By KATIE EUBANKS
In 2011, Shelby Neese was venting to God near an old, crystallized lava flow in Kenya’s Chalbi Desert.
“Why are these people living here with no water?” he prayed.
Shelby and his wife, Mary, had been missionaries in Kenya since 2009. The water where he was, near the town of Kargi, contained arsenic at 400 parts per billion — the water people knew about, anyway.
“In the U.S., if it’s more than five parts per billion (arsenic), it’s no good. No wonder these people have these cancers and stuff,” Shelby said. The nomadic Rendille people had no other water source.
Shelby often came to this lava flow, located three miles outside of town, to pray and “holler and yell” at God, he said. But this time he got an answer.
An audible voice said, “Shelby, I have water here for these people.”
“Right here under my feet?”
Shelby and others marked the spot with white paint and a pile of rocks. God had shown them water in the desert.
It took 10 years to get that water out.
After the Neeses returned to the States in 2012, they formed Global Concern Inc. (GCI), a 501c3 that started raising money to drill the well outside Kargi, among other community development projects. Shelby made a few more trips to Kenya.
Then in 2016, while working on a house that was being built in Starkville, Shelby fell from the attic, through the second story, all the way to the ground floor slab.
The Holy Spirit told the homeowner to leave work and go to the house. He found Shelby and called 911. Shelby had internal bleeding and broken bones, and he had to have a tracheotomy in order to breathe.
After the accident, “(GCI) just stopped for us,” Mary Neese said. “Our heart hurt (to go back to Kenya), but we were focused on surviving and learning to walk.”
Shelby had been the leader, the main traveler, and the soul of GCI. But in 2018, he and the organization found a new way to move forward: He would stay on the GCI board and provide leadership, wisdom and consultation while others did the hands-on work. Things ramped up again over the next year or two.
Finally, after some COVID-induced delays, GCI installed the pump at Shelby’s Well in September 2021 — right under that pile of rocks outside Kargi, and right in the nick of time.
“The well goes in, and within the same day, people start showing up out of the desert with lots and lots of animals,” said GCI President Preston Crowe.
“We found out that at the only other good borehole (in the area), the well had broken down two days earlier.”
Preston took a bottle of water from the well back to Shelby — who has not returned to Kenya in the six years since his accident.
“It’s been awful (not going),” Shelby said. “I went through a grieving process. I could walk, I got my driver’s license back, but I knew there were some lasting effects (of my injury).”
Mary said her husband has always been a “doer.” Now he’s learning to help others “do”; that means praying, fundraising, and often giving counsel.
“He’s been great at that,” Preston said. “He gives us history where we lack history, insight into the people where we lack (it).”
What GCI is doing now
Depending on the season, Shelby’s Well serves anywhere from 2,000 to 10,000 or more people. But it’s still three miles from town. GCI is currently raising money to pump the water to Kargi — which could happen as soon as this fall — and for future projects.
All of those projects are geared toward sustainable community development in the Chalbi Desert. During each mission trip, GCI listens to people’s needs and helps figure out solutions that will make the community more self-sufficient.
On their most recent trip, which ended shortly before this article printed, the GCI team planned to share the gospel through the Jesus Film; conduct English tutoring and vocational training; help with agricultural work and cleaning out a clinic for future use; and bring dozens of dresses, hand-sewn by Mississippians, for local girls.
Preston knew folks would ask after GCI’s founder.
“The people of that region love Shelby and Mary deeply. They always ask about him and about how he is doing,” Preston said. “God is the reason we’re there. We give all the glory to God. But from a human standpoint, Shelby is the reason we’re there.”