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The men planned to meet in the desolate rainforest of Central Africa, amid towering 150-foot trees and swarms of small butterflies clustered like shark teeth on the seemingly endless red clay road. Their discussion would lead to clean drinking water for hundreds of destitute villages—and the fracturing of a tight-knit missionary community.

Driving east from Berberati, a town of 80,000 where diamonds can be found in nearby streambeds, was Roland Mararv. The former Iron Curtain Bible smuggler had traded the life of a Swedish Baptist missionary for that of a commercial well-driller—a better way, he believed, to help the Central African Republic (CAR) escape the ranks of the world's 10 poorest nations. After 20 years in business, Mararv was seeking a suitable buyer for his drilling company, Sangha Forage.

Having traveled originally west from Bangui, the landlocked nation's capital of 700,000 along the wide Ubangi River, was Jim Hocking. The longtime Grace Brethren missionary had been raised in the CAR and was looking for a way to pursue his empowerment dreams for Central Africans that his mission's emphasis on souls had been constraining.

Their 2003 meeting was a fateful one. What transpired over the next few years provides a window into how complicated it is to build clean wells in remote villages and let donors know exactly where and how wisely their money was spent.

Strong beginning

Mararv had drilled 1,400 wells nationwide and was ready to retire from drilling thanks to a 600-well contract with the German government and a fortunately timed devaluation of the local currency. Hocking was chafing at a mission desk job in the States while his wife recovered from a traumatic experience. (Their ...

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The Messy Business of Clean Water in Africa
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In the Magazine

October 2011

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