it’s a matter of life and death: awake study

Written by Dan King

Christ-follower. husband. father. author of the unlikely missionary: from pew-warmer to poverty-fighter. co-author of activist faith: from him and for him. director of family ministry at st. edward's episcopal church. president of fistbump media, llc.

October 11, 2013

I was talking about human trafficking recently with a small group of friends. One of the things that stood out most in that conversation was the lack of awareness regarding the scope of the issue. Few realized how close to home it hit for many of us. And it’s not just the popular sex trafficking issue so many are talking about. It’s also the migrant worker being exploited at many of the orange groves and tomato farms in our area.

When you become aware of a problem, you are suddenly accountable to do something about it. [Click to tweet!]

That’s what I love about Noel Yeatts’ story as told in her book Awake: Doing a WORLD of Good One Person at a Time. Noel has been around the poor, the orphaned, and the hurting for much of her life. These experience have forced her to open her eyes, and she’s been unable to turn away from it.

This week it’s my turn to discuss a couple chapters in a great online study/discussion on the book. If you haven’t seen it yet, then this should catch you up with those who have gone before me in the series:

So I’m up next, and I’m talking about chapters 7 and 8. Both of these chapters cover topics that I’m extremely passionate about.

Chapter 7: Crystal Clear

awake, clean water

Here’s the deal. Most of us know that clean water is important. Some may not realize the full scope of how important it really is. I’m not going to throw out the numbers here. A little big of Google searching and reading this chapter will give you more than enough information about the realities that surround the issue of clean water (or lack thereof).

It’s not only about dehydration.

It’s about malnutrition.

It’s about hygiene.

It’s about the spread of deadly disease.

My favorite part about this chapter was the Biblical perspective I found here. Seriously, you’re at right now. What else would you expect to be my favorite part? Here’s what Noel shared that resonated with me:

But it picked up the story where Abraham had to send Hagar and Ishmael away. He sends them off with one container of food and one of water.

They leave but quickly end up lost in the wilderness. They soon run out of water, and Ishmael gets sick. It is interesting that the Bible says they run out of water but not food. You see, food is not always the issue, even today. Without clean water, food cannot be absorbed and digested properly, and children can still get sick and die. And that is just what happens with Ishmael.

The story continues with Hagar praying to God for her son not to die.

And then–this is the part I love–God sends an angel to Hagar and opens her eyes. When she looks up, she sees a well full of clean water. You know, God could have just taken her empty water container and filled it back up. But he gave her more than a short-term solution. He provided a long-term solution to an immediate need.

This story is full of implications for us today as we seek solutions for those who lack basic necessities like clean water. It’s not enough to simply refill the empty bottle. We must think long-term when bringing solutions.

Especially for the issues as problematic as the lack of clean water.

Chapter 8: Saving a Dead Man



There, I said it. That’s what this chapter is about.

So there’s this prevailing idea in much of the church that our missional and outreach efforts should focus primarily on evangelization. And people who feel this way are often critical of those who focus on the injustices first as not doing enough to meet the spiritual needs. As is usually the case with seemingly opposing ideas, the two camps can end up on extreme ends of this discussion.

Noel expresses that both are possible, and necessary. At the same time.

I couldn’t agree more.

Check this…

All around the world, people are trapped in the burning building of poverty, hunger, disease, abuse, slavery, and spiritual darkness. Their worlds are burning down around them. We have many options for how to help. But I choose to start by saving their lives, because in the end, you can’t save a dead man.

Yep. It’s hard to argue with that reasoning.

When I study the Christian Church in the first few centuries, one of the reasons for the rapid growth it experienced was the care Christians had for others when disease and plagues came around. These Christians never went in to these areas on evagelistic crusades. They went in because of the value they put on other human life, the same value God puts on all human life. And it was when the sick were restored to health that the acceptance of the Christian faith would happen.

So should we meet spiritual needs or physical needs? How about we meet spiritual needs AND physical needs. Isn’t that the model Jesus set for us?

Here are a few questions to consider:

  1. The tragedy of unsafe water affects approximately one billion people around the world, yet it seems to be a problem that escapes the public eye. Before reading Awake, were you aware of this issue?
  2. Why do you think so many Christ followers struggle finding the balance between meeting physical needs and evangelism? Why is this balance so crucial?

I encourage you to follow through with the rest of this online study/discussion:



  1. Michele-Lyn

    I read every word. This is so good! When I was typing “Bible…” in my browser to get here, I was suddenly grateful for it. We need more Bible, but I digress.

    1. I take water for granted. It’s easy to in America. Actually, today, we will have no water in our house as a plumber works on our barn. The solution: fill up a few containers, and if all else fails, go out. Water is free virtually everywhere.

    Truthfully, I was unaware of the desperate need for clean water all around the world, until I learned about CauseLife, and got to see their wells providing water to people in impoverished villages in Guatemala and Haiti. I had the privilege of seeing both the, positive of having and the negative of not, effects first hand.

    But what about those people who haven’t been to 3rd world countries to see? How do you tell the story, convey the need for clean water, compel others to act, without sounding like a guilt trip? It really does take money to provide these most basic necessities.

    2. And I have no idea why so many Christ followers struggle finding the balance between meeting physical needs and evangelism. I’ve only ever struggled with the fact they do.

    I think about 2 quotes I heard first hand from a man who does an amazing job balancing both. The first, “We give them water for their thirst. We give them food for their hunger. We give them medicine their sickness. Then when we tell them God loves them, they believe it, because we’ve shown them first.”

