*to make it easier to share this update, I am going to call the community leader “John.” I had originally written it with “community leader” throughout, but it seemed difficult to read it that way.
The next morning (Wednesday), I started packing my tools at daybreak to head back to the village. I was still letting doubt and anxiety creep back into my mind, however I knew that we (myself, the Wood family here in Panama, my family and friends back in the States) were all praying for the community and for the project.
I went back to the pipes, alone, and started repairing all the spots that were cut. About 2 hours later, John came out and met with me. He was very pleased to see the water flowing full in the 2″ pipe. Suddenly, he was agreeing with everything I had told him and the other guys on Tuesday. Herd mentality, or mob mentality, describes how people are influenced by their peers to adopt certain behaviors, follow trends, etc. That can be in something as simple as purchasing trends or as severe as a mob of people rioting. Since I had John alone on Wednesday, he was much more understanding because he didn’t have the other men all rallying with different ideas and hacking away at the pipe.
I was not cured of all my anxiety, however I felt that God was taking care of the community and me. Bursts of encouragement like the transformation of John on that morning and having Bobby Wood walk the pipeline and reassure me that the system looked sufficient gave me comfort.
I also had something to look forward to on Thursday!
Jim and Kathy Rycek, friends of mine from my home church (Coastal Christian), were en route to Bocas. We all served together in Guatemala, Kathy and I studied together in Costa Rica and their son, Jimmie, was working with me here in Panama 4 weeks ago. The Ryceks had planned to come visit me and help out for a few days. They picked these dates a couple months ago, which is another great example of God’s timing. I really needed their support now and their scheduled visit couldn’t have come at a more perfect time for me.
On Thursday, John, and I were, again, in disagreement because he wanted to replace the existing reservoir. The changes he wanted to make to the reservoir could potentially collapse the supports and ruin the project. I wanted to stick to the original plan and he wanted to change it.
We had a scheduled community workday on Saturday. On Friday night, John came over and said he was going to give me half the men for my pipeline and half the men for the reservoir changes that he wanted. I tried and tried to stress that we needed ALL the men to work on the pipeline, but he was not interested in my plan.
Every night we prayed for the community. Prayed for the community leader. Prayed for the project.
Guess what happened to help me with my disagreeing community leader on Saturday morning?
He was removed from the site (for a few hours at least).
John spent the first half of the day off-site, working in Bocas Town. Without John there, all the men worked with me and the Ryceks. I told everyone that Jim was my boss from my church (not exactly a lie, since the Ryceks are the leaders of the mission committee and I am one of the supported missionaries). Both Jim and Kathy were great helpers. I was still really fragile (emotionally) and exhausted. Having them there – just there with me in the field – was a relief and encouragement. They both had good ideas and Jim was especially helpful in the revisions we made to part of the pipeline trench. I was grateful to have someone in the field to say, “yes, it will work” (like when you think it will work, but need someone else to agree with you so you feel more confident). John did return for the second half of the workday and when he first came up, he grumbled about the location of the pipeline ditch, telling me it wasn’t going to give sufficient water. I tried to not be discouraged and just prayed for wisdom. I didn’t want there to be any pride on my part, so I looked at the direction that John wanted to take the pipe and seriously considered it. Afterwards, I decided the direction we were going before he came was the right one (it was easy to stick to that conclusion when I had Jim there to agree with me). I introduced Jim to John as my boss and that helped a lot with the leader’s attitude. He gravitated towards helping Jim with gluing the pipe and digging out some small trenches for the school water line.
Bobby Wood came out to see the project on Saturday afternoon and to talk to John about the reservoir. Bobby is respected among the community so I am hopeful that his conversation with the community leader will mean that the reservoir outlet pipe will not be changed, even after I leave Panama.
On Sunday, we finished the remaining 400’ of pipe. A total of roughly 2,400′ of pipe from the reservoir to the homes in the mangroves!
The houses in the mangroves were the reason we began this large project in the first place. Because the homes are built over the water, there is nowhere to drill a well and only one roof is collecting rainwater (the other houses have grass-thatched roofs).
The two men working with us on Sunday were excited when we finally glued the last pipe and installed the faucet.
Two ladies, two men and four kids were anxiously watching as we opened the valves. At first, air rushed out (a good sign) and then we waited.
I knew water was coming, but it would take time to fill up and push through the 400’ of 2” pipe we just installed. This waiting game was not new to me – each time we installed long series of the pipe, we had to wait a long time for the water to finally fill up and push up, over, around the hills and come out the pipe. Sometimes it caused me a lot of anxiety because the community would wonder if it was going to work and then say it wasn’t and want to start to change things when I just knew we had to wait. Once it initially fills the pipe, it is fine and they won’t have to wait anymore (unless the reservoir empties completely). Jim and Kathy knew we had to wait and we tried to explain that to the people watching the faucet intently, but the excitement wore off quickly and the locals walked away and back into their houses. The water finally came out a few minutes later, but the atmosphere was rather anticlimactic since the locals had already left 😉 We were excited though, especially since Jim and Kathy got to see the water flow before they left to go back to the States!
Alomar, one of my faithful helpers lives in the mangroves. He had walked away when we were waiting, but we saw him when we were leaving and told him there was water and he was very happy and thanked us. This culture doesn’t typically say thank you or offer any sign of gratitude. I don’t get offended by it because I know it is their culture, but because of that, it is always extra sweet to me when someone does say thank you. Alomar, his wife, Odelia and their kids all thanked us 🙂
I just want to praise God for providing water to the homes along the water line on the high ground, the school and the homes in the mangroves. This project isn’t over yet, however God has shown himself to be faithful in strengthening me when I was weak, giving me comfort, sending me helpers, changing the hearts of some of the community members (and even the leader for at least one day 😉 ).
I am still working in the village until I leave on Monday. Besides the water pipeline, I am trying to build a toilet for the schoolteacher. We have the holes dug for the septic tank, but that’s it. I also have a few more tasks for the pipeline. Please continue to pray for me this final week. I am still exhausted and struggling to get community members to work on the final pieces of the project. I am not discouraged though. I have a renewed trust in God’s perfect plan. I know His plan may not always yield what I expect, however I have learned to trust Him, no matter the circumstances.
I know I have written too much already, but here is one final note. Two weeks ago, I was listening to a sermon by Charles Stanley on Inadequacy. Even though it was before the really rough days had started, it was still applicable, because I have been struggling with this community and the leader for most of the past 6 weeks. When I really broke down last Tuesday, I went back and listened again and went over my notes. His summary is so true to me, now more then it was when I first listened to it: “Whatever drives us to God is good. When we draw near to Him and look at our inadequacy in light of His greatness, our relationship with Him deepens, we gain greater understanding of Him, our faith increases, and our fearful emotions subside. The Lord can take whatever abilities, talents, or gifts we have and do amazing things when we offer him a surrendered life.”