At The Top of Their List

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My friends Geremias and Antonio serve on the staff of Agua Viva El Salvador. These guys along with the rest of the staff there host teams that come to drill water wells in impoverished communities. Geremias and Antonio were assigned to lead our Kingsland team in drilling a water well last week for the people of Los Robles, a small village nestled in the hills not far from the Pacific Ocean.

Geremias 2
A few days ago, Geremias emailed me a few photos that he took during our time in Los Robles. I was especially moved by the photos of the children. In one photo, a young boy named Julio is holding a New Testament given to him by Marina, a hygiene specialist with Agua Viva. You can see the intensity in Julio’s face as he prays to invite Jesus to live in his heart. He was one of sixteen people who professed faith in Christ that week.

Geremias 4
In another of my favorite photos, a group of children are assembled around their new water-well. Again, you can see the intensity as these children placed their hands on the pump and expressed their gratitude to God for their new water-well. They know what this clean source of water will mean to their families and how much time it will save them. Because I grew up with an abundant supply of running water in my home, I never once prayed at the faucet or stopped to give thanks for water. I just took it for granted.

Geremias 1
In another photo that Geremias sent me, a little boy is bending over and drinking the fresh, cool water that our team provided. He was sincerely grateful and drank with enthusiasm. I can’t remember the last time I was actually excited about drinking water. In fact, I don’t drink enough water — and the thought of drinking more water than I do sends me reaching for a Diet Coke instead. But for those who have limited access to water, there is nothing better or more refreshing than two cupped hands filled with clean water.

I’m glad that Geremias sent me the photos of the kids. They remind me of how blessed I am to live in a place where water is at the very bottom of my list of concerns. These photos also remind me that what is at the bottom of my list is at the top of the list for 844 million people on the planet who lack access to clean and safe water. I’m glad that we will return to Central America three more times in the coming year to provide the poor with water and the Word.

A Place In Our Hearts

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Along the Pan American Highway in El Salvador

The Pan American Highway is the world’s longest road, stretching from Prudhoe Bay, Alaska all the way to Tierra del Fuego in South America. La Panamericana, as it is known in El Salvador, winds its way through 23 countries and boasts some of the most beautiful vistas on the planet. This morning, our water-well drilling team decided to travel down the portion of La Panamericana between Playa Salinitas in the district of Sonsonate to Cuscatlán International Airport located just south of San Salvador.

Pan Am 1
I have traveled this route once before and fell in love with the drive. The views of the Pacific Ocean along the way are nothing short of magnificent. On many stretches along the way, the road is completely shaded by trees forming an arbor tunnel. And, the road also passes through five tunnels blasted through solid rock. Add to all of this sights of fishermen mending their nets, colorful boats, fruit vendors on the side of the road, and you have all the makings of an enjoyable drive.

Pan Am 2
When we arrived in San Salvador, we stopped by a scenic overlook to take in a panoramic view of the capital city. From our vantage point we could see thousands of homes and could easily identify bigger structures like beautiful cathedrals with their heavenward-reaching spires. The evidence that El Salvador is proud of its Christian heritage is seen everywhere. From public busses adorned with colorful messages like “Jesus es Señor” to street vendors with names like “Tortilleria Bendiciones de Dios.”

Team in San Salvador
We head back to the States early in the morning, grateful to God for a great week among the people of Los Robles, a village we had never heard about until a week ago. Long ago the people of Los Robles began praying for a water-well and this week that prayer was answered. And now, the people of Los Robles will forever have a place in our hearts. Their village is now a part of the geography of our lives. Although names may fade over time, our experience of working shoulder-to-shoulder with the people of Los Robles will remain with us for a lifetime.

An Amazing Lady

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Los Robles, El Salvador

People who do not have access to a reliable source of clean water often suffer from water-related diseases. According to Living Water International, “water-related diseases cause 2.2 million deaths a year; every day, diarrhea takes the lives of 2,000 children in Africa—more than any other single cause of death. Safe water, a toilet, and clean hands could prevent 90% of these deaths.” That’s why hygiene training is an important part of every water-well drilling initiative.

Marina Dental Lesson
This week, while our team of guys worked hard to drill a water-well for the people of Los Robles, our friend Marina Medrano focused on teaching women and children important lessons on basic hygiene. She is an amazing lady — a gifted teacher and story-teller and very knowledgeable about all things hygiene. We take for granted that everyone in this day and age knows how germs are spread.  Marina knows otherwise.

