Sunday, November 2, 2014

NicarAGUA: Experiencing the "Living Water"

Yes… I somehow waited three weeks after my return to the United States and on the day on which we get an “extra hour” to finally publish my thoughts on my trip to Nicaragua. I thought I was going to write so much more while I was in-country, but to be honest I had spent most of my energy and time with my travelling team as well as the local “Nicas”. Also, since my return, my priorities have been in so many other places as I feel that each free hour that I find is precious time to be putting toward my 7 credits I am taking online in addition to my full-time job. I count it as joy, however, for ACCOUNTING 211 and ECON 102 can’t touch the difficulties of organic chemistry and the like. But anyway, so many of you prayed and gave me well wishes for this trip and I owe you some stories. And it is my greatest joy to share my experiences with the Living Water in Nicaragua.

First, this trip took place due to a passion that I had in college. I graduated from college, moved to New Jersey, and found this church that allows their congregants opportunities to go on 1-week mission trips to bring clean water in various parts of the world, although the recent focus has been Central America. I raised funds in 2012 but could not make it work in 2012/2013 due to vacation policies and scheduling conflicts. Finally, I put these dates in October on the calendar and prioritized this trip, although still I was scrambling as I had to take an online ECON exam in the airport just before take-off. (Yeah, it’s a good thing I only need a passing grade and not a GPA booster). Anyway, October 3-11 were the dates that marked this journey to Nicaragua with Liquid Church, representing the non-profit Living Water International. The focus of this trip was to 1) bring clean water to a community by drilling a well at a school and 2) teaching the schoolchildren and their mothers about good habits in hygiene.

After touching down and spending an evening in the capital city of Managua, we all piled into a van and left for the 2 hour trip to a lesser, but still industrious, city of Leon. We passed so many different sights and sounds: street vendors, hand-painted billboards, bicycle taxis, palm trees, and even volcanoes. We even got pulled over by police on mo-peds. I think they honestly would have been no competition if someone really wanted to run, but nonetheless we complied and they did a routine random to check to make sure everything was in order and sent us on our way. About an hour later, our driver ran into a situation where a small 20-year-old, 4-cylinder car coming in the opposite lane of traffic made a sudden left turn in front of our vehicle, forcing us into an accident situation. After impact and coming to a stop and a number of minutes of tension, we evaluated that we had missed a close call and everyone was OK. A replacement van came to pick us up within a few minutes and the authorities continued to clean up the situation, for some of us our hearts were still pounding but we were filled with praise that the situation did not involve a hospital.

After getting settled in we did make our way to the school to  begin drilling for water at the school just outside Leon, although there was definitely a share of misfortunes here, as well, that made this project nearly impossible to finish on time. First, this well is twice as deep as most traditional wells, thus creating a significant amount of more work. Most wells in these communities reach depths of about 100-120 feet while this particular well was estimated to reach 200-240 feet. Drilling at such depths creates a bit of anxiety in regards to hitting more rock layers that prove to be impermeable and impenetrable, which would render the efforts of drilling in that particular location quite useless. The pieces of equipment that are essential to the well drilling process are a pump and a drill.  The pump forces a mixture of sediment and water down the water well as the drill, equipped with a special drill bit, carves out the hole that was in this case estimated to reach over 200 feet.

The first day went fairly smoothly as the team was able to drill approximately 120 feet, or about half the estimated distance. This is achieved by forcing in 5-6 foot-lengths of pipe one piece at a time, constantly connecting and disconnecting the drill while adding new sections of pipe. At the end of each day, it is necessary to remove and recover these pipe lengths to ensure that they do not get stuck in the hole overnight. During this process right at the end of the day, the engine that powered the drill started leaking oil and finally could not hold any oil long enough to do the necessary work of powering the drill to do this final bit of work. The on-site mechanic, a local to Nicaragua, estimated that a gasket blew, which rendered this engine useless.

