The $12 billion wagered during March Madness each year could provide access to clean water for the entire world. The millions of hours snuck away from work to watch games or check scores may have employers bemoaning lost productivity, but that's nothing compared to the 200 million hours lost each day by women and children who have to go collect water for their families. That's time that could be spent generating income, caring for family, or attending school. Today's not just another day of NCAA basketball, it's also World Water Day, meant to draw attention to the 800 million people without access to clean water.

Sure, you could say it's unfair to compare our so-called first world problems—particularly those related to recreation and college basketball—to the life-or-death issues faced in developing countries, but as Christians, these issues shouldn't seem so far away from us. Sometimes, it takes a deliberate effort to imagine beyond the comforts of our own lives to understand, feel for, and help people who need it most. It takes Lent.

The Lenten season, which comes to a close next week, provides Christians a period to fast, deny ourselves, and to suffer as Christ did… and in some cases, as others still do today. Christians are being more intentional, more incarnational with their practices: unplugging from technology, eating like the poor, and taking on the plight of those without access to clean water. My small group has been drinking only water, walking at least 6 km a day (the distance many must travel to get to the nearest water source), or taking on other practices related to the global need for clean water. We're sacrificing choice, convenience, and time. We've been able to raise more than $100,000, enough money to build 10 wells in Ethiopia through charity:water.

In trying to connect this remote reality with our daily lives, we embody various aspects of the issue of clean water access. In some small way, we reflect Christ's own willingness to physically take on our pains, our humanity, and our worldly problems. For us, Lent has become a time to discover new insights and lessons on justice:

Allow issues to impact daily life

Our reaction to stories of suffering is often to avoid or ignore them. And when problems seem too big, we numbly move on to the things we can handle or fix. Project 1040 has helped us engage the discomfort instead of running away. Our long walks have taken us away from laptops and other distractions. When I turn downed down a glass of nice champagne the other day, I had to explain why and thus allowed the global water crisis enter into the conversation. What we've learned is that the first step in honestly engaging justice issues is to allow them to interrupt and shape our days.

Acknowledge God's grace

Many social causes talk about how solvable problems are—finding the cure for cancer, the end to slavery, the solution to provide clean water. That rhetoric can make Christians no different than anyone else trying to make the world a better place. By forcing ourselves to be regularly mindful that our water comes by the grace of God, we are learning that solutions will also come by grace. When we feel blessed to have that ice-cold cup of water or that refreshing hot shower, we remember that the true power to solve problems comes not from our amazing abilities, but from the Creator of life himself.

Taking the next imperfect step

And because the author and perfecter of faith is at work, we're learning that faithfulness simply involves taking the next step instead of having the solution figured out. We've noticed ourselves at times paralyzed by wondering whether what we're doing is good enough or will make a difference. Certainly many social problems are solvable in our lifetimes, but our daily disciplines have been reminding us that the journey of faith starts with the little choices each day because God can use whatever we offer however inadequate they may be. In other words, imperfect action is better than inaction because God will carry the day.

No matter our individual self-denials or sacrifices, we won't be able to fully leave our world of college hoops and refrigerators full of clean, cool beverages. As an American, I cannot truly understand the realities and emotions of a typical woman in sub-Saharan Africa who must walk three hours to fetch water for her family. She will lug home 40 pounds of brown-tinged water on her back, possibly full of insects, fecal matter, and other germs. There will be a day when it makes her family sick, when her child may die if they can't get to a heath center in time.

We don't need to risk our health and safety for something to drink, but we cannot forget there are people who still do. As Matthew 10:42 reads, "And if anyone gives even a cup of cold water to one of these little ones who is my disciple, truly I tell you, that person will certainly not lose their reward."

Tracy Lin is a 31 year-old pharmacist living in San Francisco with her husband, Charles. She is a member of Dolores Park Church and part of a community group of recently married couples that is seeking to grow in generosity and understanding of God's heart for
the poor. For more info about charity:water, visit