire in Underwood, Ind., is the birthplace of the McGuire water purifier, a system that turns unsafe water into safe drinking water using salt and a 12-volt battery.

Their eldest son, Duvon McGuire, invented the system which produces chlorinated water and destroys viruses and bacteria. The water purifiers have provided thousands of gallons of safe drinking water for people in more than 60 countries.

"What we are trying to do is not just bring safe water on a humanitarian level, but as Christians to also be the salt that makes people thirsty for living water," said Duvon McGuire, a member of New Chapel United Methodist Church, Jeffersonville, Ind.

Life experiences

Two major events gave McGuire a thirst to contribute to the world's water need.

As a young boy, he almost died by drinking contaminated water in Ecuador where his parents worked as missionaries. Later, as a student at Asbury College in Kentucky, he spent a summer working in a hospital in India and saw firsthand how unsafe water led to human suffering.

Armed with a chemistry degree, he went to work on an idea for a simple, cost-effective water purifier designed to withstand harsh environmental conditions.

Operated on a 12-volt power supply, the system can provide enough water for 10,000 people and can disinfect up to 50 gallons of water per minute-all using less electrical power than a normal street light. One purifier potentially can save an entire village for as little as a penny per person, per day.

McGuire's invention got its first real-life test in 1998 when Hurricane Mitch hit Honduras. A family member working as a missionary in Honduras told him that the hurricane had left behind a severe water crisis.

Packing up 30 of his purifiers, McGuire took them to Honduras for use in schools, churches and orphanages. Since that time, the Christian outreach ministry started by his parents has become one of the largest to provide safe water to the world.

Missionary roots

Byron and Yvonne McGuire served as United Methodist missionaries at the Navajo Methodist Mission School, Farmington, N.M., in 1961 and went on to work with an interdenominational radio ministry in Costa Rica and Ecuador, bringing with them their five children.

When they returned to the United States, they bought a farm in southern Indiana, intending to use their "scenic, peaceful" land as a place to nurture Christians and to teach non-Christians about God and Jesus Christ. The area was ideal for picnics, games, fishing and campfires.

"Byron used to do devotional hayrides where he would just stop and point out God's creation along the way," said Yvonne McGuire of her late husband, who died in 2007.

She and son Duvon have continued the ministry, which she called "a work of faith," particularly because of the years her son and his young family devoted to developing the purifier without paying employment.

"It has been a sacrifice for him but it has been well worth it," she said. "Countless lives have been saved because of it and will continue to be."

Evangelism tool

Many United Methodist churches, as well as other denominations, have become part of the ministry over the years.

Two brothers, Edsel and Dallas Richards, head up a volunteer team at Morton Memorial United Methodist Church, Clarksville, Ind., assembling the purifiers in the church basement. The purifiers go out as quickly as they are built due to earthquakes, mudslides, floods and manmade disasters such as wars that leave much of the world without potable water.

New Life International has become a center for hands-on training in water purification. Mission teams, medical staff and relief workers come to the Indiana hub to acquire water purifiers for the needy.

Crestwood (Ky.) United Methodist Church purchased two McGuire water purifiers. The church's mission team, led by Jim Pearson, have installed one system in the Dominican Republic and one in Appalachia, close to the United Methodist Red Bird Mission. Another mission team plans to install another at Centro Methodista in Costa Rica in early April.

"The source of pure water is a tool of evangelism," Pearson says.

Spiritual dimension

On March 22, the United Nations observes World Water Day to draw attention to the shortage of safe drinking water around the world.

"With approximately 25,000 people dying each day from waterborne diseases, this urgent humanitarian crisis is a challenging opportunity for New Life International and financial supporters to make a difference in bringing safe water to a thirsty world," said Duvon McGuire.

While some people think it is futile to try to change a world that will always have poor people, McGuire doesn't believe that is Christ's intent.

"I think God's people are the right ones for this job," he said of providing water to impoverished people. "The spiritual dimension cannot be left out."

Kathy Gilbert serves as a United Methodist News Service news writer based in Nashville, Tenn.