Call in the back-up? The problem with this development was the fact that this engine was in fact the back-up. The primary engine was already in the shop for other repairs. Being down 2 engines, this led to a scenario that involved a bit of creativity, otherwise this work of drilling for water was going to end after only 1 day, even though we had allotted 4-5. Fortunately, this drill team in Nicaragua is not the only one, however it is the only one in Leon. They placed a call to Rivas, about a 3 hour drive away and they happened to not be drilling this week. A few generous Living Water International team members devoted their time and making the drive to deliver this back-up to the back-up engine, which in total ended up being about a 6-7 hour commitment outside of the normal schedule of activities for that week.

This engine was able to hold oil, however its fuel tank had a few issues and required yet another creative solution. The mechanic jerry-rigged a fuel tank which involved fuel inside of an anti-freeze can and a gravity pump / siphon directly into the engine. The work was then able to commence and the team was able to drill only another 5 feet before the pump started having issues.

The pump, again essential for delivering fluid down into the well to assist with the drilling process, died and would not start. On day 1, the primary pump was taken out of commission due to unknown reasons so again, this was a back-up piece of equipment. At this point the team was getting a bit flustered as much energy had been expended to get the new engine on board and now 2 pumps were out of commission. With a bit of prayer and creativity, the mechanic and team swapped some parts, force-ignited the spark plug, and through a combination of the two pump systems were able to get one working system. The team still had 100 feet to go, and this led to baited breaths through the rest of the afternoon… praising and thanking God for every inch that was drilled that afternoon with such inferior equipment.

Due to the circumstances I will say that the team and community were at a point where we were running out of ideas and implementing far-stretched solutions and were heavily relying on prayer and heavenly provision to tilt the odds in our favor, which in fact He did. Miraculously, at the end of the day and without much more event, the final drilling depth was reached at 230 feet, told by the profile of sediment which indicated that we had indeed hit the deep but existent underground aquifer.

It should be noted that to avoid such issues as above, there had been new equipment on order weeks before and had even arrived within the country, but had been stuck in customs as it was being sourced from the US. Customs can be so frustrating and bureaucratic and sometimes even corrupt. In the case of even the United States, my current company for which I work full-time even employs an outside agency to assist with the headaches that comes with customs. So I should suppose it not to be a surprise that Nicaragua has some of the same problems, likely to an even greater extent. The team simply has patience, prays, and waits for the equipment to eventually arrive.

Day 3 at the well went fairly smoothly as the PVC casing for the 230-foot well was put in place and the first underground water was pumped to the surface. There was a funny moment when all the 20-foot lengths had to be glued together with PVC glue. Let’s just say that 12 glue joints can add up to a significant amount, especially when it is all being forced down a small hole in the ground. A couple team members near the well started feeling the effects of a “high” which led to some entertaining conversations. Fortunately, the “high” only lasted a short time but the after effects were much longer, which made this a little disconcerting. Notes have been submitted for added safety to wear ventilators in such cases.

Throughout these few days, there were also opportunities to spend 1-2 hours each morning teaching hygiene to the schoolchildren and again in the afternoon teaching the mothers within the community. Such topics included germs, handwashing, brushing teeth, food preparation, as well as proper operation of the well. Each of these lessons was accompanied by an appropriate bible story.  

Day 4 was dedication day. We arrived at the village, made some adjustments to the well, and told the story of the Samaritan woman at the well (John 4: 1-26). Each of the class grades performed a skit thanking us for our contribution to the community and giving thanks to our God. This just being one of many demonstrations of generosity on their part, they even presented us with gifts of locally made keychains in which they had to “crowdfund” to come up with the appropriate amount of money. During this ceremony, we received news that yet another piece of equipment essential to making final adjustments to the well had broken and required a mechanic. An air compressor is necessary to pump air down into the well in order to clean the water filled with sediment and force water out of the well. Unfortunately this malfunction delayed the official dedication until the following day, Day #5. This was a bit of a let-down because the town came out in large numbers and some in their best clothing to greet us and to celebrate.

