Giving Back — January 25, 2017

Where Were You? The Story of the Lluvias de Gracia Well

by Susannah McQuitty

The vision trip team gathered around the entrance to Lluvias de Gracia church

2013 was four years ago now. How crazy is that?

I was a sophomore in college, keeping myself busy with general ed courses and Super Smash Bros. on my best friend’s Nintendo 64. That seems like an age and a half ago, but four years has never seemed longer than when we stood around a well in Portales, Guatemala and listened to the story of the yawning 60-foot hole in front of us.

Trash piled up next to the clogged river in Portales, Guatemala

A need for water

Back in 2010, Portales didn’t have a clean water supply. There’s a small river running through the village that is so clogged with trash, you could almost walk on it like stepping stones. For years, that was Portales’ water source, besides water that was delivered in the community at astronomically high prices.

Pastor Byron of Lluvias de Gracia Church knew that something needed to change. He got in touch with Healing Waters International’s Guatemala staff and asked about the clean water systems. Healing Waters agreed to install the filtration system – as soon as there was a reliable water source, such as a well.

So this faithful pastor in Portales started digging.

Brightly colored buildings line a dirt and cobblestone street in Portales, Guatemala.

Choosing hope

The idea caught on. More well-off (by relative standards) families and businesses decided to dig, too, and they were able to afford the expenses of good equipment. One by one, more than four other wells were dug in Portales; one by one, every single well either dried up or didn’t hit water at all.

Pastor Byron and his church heard the devastating news from around their community. They’d been digging with shovels, picks, and their own hands, so there was more than enough time for them to see the rise and fall of the other well projects. But they kept digging.

A well stretches 60 feet underground to tap into a rushing water vein.

More issues unearthed

As the well got deeper, more problems surfaced. The walls of the well started collapsing, so Pastor Byron and some of the men from Lluvias de Gracia church bought concrete with their own money and some church offerings to line the walls.

Still, the well digging was solely a night project, due to the fact that every man on the job had work for employers during the day. The exhausted church members also had to face toxic gasses that flooded the hole from the walls of the well, so candles had to be lowered in to burn off the gas before anyone could descend.

And then, one night, they hit the boulders. These massive lumps of stone weighed between 200 and 1,000 pounds each. During the day, Pastor Byron climbed down into the now-30-foot hole to scrape away dirt and rocks from the edges of the boulders; at night, the men came to hoist them up and out using a block and tackle pulley system.

Three years into the digging, they began to hear water trickling beneath them.

A Guatemalan man holds up a bottle of river water and a bottle of clean water to compare.

Clean water at last

It took another maddening year of close, damp darkness, the stench of gasses, and flickering candlelight to get through the rest of the boulders. During the last few months, Healing Waters’ regional engineer, Walter Nonemaker, helped finally clear the way for a gushing water vein to break loose. Walter installed a pump to pull the water up, and in October of 2014, the filtration system was finally in place.

Five years and 60 feet of sediment and rocks and boulders later, the church in Portales has a well and clean water for their community.

And there I was, sweating in the Central American heat, thinking about all the plans I made four years ago that all fizzled out because I was tired or thought I didn’t have time. Too busy playing Smash Bros., I guess.

Two members of the Portales church review clean water information next to a stack of jugs.

The long way around

It was an incredible lesson in hope and perseverance. And maybe, more than anything, a lesson in humility for us. We Americans like to think of ourselves as the saviors of the developing world sometimes. Portales proved that, in reality, these brothers and sisters are more than capable of taking care of themselves, even if it means taking the long way around.

So where were you four years ago? And where would you like to be in 2021?





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