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.