Next to a curving road, hidden in the mountainous back country of the Chontales district of Nicaragua, a line of women and children is always present during daylight hours, filling their buckets with the fresh, clean water that gushes from a natural spring in the side of the mountain. To me, it is as miraculous as Moses striking a rock and having water flow out. Lest anyone forget its source, there is a church sitting on top of the rock, aptly named “La Iglesia de Agua Viviente,” The Church of the Living Water.
In the US, we never thought to thank God for water to drink, as the people here frequently do. In a place where it is always in the 90’s and there is limited infrastructure to deliver water, most people buy and carry drinking water. While we are in the dry season, skeletal cattle and horses graze on bits of dry grass near empty arroyos and wander through the city lapping up the remains of dishwater running in open gutters. We are reminded that water really is the basis of life.
In Juigalpa, anyone with reliable water has their own big holding tank sitting on top of their house, because the municipal water supply, and electricity to deliver water, are both spotty at best. But even that is not drinkable, so while we use it for washing dishes and taking showers, we also buy five-gallon water bottles for washing vegetables, cooking, brushing our teeth, and drinking.
In Santo Tomas, where we will be teaching this afternoon, there is no municipal water supply for the 21,000 inhabitants. The courtyard behind the church building has an open concrete cistern that catches rainwater from the roof. When we use the bathroom there, we first go to the cistern and dip out a bucket of water to pour in to flush the toilet. We also carry disinfecting wipes, so we can clean our hands, a luxury most locals don’t have. Since there has been almost no rain for over five months, the cistern recently ran dry and the Church had to call a water truck to refill it.
Is it any wonder that people here have a short life expectancy? Chronic dehydration leaves everyone with kidney problems, disease-bearing mosquitos breed in open water tanks, there is no pure water for hand-washing, and the poorer people have no choice but to drink whatever water they can get, along with the parasite infections that follow. People also drink massive amounts of beer, wine and soda pop, all of which are perceived as healthier, because they are clean.
Living in a more primitive environment, we have discovered that many Biblical references have come alive for us. We understand plagues of drought, famine, disease, and insects. We understand heat and dust and lame beggars. And we understand the life-giving necessity of wells, springs, and miraculous rivers of water.
We also understand the power of Jesus’s image when He said to the Samaritan woman, “whosoever drinketh of the water that I shall give him shall never thirst; but the water that I shall give him shall be in him a well of water springing up into everlasting life” ( John 4:14). He, who created all things, pours water into the buckets of Nicaragua. He provided water for Israel, walked on water, turned water into wine and said, “I will give unto him that is athirst of the fountain of the water of life freely” (Rev. 21: 6). He is the source of our water, both for this life and for eternal life.