On Day #5, we did indeed come back and thankfully were able to finish the well and pump to the surface the first drops of clean water from the deep depths. Only the school was present for this event as it is likely that most of the community could not take back-to-back days away from their work and jobs, but it was still a momentous occasion nonetheless. The local community pastor as well as our pastor from Liquid Church spoke to the community about the importance of water as well as the blessing and provision that had been provided to the community, thanks to our common God. It was at this point that we finally said goodbye which was definitely filled with emotion for some as the children had really become attached to us by this point. We had defeinitely been blessed and felt loved, honored, and cared for by this community.

There were many more aspects to this experience, but summed as much as I could here in 1500-2000 words. My overall take-aways include:

1)      We don’t necessarily have it better. The needs among individuals force them together into a tight community. While they may not be blessed with large amounts of material possessions, they spend more time with each other than in their own homes. They are active and collaborative, which breeds feelings of love, care, and honor… the same gifts that were given to us during our visit. I yearn for this community in my community in the northeastern US, but have not found it. My closest experience has been in a college dormitory where close quarters made it more possible, but even still my fellow engineers were admittedly not the most social.
2)      God is active in these communities. We saw miracles happen, especially during the drilling process. The Living Water International local team says that they run into them often and rely heavily on His provision. There is great blessing in being able to acknowledge His presence during this work and it does create bridges between ages, cultures, languages, and perspectives. The gift of the Holy Spirit in these communities is treasured among the people here and they would not easily let go of it. In this way, despite their material circumstance, they would call themselves rich.
3)      Water is indeed essential to our existence. I got to see how a community became so thankful at this blessing and see the confidence that they would now be healthier because of this provision. This small step may even provide eventual opportunity for electricity to be delivered to the community through special programs in Nicaragua which would then provide even more opportunity for the community. However, my prayer is that all these blessings continue to keep the community close together and not drive them into self-dependency that can uproot faith as well as the reliance on community.

Thank you for walking along this journey with me. Thank you for your interest, your prayer, your investment. I hope that these few words provide a snapshot into my life in this week and experience and refine your own perspective. I consider the ability to learn as one of the most blessed gifts on this side of heaven and look forward to many more experiences to come. And finally, I hope you can see that it is quite apparent that our God is active on this Earth and He is doing great things on this side of heaven. Keep the faith. Keep loving.

Saturday, October 4, 2014

"I Walk with Lucy"

Today is a special day for me. I have been aiming to check this one off my list for quite a while now... Since I graduated college about 3 years ago. Today I am flying with a bit of enthusiasm and anticipation to the beautiful country of Nicaragua. I look forward to sharing the photographs of the landscape, the smiles with the local residents, and the moments of Godly provision as two cultures and two perspectives collide into a beautiful dance. (Wireless will be spotty, but I aim to providing updates here where I can. you can also follow the Facebook page at

But those stories are still to come. Before I even leave here, I already have a story for you, about the organization I will be representing over this next week. Our flights into Managua, Nicaragua were connecting through Houston which just so happens to be the home and headquarters of Living Water International. Coincidentally, last night they held their annual fundraising gala in the beautiful Hilton Americas in the center of Houston so I flew down a day early I order to attend, to hear the stories, to meet some of the people, and to partake in a yummy meal. In regards to the meal, there was a moment of pause for me as I surveyed how clean water was involved in everything that was prepared that evening. The most obvious was the water glass, clear as a window right next to a glass of brown unsweetened iced tea. While this drink was not clear, I could still trust the water source as I have almost never had to question it. The leaves on the opening salad were rinsed in what I trust to be clean water. Same with the boiled green beans which came out with such vivid color. And finally but more subtly, the white table cloth and even the silverware were all pristinely clean. 