    And second, “We help restore villages by building new homes, and it’s good. But, what does it matter if we build them a new home on earth, and they go to hell when they die, because we don’t tell them about Christ? We want to see total restoration.”

    I agree.

    • Laurie Byrne

      Although I’d seen many campaigns to raise money to provide water for those who don’t have access to clean water, my eyes were a bit glossed over and I did not understand the magnitude of the situation. It’s often difficult to grasp concepts that are so far from our reality. Noel has opened my eyes to the desperate need of clean water.

      Michele-Lyn, I love the quote you shared about water for thirst, etc…by showing God’s love they will believe. YES! Without meeting the physical needs it’s very difficult to meet the spiritual needs. What better way to show others God’s love then by loving them with God’s love!

      • Michele-Lyn


        My eyes would glaze over, too. I don’t know if was disbelief, mistrust, or indifference. But since I’ve held dying babies in my arms that were dying because of water-borne diseases, I’m not only a believer, but an advocate. I have to tell the stories for them, and for those who may not ever see it first hand. But I keep in mind I was the greatest of skeptics, as I write.

        • Dan King

          HUSH! Talking about holding dying babies…. i just get all broken up over that kind of stuff. I’m a wreck already before we even head to Africa with World Help!

      • Dan King

        Laurie, I find that what you say about grasping concepts that are far from our reality is SO true in so many situations, even beyond the water issue. And that’s one of the benefits I see in short-term missions (both domestic and international)… the exposure to a different environment than the one we know way too well. And for people who can’t go, it’s important for the others to accurately tell the stories…

        Thanks for stopping by and sharing today!

    • Dan King

      First, yes! We do need more Bible! That’s exactly why it was so important to me to highlight the Hagar story Noel used in the book!

      1. Telling the stories without a guilt trip is a tricky thing. It’s important to communicate the extreme problems, but there’s so much “fly-in-the-eye” stuff out there that adding more just adds to the noise. But we can’t forget that every good story still has an antagonist… and it’s the overcoming and triumph that really resonates with people.

      2. I love, love, love that quote about water for thirst! This division though… I’ve been criticized before for wanting to focus on humanitarian needs… to my face. There are lots of people out there who think that we should lead off with things like giving someone a tract, and then once they come over to “our side” we can begin to take care of them. But I am a firm believer (as implied in your quote) that it’s our actions that show love that give credibility to the Gospel message we carry.

  2. Darlene Collazo

    I agree with everyone that it’s difficult to understand the need for water overseas.
    I was a single mother for several years before I gave my life to the Lord in 2003. I know what’s it’s like to live in lack (more than I’d like to admit). I understand the glass ceiling it puts over your head as you hit barriers over and over because you don’t have the means to climb over the walls established by society.
    If it were not for my absolute faith in God’s ability to do what He wants in and with my life, in spite of my circumstances, I would have lost hope a long time ago.
    I liken it the stories I’ve read, except Noel’s book describes the kind of poverty and barriers I have yet to experience. Nonetheless, whether it’s the lack I’ve experienced or the extreme poverty others endure, there’s something about lacking basic needs that crushes your spirit little by little.
    When I think about how to meet those needs it becomes overwhelming. Yet, when I think about the hope Jesus has brought into my life, my desire to share this Hope supersedes the overwhelm of it all.
    If I can share a glass of water and with it share the confidence of knowing He is the living water, then I believe I’d be living out the heart of Jesus. “Thy kingdom come, thy will be done,” right?!
    I am still processing so much of what Noel writes in her book. I’m still praying God would take my 5 loaves and 2 fish, faith, and willing heart and multiply it abundantly.

    • Dan King

      I totally get where you’re coming from Darlene. And that idea of taking your little and turning it into much is part of what I deal with in my book too… Activist Faith. There are many little thing that individuals can to to make a big impact in areas like extreme poverty. It definitely seems overwhelming, and for good reason… it’s a BIG issue! I constantly have to remind myself that the Lord doesn’t ask me to fix the whole thing, but to be faithful with what He puts in front of me, no matter how big or how small.

      And that’s part of the message I love so much about Noel’s book too… and collectively, we all make a BIG difference.

      Thanks for stopping by and sharing your heart!

      • Darlene Collazo

        That’s where I’m at now. Other than my writing, or even possibly with my writing, “Lord, what have you placed in my hands?”

        I’ve heard great things about your book. Definitely on my wish list 🙂

        • Dan King

          Ha! That’s exactly how I got started with the issue of poverty… it started with me writing a blog post about a Christian org doing some good poverty alleviation work after I did some research and learning about the scope of the issue. Long story short… that turned into a mission trip to Africa, which turned into my first book, The Unlikely Missionary: From Pew-Warmer to Poverty-Fighter (where I also tell this full story), which snow-balled into more, bigger opportunities. But it starts with, as you say, using what you have in front of you… even if it’s just a “little” blog post…


  3. Noel Brewer Yeatts

    Thank you for this post and for pointing out some of my favorite parts in the book. The Hagar story impacted me so much (that’s of course why I included it) but it still impacts me as I read it here. The ideas in the “Saving a Dead Man” chapter are so important to me and you capture them so perfectly here. I love what you say, “These Christians never went in to these areas on evagelistic crusades. They went in because of the value they put on other human life, the same value God puts on all human life. And it was when the sick were restored to health that the acceptance of the Christian faith would happen.”

    Thanks for sharing and for being part of this story.

    • Dan King

      Aww… thanks Noel! I glad you liked the post! It’s been so great getting to know you more recently. You are doing some good work, and I’m glad that I have the opportunity to come alongside you on some key projects coming up!



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it’s a matter of life and death: awake study

by Dan King time to read: 5 min