Free Flowing Gratitude

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Tonalá, El Salvador

A few days ago, our team arrived in El Salvador to work with our friends at Agua Viva El Salvador to drill a water well for the people of Tonalá, a small village located in the verdant hills just a few miles from the Pacific Coast. El Salvador is just one of the many countries where Living Water International works to drill water wells for those who have little or no access to clean water. Over the past few days we have worked in the heat, in the mud, and in the rain — motivated by the smiles of those anxiously awaiting a reliable source of clean water. I am happy to report that a little after noon today, we finished the well. It was fun to see the people of the community gather for the dedication ceremony as we tightened the final bolt and then pumped the first few gallons of cool water.

As much as I enjoy the drilling process and getting really dirty, my favorite part of the experience is when we dedicate the well and present it to the community. Today was no exception. We had a formal dedication service in which we presented the well to the people and the people, in turn, expressed their gratitude. And today, the gratitude flowed as freely as the water. Both the village leader and the principal of the local school gave speeches while the village folk listened and applauded. The school principal made it a point to say that he was both inspired and encouraged when he saw us working in the rain yesterday. Seeing us work in spite of the weather gave him the assurance that we were determined to finish the well. Both leaders emphasized what this well will mean to their little community.

The only way for those of us who have access to unlimited water on demand to truly understand the depth of gratitude felt by the people of Tonalá would be for us to spend just one day without convenient access to water. Twenty-four hours without convenient access to water would be like an eternity for most of us. Although people who live in places like Tonalá are accustomed to the inconvenience of having to fetch water daily, the new water well in their community will make life much easier as well as lessen the likelihood of people getting sick because of water-related diseases. We have made many new friends in Tonalá. At least for the immediate future, they are likely to remember us when they go to their new water well to fetch their water. But that will fade with time, and that’s ok. We are just happy to know that we have helped to make a difference in the lives of a few hundred people because we gave them the gift of water and the Word.

Preparing a meal is just one of the challenges of having limited access to clean water.

Tightening the bolts on the pump head.

We signed our names on the inside of the pump head cover.

Marie, the only girl on our team, pumped the first gallon of water.

Girls praying at dedication ceremony.

The Tonalá school principal expressed gratitude on behalf of the community.

Kingsland team with the Agua Viva El Salvador staff.

The dedication plaque on Kingsland’s seventh water well in El Salvador.

And the Rain Came Down

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Tonalá, El Salvador

Rain has a way of complicating things, especially when working outside. Today, the rain came down in frog-strangling proportions, making our work site a soggy and muddy mess. Even Gene Kelly might have thought twice before singing and dancing in this downpour. Fortunately, we moved the drilling rig to a new location before it started to rain and we were able to prepare the site for the concrete pad that will hold the pump apparatus. When the rain started, the Agua Viva El Salvador staff and our team elected to keep working in spite of the rain. That’s when things got really exciting. These are a few of the best things that happened as we worked in the rain.

Resourcefulness | Our team had to think creatively in order to mix and pour concrete in the rain. Because we mixed the concrete and sand on the ground, we had factor in exactly how much water to add to what the rain was contributing. And then we had to find plastic to cover the area where we needed to pour the mix. It all worked out!

Neighborliness | When the men in the village saw us working in the rain, they stepped up to help. One man contributed the plastic we needed, another provided the twine to make our makeshift tent, others helped shovel and move the sand to where we needed it and then helped us to move the concrete to the pad site.

Joyfulness | The rain did not dampen our spirits. Instead, there was lots of laughter and good humor as we worked cooperatively to get the job done. Many willing hands helped us to finish the task faster in the rain than if we had done the same task in the sunshine.

Because we continued to work in the rain, we are still on track to complete the water well by tomorrow and to present it to the people of Tonalá. We can already feel the excitement in the air. The location of this well will make it accessible to all of the people of the village. The well will also save lots of folks lots of time because they will not have to walk as far to fetch water. It’s possible that it may rain again tomorrow but it really doesn’t matter. Come rain or shine, we are determined to get the job done for the people of Tonalá and to present them with their new well in the name of Jesus, the One who quenches deeper thirsts.

And the rain came down, making our work site a muddy mess.

Herschel Rothchild mixing concrete.

Jim Coleman mixing concrete.

David Hopkins working on the pump pad.

Jim Dry putting finishing touch on the pump pad.

Setting the water well dedication plaque in place.

Our team of guys after a hard day of work.

The Excess Jar

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Tonalá, El Salvador

We had a successful second day of drilling today. Early this morning we hit water at a depth of a little more than ninety-feet. It’s always exciting when we reach water and then begin preparing the well, a process that starts with casing the hole and then blowing out all of the silt and gunk until the water runs clear. Although the steady spray of water shooting out of the hole creates a muddy mess, it really is a beautiful sight. We are on schedule to present the completed well to the people of Tonalá in a couple of days. This well will provide clean water to the people of this community for years to come. It’s hard for those of us who have access to water on demand to fully appreciate what a water well means to people who live in places like Tonalá.

This morning as our team gathered for our morning devotional, I received an email from my friend Kara Potts. She wrote to tell me how much she appreciated our recent issue of Go Beyond Just for Kids magazine entitled “All About Water.” Kara meets with four other women for a weekly Bible study. She wrote, “When we talked about our excess we talked about not just feeling guilty about it, but doing something about it! Then along came the magazine.” The magazine arrived at just the right time. As a result of reading about our water initiatives, Kara and her friends decided they could lead their families to engage with being a part of the solution. “Each family now has a jar in their kitchen where every time we make a decision to live with less or buy less than we want, we put the excess in the jar.” That’s something that even kids can understand and participate in.