There was a story told by one of the night's speakers about how the women in many of these partnership communities carry 40 pounds of water multiple times per week, maybe even per day... Which only equates to 5 gallons for the whole family. Because the water immediately available to the village is of lesser quality, there is often a need to travel distances of 1-3 miles to find the better water, which would still never pass our strict certification standards. Remember my comments about the water that was used to clean the silverware and tablecloths? If you only had 5 gallons of water per day, how would you use it? I would venture to guess that it would be strictly for drinking, eating, and hygiene. In these communities then, this often means they are left with the more convenient yet dirtier water to clean their facilities. The school floors and desks would lose what color it had and sometimes the disease that was inherent to the water simply got spread around by the local mop. While this takes a long time to explain, these were all a few thoughts that only took seconds, to which I came to the conclusion that cleanliness is a luxury and a comfort and a great blessing. It means a lot to me in my daily life, but I realize how much of this is made possible through clean water. 

The night's central theme was about "Celebrating the Woman" with a constantly reiterated tagline "I Walk With Lucy". Lucy is a 13-year-old girl growing up in a rural community who aspires to become a newscaster. Lucy represents all women and field with the dreams around the world, but dreams that are difficult to obtain due to the amount of time and resource that goes into obtaining access to water (clean or not). If 2-6 hours are spent in a day fetching water, then that leads to lost days in school, lost productivity, depressed economic development, and even greater risks of becoming victims of violence. Attendees at the gala were encouraged to let this reality touch our hearts and to make a commitment that we would "Walk with Lucy".

I give Living Water International a lot of praise for "Walking with Lucy". First, I for one have been numbed by the numbers: 780+ million people without access to clean water, ~2.5 billion people without adequate latrine systems. Numbers are numbing. Living Water put a face to the fight. And she even joined us on stage playing the role of her dream: a newscaster. Putting her face to the cause made it personal and put the connection back into the numbers so that we could understand what was trying to be achieved on this night. 

Also, I acknowledge that the preposition "with" has a lot of power. It packs a lot of meaning in the present rather than the past, which provides the hope that we can partner to fight the mortality that is associated with dirty water often due to disease. Furthermore, I respect the word "with" because it does not imply that the "rich, powerful Americans" are wielding their supremacy and pride in "doing good". "With" implies partnership and understanding that there is a commonality and humanity in which we share and an acknowledgement that we learn and teach each other, representing the body of Christ that has many parts (Romans 12:4-5). 

There was much blessing in the event yesterday. I made a few new friends and I heard many impactful stories. One local woman was to join us from Liberia but was not allowed due to the travel restrictions surrounding the Ebola outbreak. Instead, she shared her story with us in part rap and part preaching and part inspirational message that told us to consider the futures and dreams of the women on the world which could be made more easily accessible with the deliverance and provision of clean water. 

There is a great "ripple effect" from this event and transformative change in the Kingdom is achieved
That these partnerships produce clean water as well as the true life-giving water described in John 4:10-14

Next post will hopefully be in-country. Cross fingers that the internet connection remains solid. 

Living Water International:
Trip Updates from Team:

Thursday, July 25, 2013

On this 25th day of the month...

Conviction Notice…

I love the month of December. I like Christmas especially in the Northeast as I get to snuggle into more clothes, sporting additional fashion.  The dry indoors are accompanied by sweaters. The short days can be a drag, but it is such a treat to drive through neighborhoods and see different people’s interpretations of the joyous holiday season.

At the top of my list of favorites from Christmas is the cheer. Outside of the general rush that is felt by some due to the pressures of the holidays, people are generally more pleasant. I notice more mingling among strangers. I notice Christmas cookies showing up on a whim in the office. I notice Salvation Army bells ringing throughout cities. I notice clothes drives, and missions trips, and all-in-all a great sense of camaraderie.

Josh Wilson, however, reminds us that Christmas is “more than once a year”.

While his song refers to the general acts that surround the holiday, similar to what I have already mentioned, I believe that his message is much more profound.

Christmas is more than once a year.
Love is more than once a year.
Christ is more than once (maybe twice counting Easter) a year.

