Rockwell man helps provide clean drinking water
By Brent Johnson
Seems ironic that people who live on islands in Lake Victoria, the second widest fresh-water lake in the world, didn’t have enough clean drinking water.
But a large, jolly man with a white, bushy beard visited some of those islands earlier this summer bearing important gifts all the way from his workshop in Rowan County.
And he also brought some toys for the children of Kenya.
“The kids came out singing and dancing for us,” says Russell “Rusty” Shuping of Rockwell.
Shuping, 53, was part of a team with Lifewater Medical Ministries, a nonprofit organization dedicated to spreading the word of God through medical and water projects, that spent a week in June on Mfangano Island and smaller islands on Lake Victoria to provide clean drinking water and medicine for approximately 4,000 of a 26,000 people who live there.
Though he works in the distribution department for Piedmont Natural Gas in Salisbury, Shuping considers water sanitation “a great hobby” and the mission trip to Kenya a vacation.
In 1998, Shuping and wife, Laurie, traveled to Greece. On the way there, Shuping saw a UNICEF infomercial about the need for clean water. On the way back, he saw the same advertisement.
Curious, Shuping began doing research and made connections with Living Water International in Quantum Lakes, Texas.
Before he traveled to Texas to learn more, he prayed to God: “If this is what you want me to do, I’ll do it.”
A member of Hickory Grove Baptist Church in Charlotte, Shuping remembers the scripture ó Genesis 26:18 ó read in the worship service that Sunday: “And Isaac digged again the wells of water, which they had digged in the days of Abraham his father; for the Philistines had stopped them after the death of Abraham: and he called their names after the names by which his father had called them.”
Since then, Shuping has worked in his shop in his free time, manipulating modern technology to sanitize water. He has invented his own electrolytic cell water filter system that produces sodium hypochlorite, which acts as a bleach that can treat 125,000 gallons of water.
Last August, Shuping received an e-mail from Joseph Omodia, a Bible translator on Mfangano Island, concerning the problem of dysentery, typhoid and cholera infesting the shores of the island.
“The simple solution is clean drinking water,” Shuping replied.
When he tells people about the Kenyan mission, they often ask, “Why can’t they just boil the water?”
Although boiling is effective, he explains, the island communities have limited fuel resources, and those available are expensive.
“They have electricity and are in the process of running diesel generators on the island,” Shuping says.
With meticulous planning and donations from Home Depot, Shuping and Lifewater Medical Ministries workers stuffed duffel bags full of gas-powered pumps, filter houses and cartridges, plastic pipe fittings, equipment for chlorine generators and Shuping’s very own electrolytic cell for the production of chlorine. Most medicines were purchased overseas.
The mission trip included 18 volunteers, mostly from North and South Carolina. Five were in charge of water purification on Mfangano, and the rest were medical personnel who offered wound-care clinics, eye exams and general health screenings in Awendo. Some of the island team included Robin Breeden, a music teacher and coordinator, Keri Barr, a teacher, John Mark, a youth pastor, and Judd Osborne, an operating room nurse.
Typhoid has only stricken Mfangano Island in the past 20 years because of the increase in population. Rocky shores help trap bacteria, and typhoid forms a cyst in its dormant state, creating a hard outer shell that cannot be broken down by stomach acid and is resistant to chlorine. Shuping asked a Kenyan school teacher how many instances of amoebic dysentery he was aware of with students. His response was 50 per year.
The newly constructed water filters on Mfangano Island rid the water of those bacteria, eliminating their chance to mature and seep into the bloodstream.
“There were a lot of people praying for this project,” Shuping says. “They had been hoping for someone to help the water’s situation for over 10 years.
Since returning from Mfangano, Shuping has gotten an e-mail from Omodia, his contact on the island, saying the number of people suffering water-borne illnesses there has decreased from between 60 and 80 each month to 30 or fewer monthly. He wants to build on that success.
“Hopefully, next time we can ship more over to have more equipment, instead of carrying bags, so we can reach more people,” Shuping says.
The team spent some nights housed just below the equator, others resting under stormy skies.
Because some form of fish is usually served as the entree at meals, Shuping dared to try an eyeball for the first time. There wasn’t much taste, he claimed, but between his teeth it felt similar to “an extra stiff gummy bear.”
With all the team accomplished ó medical and scientific ó the members felt they left Mfangano and Awendo residents with relief and hope. Shuping can’t help but give credit to a higher power. “Medicine and good water can be used as tools to share more important things ó the love of Christ,” Shuping says.
The inhabitants there asked when he and the others were coming back to do more.
Shuping hopes to do more work around the coast of Lake Victoria and wherever else his knowledge of water is needed. He knows he brought a blessing to the people there, but says he and other members of the missions team are the ones “with the greater blessing.”
When he returned home, his wife, Laurie, revealed to him that she had been experiencing dizziness and vertigo, and her doctor had found a brain tumor.
The tumor was expected to cause severe hearing loss and nerve damage. Shuping and his wife saw a surgeon and prepared for an operation. But when it was time for the operation, the surgeon said there was no sign of abnormality; the tumor had vanished.
Shuping simply smiles and says, “It’s a miracle.”