Kara outlined several ways in which she and her family are cutting back on expenses and then putting their savings in their excess jar. But, here is the really exiting news. Kara continued, “We are doing this to take our excess and purchase a well for a community without water. We know that our five families have enough excess in our lives that we can turn it into a real, concrete, tangible blessing for the ‘least of these.’ Our goal is to have $5,000 by Christmas and give the well as a Christmas gift from our families.” Kara’s email could not have arrived at a better time to encourage our team. Being on the drilling end of this equation is made possible only because of the kind and generous gifts of people at home — folks like Kara and her friends.

The excess jar is a great way for any family to help provide clean water for people who live in places like Tonalá. Every dollar counts and can make a huge difference in the lives of those in need of access to clean water. Why not give jars to family and friends this Christmas and encourage them to join you in blessing people with the gift of clean water and the Living Water. All it takes is filling the jar with your excess.

Notice the boy (right) drawing water from a shallow hand-dug well next to site of new well.

Our friend Clay Lewis and his granddaughter, Marie. Marie was first driller today.

Poster on wall at Agua Viva El Salvador headquarters.

Get Dirty for God

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Tonalá, El Salvador

Pig-Pen is one of the most well-known characters in Charles Schulz’s Peanuts comic strip. This overall-clad kid was always depicted as a disheveled dust magnet. Once when Pig-Pen was caught in a rainstorm, he lamented that “in one minute the rain has washed away what took me all day to accomplish.” Charlie Brown, the only character to unconditionally befriend Pig-Pen, had a more philosophical view about the filth that covered his friend. In one strip, Charlie Brown said, “Don’t think of it as dust. Just think of it as the dirt and dust of far-off lands blowing over here and settling on “Pig-Pen!” It staggers the imagination! He may be carrying the soil that was trod upon by Solomon or Nebuchadnezzar or Genghis Khan!” I love that. We all need a friend like Charlie Brown.

Pig-Pen was much in my thoughts today as our team started drilling a water well in the village of Tonalá. We are drilling with compressed air, a process that stirs up unbelievable clouds of dust that hover and then cover everything in sight. It did not take long for us to feel Pig-Penesque. However, when we drilled through the first aquifer, clouds of dust became showers of mud. For the person operating the controls on the drilling rig, there is no escape. You will get dirty — very dirty. Once the dust and the mud  have covered your clothing, they will find their way inside your clothing. When I finished my turn at the controls, the face shield on my hard hat was so covered with mud that I could no longer see. But, that’s ok. This is one of the parts of drilling that I like because it’s a sign of making progress.

Drilling a water well is just plain messy. There is no way to drill and to stay clean. Sooner or later, everyone involved in the process gets covered in dirt, grime, and mud. Today, one by one, our team members got dirty for God. It was not a matter of if but when it would happen. And when it did, no one complained. We understand that some things will not happen unless we are willing to get dirty. In a few more days we will present the people of Tonalá with a clean and reliable source of water — a gift that will mean better health and less time walking long distances to fetch water. Just thinking about the joy of that day makes getting dirty for God worth it all. We really don’t mind the mess or the mud. At the end of the day we had drilled to a depth of 90-feet. Tomorrow we will get dirty all over again as we drill a little deeper.

Waiting for lunch before we start drilling.

Fidelia, a village woman, preparing our lunch of chili rellenos and rice.

Team member Jim Dry takes his turn as driller.

There is no way to stay clean when drilling a water well.

At the Edge of the World

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Playa Salinitas, El Salvador

Coastlines fascinate me. My earliest memory of standing on a coastline was when my parents took my sister and me on vacation to the beach at Corpus Christi, Texas. I remember being a bit frightened by the waves and the vast expanse of water beyond the safety of the sandy shore. As I stared at the distant horizon, it felt as though I was standing at the edge of the world. And in a way, I was. I have had that same feeling every time I have visited one of the coastlines of the world — from white sand beaches in Florida to black sand beaches in Nicaragua to the murky waters lapping the coastline at Cox’s Bazar in the Bay of Bengal to many other coastlines around the world.

El Salvador’s Pacific Coast

As our flight approached El Salvador earlier today, I looked out my window to see the long stretch of coastline that defines this country’s unique shape. Later, I stood with friends looking out over the Pacific Ocean, having those same feelings I had when I was a kid filling my pail with sand on Corpus Christi beach. I am once again at the edge of the world. Before our evening meal and briefing, I stood for a moment and looked toward the distant horizon to the West, mesmerized by the rhythm of the waves. The map on my iPhone verified that I was indeed standing, once again, at the edge of the world.

My current location. | Playa Salinitas along El Salvador’s Pacific Coast

At our briefing this evening, we learned that we will be drilling a water well for the people who live in a village called Tonala. The folks who live in this tiny village of some forty homes are mostly people who work in the adjacent sugar cane fields. These people work hard to earn $8.00 per day. As bad as $8.00 per day sounds, it’s a little bit better pay than many folks in the area will ever see. The children of these workers attend school to the sixth grade and then drop out to help support their families, adding their wages to the meager daily earnings of their parents. As I listened to my friend Carlos, the country director for Agua Viva El Salvador, I was reminded of why God brought our team to the edge of the world along the Pacific Coast of El Salvador. It was so that we could connect with those who are living “on the edge” — barely able to eke out a living and in need of a source of clean water.

I am looking forward to a great week as we begin the process of drilling tomorrow. May our efforts help to improve the lives of those who live on the edge at the edge of the world along the Pacific coast of El Salvador.