Marina and Puppet
All week, Marina has been surrounded by women and children. She has taught about everything from how germs are transmitted to how to properly brush one’s teeth. And she has done it all in very creative ways. Beyond teaching basic hygiene, Marina has taught the folks of Los Robles about Jesus and why He came. This week fourteen teenagers and two adults placed their faith in Christ for salvation as a result.

Marina and Kids
After we dedicated and presented the water-well this afternoon to the people of Los Robles, there was a buzz of activity around the well. Everyone was grateful for the new well in their village, and everyone was grateful for Marina’s good work. Mom’s and kids thanked her for the important lessons she had taught them and vowed to practice better hygiene. And Pastor Marcos will follow-up on the people who made spiritual decisions this week.

Pastor Marcos Dedication
As always, it was hard saying goodbye to the people we have come to know and love this week. Los Robles is a tight-knit community of people doing their very best to survive from day-to-day. Like parents anywhere, the moms and dads here want for their kids to have opportunities for a better and healthier future. We are thankful to have played a small role in strengthening their community and being the answer to their prayers for clean water.

Oct 2013 Team

We Must Trust God

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Los Robles, El Salvador

Marcos is a man of faith and one of the hardest working guys I have ever met. He is pastor of Iglesia Principe De Paz in the village of Los Robles. And he cares deeply about the people of his village. They are the sheep of his pasture and he takes seriously his responsibility to tend to his small flock. Within a short time it became apparent to me that the people of Los Robles hold Pastor Marcos in high regard.

Pastor Marcos
The people of Los Robles have wanted a water-well for quite some time. The shallow hand-dug wells in the village produce dirty water and the closest river is named Río Sucio, translated Dirty River. The problem is that they have not had the money, even collectively, to hire someone to drill a well for them. Pastor Marcos told me that he has repeatedly reassured the people, “Debemos confiar en Dios” — “We must trust God.”

Pasror Marcos Concrete
More than once Pastor Marcos and the people of the village have told us that we are the answer to their prayers. It’s been humbling to hear those words from so many different people. The gratitude in Los Robles is palpable. And Pastor Marcos has led the way with his words and with his work. Every day he calls each of our team members by name, tells us how happy he is to see us, and then rolls up his sleeves to join in the work.

Pastor Marcos Digging
Pastor Marcos is one of the hardest working pastors I have ever met on any of my travels (and I have been on a lot of travels). No task is too small for him and he does everything with a smile. And because he leads by example, his people follow him without hesitation. The men and women of Los Robles have not only worked hard, they have extended every kindness to us in order to make our time among them enjoyable.

Jim Dedication Plaque
This afternoon we put the finishing touches on the long-anticipated water-well for Los Robles. We all rejoiced when cool, clean water from deep beneath the village flowed to the surface. As we pumped water to the surface I looked over at Pastor Marcos. He was smiling. And so was every person there. This, I thought to myself, is what answered prayer looks like — the result of trusting God.

Team on Day 3
I always look forward to the people I will meet as I lead teams to serve in so many places around the world. I am especially glad to have met Pastor Marcos. I can’t help but believe that men like Marcos will be far ahead of me in the reward line in heaven. He serves joyfully in a tough place and is a faithful shepherd to his small flock. Los Robles is not as dark as it might otherwise be because of Pastor Marcos. He is leading the way in teaching his people what it means to trust God.

Lending A Hand

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Los Robles, El Salvador

To say that the people of Los Robles are excited about getting a water well would be an understatement. For the past couple of days we have had more than an audience, we have had an army of volunteers eager to lend a hand. The folks here have been waiting a long time to get a reliable water well in their village and they are not content to sit idly while it happens. They want to get their hands dirty.

Developing the Well
Yesterday we drilled to a depth of 100-feet and found a great source of water. We were fortunate that we had smooth drilling. No rocks to punch through as on previous drilling trips. We also set the casing in the well before the end of the day, putting us ahead of schedule. This morning we developed or cleaned the well, a process of blowing air into the well for several hours until the water runs clear.

Making the Form
In preparation for pouring the pad and setting the pump housing, we had to get a couple of truck loads of sand. The men and boys in the village jumped into action. They not only fetched the sand and mixed the cement, they cut rough-hewn lumber and made the form for the pad on which the pump will be placed. Others gathered rocks to place in the form to serve as filler. There was a beehive of activity as the men worked, many of them in bare feet, to complete today’s tasks.

