One Thousand Wells: An Intervew with Charlie Lowell

In 2004 Jars of Clay and Jena Nardella founded Blood:Water Mission. I’ve written about Blood:Water many times on the blog. Today’s guest, Charlie Lowell, first appeared on the blog back when Inland was released. Please check out the history of Blood:Water, one of my favorite organizations.

Jena on the Jars tour bus

Jena on the Jars tour bus, left to right Jena Nardela, Matt Odmark, Steve Mason, Charlie Lowell, Dan Haseltine, Aaron Sands

This is a big release week! No, there’s not a new album coming out from the band, but their Blood:Water co-founder Jena Nardella is releasing her first book. Everyone associated with the band and the organization is very excited for One Thousand Wells. Charlie graciously took some time to answer a few questions about the book and his experience with the work Blood:Water is doing in Africa.

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Hans: Charlie, thanks for taking some time again to talk about a book that I know is near and dear to your heart. You and your bandmates along with Jena started Blood:Water back in 2004. The non-profit started with $1 and has since raised $27 million. Talk about a tipping point where you could feel the organization really building momentum.

Charlie:  At some point pretty early on, we began talking about 1,000 wells, and we learned that one US dollar can provide 1 year of water for 1 person in Africa.  That was pivotal- both in realizing how much difference we can make with so little, and empowering us to think about the human story.  So often we hear the huge statistics- millions of people are dying, etc… and we lose that human connection and get overwhelmed.  It’s debilitating to think we can do anything helpful.  The $1/ 1 person “human equation” undermines that all and makes it about people again.  I can think about a person, a family, not too unlike my own, and I can do something about that.

HS: How many trips have you made to Africa? What is one story or scene you can share with us who have never been, but want to feel connected to the work Blood:Water is doing there?

CD:  I’ve been about 5 times over the past decade.  One of the most memorable experiences was an early trip (maybe 2 years into our partnerships on the ground), and a middle-aged Kenyan woman named Dorkus was recounting how a clean water well had positively affected their rural community.  She listed all the great health effects (which were many), and then her eyes lit up and she said with pride, “And look at my beautiful, smooth skin!”, and continued to describe feeling younger, being asked out on a date by an elder, and a powerful sense of renewed dignity and womanhood.  Again, it wasn’t just about water- the building block of life- but this human empowerment/ dignity element that we didn’t see coming.

HS: Every summer my family vacations at a family camp in northern Wisconsin, Fort Wilderness in Rhinelander. This year I did a double-take when I saw a Blood:Water t-shirt! Blood:Water and Fort Wilderness combining forces! As a co-founder you’ve seen many small campaigns like a t-shirt partnership contribute to the cause. Talk about one that sticks out to you.

CL:  Indeed!  Well, it’s really about fans and friends taking the cause up and getting creative with it.  We’ve seen elementary school kids selling tomatoes in their neighborhood, families foregoing a sprinkler system and donating the money instead, kids doing “Lemon:Aid” stands, and college campus water walks.  The most fun we have is when people take what they are already great at, and find a way to bring the Blood:Water story into it.

HS: Can you give us a quick glimpse into the book from two perspectives? Since you and Jena were side-by-side over the last 11 years, what is in the book that was a good memory of the organization for you? And what didn’t make the book that you personally remember from the Blood:Water journey?

CL:  I loved reading the book (we got a preview copy a couple months back, in return for all the pre-release CDs we gave Jena over the years), and was not expecting the honest memoir part of the book.  Knowing more about Jena’s upbringing, what stuck with her, what offended her, and how she was shaped, was new to me in many ways.  So I love that it’s not just about those few years of starting an organization, but the formation up to the point, the struggle in the midst, and the wondering and hope moving forward.  What I wish was in the book, and is really hard to communicate through writing, is more of the many Heroes and She-roes we were honored to meet and partner with on the Africa side.  And seeing a community experience clean water is just impossible to share with others.  I always loved being on the ground there with Jena, seeing the way she would related and communicate with women’s groups and leaders was breath-taking.

HS: At many of your shows with Jars of Clay, Blood:Water is there and the audience gets to hear Dan’s pitch. Today we hand the mic to the piano player: Please tell us what Blood:Water means to you and how we can get involved.

CL:  To me, Blood:Water came along at a time when I was struggling with how faith played out- actively, engaging all parts of the person. Worship felt flat and un-sustaining (I think many musicians struggle with that, if we’re honest), and suddenly this work of partnering with Africans- having our eyes opened to new people and places, and seeing God SO much bigger and wilder than ever before- became a new understanding of more holistic worship for me.  Engaging and being awake to the heart, soul, mind, hands, eyes, ears, and recognizing that it all comes from our Creator.  Isaiah speaks of the new worship of service, not sacrifice.  That was a big puzzle piece for me, and I have our friends in Africa to thank for making some sense of it.


You you really want, you can read the first chapter for FREE. If you want to purchase a copy, you can get it on Amazon and any other major vendor. For more information on Blood:Water, visit bloodwater.org.

Those are my thoughts. What are yours?

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