Christmas is indeed a special time as the recent birth of the royal British baby gives a small snapshot into the hullabaloo that surrounds the birth of a king. Celebration and cheer is necessary, even liberating.

But Christmas is a small microcosm of the greater story, of the greater sacrifice, of the greater redemption, of the greater calling.

So I ask myself, do I live like Christmas is more than once a year? I think that answer may be similar to the question “are you satisfied with your prayer life?” which hardly concludes in a satisfactory response.

It is these reminders where I am thankful that no matter how many steps away I may be from God, I only have to take one in the right direction for He has made up the rest of the distance to meet me.

So I think it would be appropriate to say on this 25th day of the month…

Merry Christmas :) 
The Ripple Effect
Image courtesy of

“…to fix our broken systems, we need to accelerate the number of changemakers in the world, and ultimately get to a world in which everyone is a changemaker.” –Bill Drayton

Often, change starts with a vision, an ability to see a different set of circumstances at another point in the future. The path to that endpoint does not necessarily have to be clear, but the endpoint often does.

I saw this personally during my trip to Haiti last month. The leader and changemaker that I was working with received his vision for a better Haiti while he was educating himself in the United States. He saw what it was like to have stable infrastructure, to have efficient systems, to have an orderly and honest administration. Therefore, after he completed his education, he moved back to Haiti in pursuit of this vision.

Of course, change is hard. One of his greatest obstacles is that the environment within Haiti often mutes peoples dreams and passions. There are constant influences and experiences that give their citizens the illusion that they can’t have an impact and they cannot change.

Therefore, this returned leader spends much of his time convincing others to be changemakers. This often meand inspiring passion and inspiring a vision, and giving these changemakers the hope that this dreams can become reality.

If we have the gift to be changemakers with a vision, I feel that we do have a duty to share that with anyone who will listen. To accelerate change, we need to accelerate the number of changemakers.

We have to work on the ripple effect of our individual drop.

This is post #3 of 10 in reaction to ideas posted on through Mark Cheng from Ashoka, an organization that provides venture capital to social entrepreneurs around the world. His ideas originate from his attendance at the Skoll World Forum in April 2013 and are entitled "10 Ideas Driving the Future of Social Entrepreneurship". 

Saturday, July 20, 2013

Change is Accelerating

Want to see good art? And want to be inspired? Take the 8 minutes and learn from a variety of influential voices and how they perceive change going forward in the world.

"...never before have we had so many ideas and tools to help us cope with this change."

Collisions and connections are happening at such an incredible rate, and I think this video essentially captures two of the greatest pursuits of man: relationships and purpose.

We have so many tools that are driving innovation, and the latest software/hardware developments are making the world smaller. Collaboration is growing. Change is replicated at great rates.

I love that they start the video with a tight-lipped and baffled reaction to the question "What will the world be like in 50 years?"  The fact that so many contorted and sighed and shook their heads means that they have a vision that the next 50 years of improvement can grow beyond our perceptions. We can't wrap our minds around it. The networking is fantastic. As one voice in the video, Geoffrey West, stated that it is "almost spiritual".

I think we are just beginning to grasp the potential of the collective minds around the world and the systems/tools that can assist in getting us there.

And God has known all along.


This is post #2 of 10 in reaction to ideas posted on through Mark Cheng from Ashoka, an organization that provides venture capital to social entrepreneurs around the world. His ideas originate from his attendance at the Skoll World Forum in April 2013. 

Thursday, July 11, 2013

It's About Changing the System

“Broadcaster Ray Suarez expressed it eloquently when he said, ‘Nobody ever comes out and says they are in favor of starving children, or inadequate sanitation, or war and conflict. And yet they persist. So how is it that if no one is for these things, and everyone is against them, these problems continue?’”

I have to remind myself that many of the issues that exist within the world are systemic with stubborn persistence.  Tying back to the introductory post in this series, the hunger for solutions must be just as persistent, without undermining the complexity of the original issue.

