Costa Rica Mission Trip 2013
The Agua Viva Story
The First United Methodist Church of Winter Park has sponsored a number of Mission Trips to Costa Rica, starting in 1996 and continuing to the present time. A number of these trips have been to the small town of Los Chiles, which is nestled in the northern tip of the Country against the Nicaraguan border.
The first trips to Los Chilies were during the summer of 2007, and work on those first few trips included helping construct the church and parsonage to assist in the establishment of a Methodist presence in the town.
One of the tasks assigned to a team in 2005 was to construct the septic system for the new parsonage. This task included digging a 12 feet long trench and a hole three feet in diameter and six feet deep to serve as the septic tank. The ground in this part of Costa Rica is a very heavy and very dense orange clay material that becomes very sticky and heavy when it gets wet, and it typically rains every day during the summer in Los Chiles.
The digging of the hole was quite an endeavor and most every male member of the team took their turn down in the hole with a pick axe and shovel, filling a bucket with clay and lifting it out to other members of the team outside the hole. In the 95 degree, 95% humidity weather, the amount of time in the hole was very short for each man. As it got deeper, we were limiting time to 10-15 minutes because of the heat and strenuous nature of the work. The digging of the septic hole lasted a full 4 days, with someone almost continuously down the hole working during most of the daylight hours. The team gained quite a respect for the Costa Rican clay and had the sore, but renewed, muscles to prove it.
On this particular trip, the leader happened to work for a magazine publication and had convinced one of his fellow employees to come along and create a video of the trip. On the last morning, the local pastor asked if he could take the video team around the town to show them some of the homes of the local church members. Not quite knowing what they were about the witness, three members of the team climbed into the back of a pick-up truck with the pastor and set out into what we now know is called “The Precarios” by the local town folk. Precarios means precarious in English, and the area is called this because of the fragile state of the lives of the people living there.
The next two hours was very eye opening to the missionaries. The living conditions in the Precario were much worse than in the small town of Los Chiles. Most homes were better described as lean-tos constructed of tree branches, re-cycled wood, rusted corrugated panel sheeting with dirt floors. There was no electricity, no running water and the bathrooms consisted of holes in the ground with a frame of trees and black plastic sheeting for privacy.
Of particular concern to the missionaries was a two room home with three boys, ages 3, 5 and 8, home alone. The boys were barefoot, running around in dirt with the chickens with an open septic hole in the yard. The missionaries were told both parents were out working in the fields and had no choice but to leave the boys home alone. The house the boys lived in actually had some masonry walls, but was mostly thatch roof and had an outdoor kitchen. The stove was basically not much more that a campfire, doors were old sheets and the furniture consisted of a few wooden chairs and a wooden crib. Chickens and roosters ran through the house and there were a number of dogs the missionaries were not comfortable touching.
As the team went further along the trip, they visited five or six additional homes, most with adult women at home along with very young children. In some cases, it appeared that four generations of women were living in a single two or three room shanty. If there ever was a male at the house, they would instantly beckon to the male member of the mission team to come look at something. In every event, this something was a well that had been installed somewhere on the property. The wells consisted of concrete pipes up to just above the ground surface with a rope and bucket system to retrieve the water. While sitting around one of the wells, the team asked the local missionary why the men were so anxious to show the team their well. The local missionary explained that water was very scarce in the Precarios and that the church had provided the concrete pipe for these families, but the families had to dig the holes on their own. When asked how deep the holes were, the local missionary responded, approximately 10 meters (30 feet). Having just participated in digging a hole 6 feet into the dense clay, the male missionary could not imagine digging a hole 30 feet into the ground. How could you work down in a hole 30 feet deep? He was told that many times the children did this because they were smaller and could still work when at the bottom. The local missionary also said that the wells were being used to spread the good news into the community. Each family with a well could provide water for three or four other families who would learn that the well was provided by the church. He likened the ministry to Jesus preaching to the Samaritan Woman at the well about Living Water, a message which she took back to her community. The local missionary also noted that the 30 foot wells were fine during the summer, but turned dry or dirty during winter months when the rains subsided.
This mental picture of children, or anyone, working with a pick ax and shovel at the bottom of a 30 foot deep hole, haunted the missionary. Besides the obviously strenuous work that must take months to perform, the safety of the persons down in the hole was paramount, especially if they were children. The missionary left Costa Rica with this image and the thought that there must be a way we can help these families build their wells.
When the missionary got back to the United States, he started researching augur boring machines that could drill a 3 foot diameter hole, 30 feet deep, into the dense clay in Costa Rica. He found that these types of machines were not available in Central America and cost hundreds of thousands of dollars. He figured that this was not possible or practical to do. Yet the images still haunted him.
So he researched shallow well systems and found a portable well system that was manufactured in Alabama. The whole system cost about $10,000, plus shipping to Costa Rica. The missionary did not know if the drill would work through the dense Costa Rica Clay, and asked a number of drilling experts to look at the rig. Most were skeptical at best, and did not seem positive about the prospect of being able to drill a hole with the portable rig. In addition, you would need a way to get the water out of the hole because you would be fortunate to drill a 6 inch hole with the rig, so a bucket system would not work.
Research then turned to pumping systems which eventually led to New Zealand Pumps, who has one branch office in the United States in Los Angeles, CA. Their dual action pumps were 3.5 inches in diameter and could raise water over 180 feet with such ease a child could do it. The pump supplier also informed the missionary that the systems were being used all over the world for emergency water supply after natural disasters.
After many discussions, debates, doubts and anxiety, FUMC Winter Park decided to purchase the necessary equipment to start drilling wells in Costa Rica. Based on the discussions with the local missionary, the mission was named “Agua Viva” which means Living Water.
After a number of failed attempts to install the wells, the first successful well was installed in November of 2009. Four wells approximately 120 feet deep have been installed and are providing extremely clean and cold water to a number of families in the Precarios. The journey called Agua Viva continues as plans are being made to purchase a new drill rig and continue providing water and spreading the good news of Jesus Christ to families in need in Los Chiles, Costa Rica.