The winter that year was the coldest it had been in that part of the country for many years. The snow fell and the thermometer dropped lower as the days went on. Soon the ground froze hard, and ice began to form in the river.
I was a missionary in southern France and had come to this area expecting to find warm winters and pleasant summers. My expectations were realistic and were consistent with those of the native residents of the country. Like many of the apartments in that area, ours was built for warm weather. The walls were not insulated, and neither were the water pipes that were attached to the outer walls of the building. It was economical and suited the region.
As the days went on and the weather grew colder, the people grew colder also. Their attitudes became closed and narrow, which made our contacts with them more rare and difficult. We soon found that in the center of the city the water pipes were freezing, leaving people without water. The freeze spread like a plague, and we hoped that it would not reach our part of town. Anxiously we watched and waited, but it wasn’t long until we woke up one morning to a freezing cold apartment and no water. Many of the residents had family or friends in neighboring cities or a well in their backyard. We, of course, had no such resources.
We did the best we could to survive this difficult time by buying the expensive bottled water sold at the stores. We walked the 20-minute walk every morning to the chapel to wash up and cook. As time went on, we felt that we should get a bucket of water in our apartment that we could wash with and use in an emergency. We decided to take some time out of our Preparation Day to find someone who still had running water and would give us a bucketful.
We soon found that the cold attitudes that had met us during our regular tracting were repeated when it came to our earnest pleas for one bucket of water. The people responded to us with a coldness that equaled the bitter wind. The typical response we received was, “If I give you my water, then what will I drink? The more I give away, the less I will have.” It was hard for us not to become discouraged. The time wore on with no success, so we decided we would try one more door and then start back for home.
We approached the door with what energy we could and knocked. It was interesting to compare this day’s work with the work we usually did. The people didn’t understand the significance of what we were trying to say to them. They didn’t really care about what we presented. They just knew that they were busy and didn’t want to be disturbed by two sister missionaries, strangers in a foreign land, wearing long overcoats and black name tags.
A woman opened the door and looked at us with sympathy as we made our approach and explained our problem. Soon the answer came, which sounded at first like all of the rest, “One bucket of water?” And then she added, “One bucket of water—is that all? I will give you two, or three, or ten, or more. Keep coming back, because if I give my water away my pipes will never freeze. When the water is flowing, it doesn’t ice up. In a way, it is almost like in giving I am receiving.”
This one woman, in a country far from our homes, was living the way the Savior taught us when he said, “For I was an hungred, and ye gave me meat: I was thirsty, and ye gave me drink: I was a stranger, and ye took me in” (Matt. 25:35).