Many societal problems are multi-dimensional, often requiring attention to multiple aspects. For example, providing clean water to rural communities in third world countries is simply a result of a combination of a lack of resources, education, collaboration, or even simply vision.  In another example, corruption within governments persists due to the nature of political competitions and campaigns, economic requirements from foreign partners, and a strained dependency on essential needs for the general populace. This complexity must be acknowledged to impart sustainability.

Due to its complexity, systemic change is also difficult to measure in numbers.  Therefore, it can be more effective to measure in stories.
Prove that clean water enables children to go to school. 
Prove that giving a businesswoman a small loan enables her son to train to become a local doctor.
Systems are complex, but the persistence in recognizing these complexities is continuing to provide progress.

Also, despite the complexity, God somehow knows and understands how all our lives are intertwined within each other and also knows the ways in which we interact with His world.  Therefore, we should bring our sufferings before him in prayer and allow Him to partner with us in fixing these systems. With the greatest Systems Engineer on our side, we should have full confidence in redemption.

This is post #1 of 10 in reaction to ideas posted on through Mark Cheng from Ashoka, an organization that provides venture capital to social entrepreneurs around the world. His ideas originate from his attendance at the Skoll World Forum in April 2013. 

Monday, July 8, 2013

Social Entrepreneurship (def.):

(This is the first post in a 10-part series on social entrepreneurship. To receive updates on the remaining posts, I encourage you to subscribe via email... once I convince you it will be a good idea in my below message). :P

I like to use visual aids to explain concepts, often using pictures and videos. You can scroll through my past blog posts to see this style exemplified.

I opened my browser to a Youtube home page and typed in "what is a social entrepreneur". There was only one video that answered the question most directly and most succinctly, although there were some excellent references to one of the grandfathers of social entrepreneurship as well as thoughts posted from the leader in the global discussion on social entrepreneurship.  Anyway, here be the winner, created by a social network provider for social entrepreneurs (see if you can guess the country of origin):

Social entrepreneurship is an attractive term.  It sounds good, for no one argues with the "sexiness" of entrepreneurship. And if you are an extrovert, putting the world "social" on the front makes it nearly irresistible! Discussions on social entrepreneurship has a way of making people talk in sweeping generalities with fantastic ideas at wide-sweeping change, embracing the idea of CHANGE with as much fervor as a 5-year-old near an ice cream truck.

I poke fun because I actually do believe in the discussion. I do believe in the zeal. I do believe in the passion. But social change is difficult. But social change requires long commitments. But the pursuit of social change can at times be... well... "unsexy".

Still, as it may be, I think the discussion is necessary... for it is often over dinner, at the local bar, or even during the church coffee hour that these big ideas turn into tangible efforts. These discussions provide the soil from which good fruit can grow. We will stand and praise the fruit and will present its pretty colors at the grocery stores, but the shoppers may never know about the time your tractor broke, or the time the seeds washed away in a torrential downpour, or the time that you got a flat tire while bringing the fruit to market. These discussions often focus on the shiny fruit, but forget to remember the toil that is involved in bringing its shine. But even still, I believe in the discussion, for it is the beauty and dream of bringing shiny and tasty fruit to the marketplace that will see us through the difficulties.

This is my hope, that the one "drop in the sea" that is my blog, has a ripple effect of discussions as I embark on this series. While I welcome the interaction in my comments section, the discussion is more likely to happen internally with yourself and then re-awakened at another time, where a further discussion among friends and acquaintances will bring forth the ideas and the commitments.

I encourage you to subscribe to my next series of posts which will be reactions to ideas that have already been posted through by Mark Cheng from Ashoka, an organization that provides venture capital to social entrepreneurs around the world. His ideas were inspired by this past year's event hosted by the Skoll World Forum in April 2013.

By entering your email address in the blog's left-hand menu, you will have the opportunity to listen/join the discussion on the 10 Ideas Driving the Future of Social Entrepreneurship.

Did I spark your interest? I would be honored to have you on-board!