Filling the Form
The best part of today’s experience was working alongside people whose hearts are filled with gratitude for the gift of this water well. I enjoyed the activity, the laughter, and the progress that we made because everybody was willing to lend a hand. The people of Los Robles have taken ownership of this initiative to provide clean water to their village. Their willingness to get their hands dirty made today’s tasks easier and a lot more fun. We are all looking forward to seeing each other again tomorrow as we work together to finish the task.

Concrete in Form

A Lifetime of Waiting

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Los Robles, El Salvador

There are some things, like living a lifetime without running water, that we will never fully grasp. No poverty simulation exercise or even experiencing the temporary inconveniences of traveling to places with limited access to water can help us understand the challenges faced by people like Angel and his wife Marta.

Angel and Wife
Angel is 94 years-old and his wife Marta is 82. We met them this morning in the small village of Los Robles. They live in a simple thatched-walled house and lean on each other when they walk. They raised six children and have 30 grandchildren and 20 great-grandchildren. And they have lived a lifetime without running water.

When they heard that we had arrived to drill a water-well close to their home, they sent and asked that we stop by for a visit. When we arrived at their humble little home they embraced us and thanked us. “You are an answer to our prayers,” Angel whispered softly. They understand what a water-well will mean to the village they have called home for a lifetime.

I cannot begin to imagine how difficult life has been for this sweet little couple. As I looked at Marta, I could not help but wonder how many hours she had spent in her 82 years walking to fetch water for her family’s daily needs. Many women and young girls who live in places like Los Robles spend as many as six hours a day fetching water. That adds up to a lot of hours for someone like Marta.

Pastor Marcos at Church
After our visit with Angel and Marta, a man named Marcos, the local pastor, took us to visit other families in the village. Every family welcomed us with open arms and thanked us for coming to their village to drill a water-well. I especially enjoyed meeting the children. The water well that we drill will certainly make life better for them. Looking into their faces I prayed that they will not have to live a lifetime without access to clean water.

Pastor Marcos Daughter
After meeting the local families, we started the work of drilling. By the end of the day we had drilled to a depth of 100-feet and found an abundant source of water. Over the next couple of days we will develop the well, set the pump, and teach the people how to maintain their well. We will officially dedicate the well on Thursday and present it to the village as a gift from the people of Kingsland and Living Water.

We are thankful to be here and especially happy to be regarded as an answer to the prayers of people like Angel and Marta. Although they have lived a lifetime without running water, they are glad that things will be different for their grandkids and great-grandkids. The best part of this day was getting to meet this sweet couple and the people of Los Robles.

The Raging of the Sea

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Playa Salinitas, El Salvador

The small nation of El Salvador is a treasure. Tightly wedged against the Pacific by neighboring Guatemala and Honduras, the country is home to more than twenty-five volcanoes, lush rain forests, and breathtaking coasts. Pedro de Alvarado brought this region under the Spanish flag in 1525 and named it El Salvador or “The Savior.” I personally love the name of this country.

This morning a team of Kingsland men and I boarded a flight from Houston to San Salvador, the capital city of El Salvador. We are here to work with our friends at Agua Viva El Salvador to drill our ninth water well in this country, our tenth in Central America. There are hundreds of villages scattered throughout the country that still lack access to a reliable source of clean water. Our work here this week will make a difference.

El Salvador Coastline
As our plane made its final approach, I could see the Pacific coastline outlined by foamy white waves breaking against the shore. El Salvador is the only country in Central America with no Atlantic Coast. My good friend Carlos Molina, the country director for Living Water International, met us at the airport and drove us to Playa Salinitas. I always enjoy returning to Playa Salinitas and the beautiful views of the Pacific Ocean.

We will begin our work tomorrow at a village called Los Robles or “The Oaks.” Until then, we enjoyed an afternoon of relaxation to the soothing sound of the waves breaking against the shore. As I sat and watched the waves coming in, I reviewed several passages of Scripture that talk about God’s power over the waves.

Waves are often used as a metaphor for trouble in our lives. “You rule the raging of the sea,” the psalmist wrote, “when its waves rise, you still them” (Ps. 89:9). And indeed He does. When waves of trouble crash over us and threaten to beat us against the rocks, we can always call on Him who rules the seas. He can calm the waves and He can calm our hearts.

Hard Hats

This week, we are here in answer to the prayers of the people of Los Robles, prayers for access to a reliable and clean source of water. The people of this village know all about the troubles and problems caused by filthy water. Our hope is that by the end of this week God will indeed calm the hearts of the people of Los Robles and cause them to rejoice because the ruler of the raging seas has heard their cries.

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