The first portion of this story was published in the April 2023 Que Pasa. This post shares the full story.
When Gary and Angie Bartholomew adopted their daughter through ICC, little did they realize that God would use their connection with ICC years later to be the catalyst for starting their own ministry in Guatemala. Here is the story.
Seeking a Home for “Hard to Adopt Children”
Many years ago, ICC operated an international adoption program. At times, ICC placed notices in the Adventist Review magazine encouraging families to provide a home to “hard to adopt children.” It took awhile for Angie to convince Gary that they should do this. They already had two boys of their own. Eventually, Gary agreed, and they set about having their home study completed.
Once the home study was finished, Gary and Angie made the trip to Vancouver, Washington from their home in Spokane. They wanted to speak directly to Alcyon Fleck, ICC’s founder. Upon arriving, Alcyon told them that there were two older girls in Guatemala from which they could choose. Gary said it didn’t seem right for them to choose, so they asked Alcyon to choose for them. And that is how in January of 1985, Gary and Angie became the proud parents of little Rosie.
Returning to Guatemala
Fast forward 12 years and Angie heard from her uncle, Ottis Edwards, that he was going to the ICAP secondary school to do some cleanup work on the campus. He invited her to go with him. When Angie heard that the school was affiliated with ICC, she jumped at the chance to join him. Angie was asked to carry along an antenna for what was the first phone the school would have. While she was there, the first ever phone call was made to the ICC home office. According to Gary, “It’s so different now. Everyone has a cell phone in their pocket.” But communication was difficult back in the early days of ICC.
The next couple of years, Angie returned to Guatemala. But she was not alone. Gary joined her. They realized that they enjoyed these trips better than going on vacation.
A Big Problem
One year it dawned on Gary that the Los Pinos Children’s Village and ICAP school were pumping water out of the river to drink. It was causing problems. People were getting sick. It wasn’t safe for volunteers who came to visit and to work. With about 700 inhabitants on both campuses, this was a big problem. Gary thought, “There’s got to be a way for getting safe water here for the campus of the school and Los Pinos.”
While other needs took priority at that time, Gary did not give up on the idea of securing safe drinking water for the children at Los Pinos and ICAP.
Eventually, the time came when it would become the highest priority.
Difficulties in Providing an Abundance of Water
Someone on campus knew a well driller in western Guatemala. There weren’t that many drillers in that country. Since no other options presented themselves, Gary decided to hire the man. He arrived on campus while they were there.
Unfortunately, his attempts to drill a well were met with difficulties. He worked seven months and only got 200 feet. Gary knew that in the US, with an air rotary system, a driller could go that far in seven or eight hours. The driller experienced a series of breakdowns and had to return home for repairs of his equipment.
Gary reflected that “It was way too small a rig, and he hit some rock. He was kind of polishing the rock and not drilling it.” Eventually he did hit water at around 250 feet. He calculated that it was producing at 300 gallons per minute.
When Gary and Angie returned to Guatemala, Gary installed a test pump in the well and found it was producing around 30 gallons per minute. But it was muddy surface water coming from up high. This was not going to work for the long-term needs of the ICAP school or Los Pinos. So, they decommissioned that hole and filled it with concrete. The need still existed.
However, according to Gary, “Out of those ashes came ‘Water for Life,’ the ministry that bears that name.”
Finding the Right Location
Over the next several months, Gary put in place a plan. He grew up drilling wells. He decided he would find his own rig and ship it down to Guatemala. He would oversee the drilling of the well to bless the children of ICAP and Los Pinos.
Gary put an advertisement in a well drilling magazine asking for someone to donate a drilling rig. One Friday night at 10:00 the phone rang. The caller had some equipment that he was still using. He estimated that it would still be good for 50 wells.
Eventually arrangements were made to purchase the rig and ship it to Guatemala where it is still in use today!
With that rig, Gary and his team were able to start working on finding a safe and abundant supply of water for all the kids and staff at ICAP and Los Pinos.
At around 300 feet, the drillers found water. They didn’t know the geology in the area and there were no water records available to them. They didn’t know if shallow water would last through the year or if it would dry up during the dry season.
Clean and Clear Water for All
The drillers went to what they call “third water.” When they hit water, they kept going. When they hit water again, they continued drilling. And when they hit water the 3rd time it seemed like they had fallen into a cavern. According to Gary, “We were drilling and bailing mud out. We went down again and lost all our mud. The next time we bailed it was all clear water. There was so much water down there.”
Gary and his team were able to dig three wells. One well was for the ICAP secondary school, one well was for the Los Pinos Children’s Village, and one was designated for a spare in case either of those two wells developed a problem. Later, one more well was drilled that would be dedicated for Los Pinos so that both places would have a primary well and a backup. The primary wells continue to function well to this day.
An Amazing Miracle Story
Switching the water system over to the new wells produced an amazing miracle story. Here’s how it happened.
Gary and Angie’s son, Rod, and his wife, Jenny, provided funds to hire the driller. They were almost completed but needed a few more parts for the plumbing work they were doing at the pump house. However, they were miles away from any supply store that would have the parts. In fact, it would take 2-3 days to get the parts from the capital city. So, they decided to go to the school shop to see if any of the parts could be found there.
To their surprise, everything on their need’s list was indeed found in the shop. What a blessing! And just in time, for that evening they received an urgent call. “What will it take to get the pump system going?”
God’s Hand at Work: An Emergency Averted
Rod replied, “We just need to turn the breaker on.”
Why the urgent call? The transformer that ran the two pumps down at the river (one pump for Los Pinos and one for ICAP) had blown up. Both campuses were completely out of water.
Rod went down to the pump house and turned on the breaker. It has been on ever since. The new well was ready at the perfect time!
They have never replaced that transformer down by the river because they no longer need to pump water out of the river for the domestic system.
Story ended, right?
No, not at all!
The Start of Water for Life
Gary found it interesting how things don’t dawn on a person when they’re focused on one project. Once the wells were completed that continued to supply water for Los Pinos and ICAP, he and others started looking around. “Look at all the villages around that are in the same condition,” they concluded. “They don’t have safe water. They are plagued by giardia and other things. Let’s start drilling in these villages.”
That’s when the Water for Life ministry really took off. They invited others to join them in helping to provide safe, clean water for villages near the ICAP and Los Pinos campuses. Gary put an advertisement in a national water well journal. And since many well drillers must take time off during the winter, this appealed to many kind-hearted and generous readers. People with many different religious views joined together in this ministry. And each is delighted to help.
As Gary puts it, “We’re working across these church differences …and it doesn’t make a difference, because we’re all focused on a project to help somebody. It’s amazing what we’ve seen.”
Over 200 Wells Provided Since 2005
From its simple mission of trying to provide water for the ICC family in Guatemala, Water for Life has grown and expanded since it was established in 2005. During that time over 200 wells have been dug. They have gone from drilling 3 wells per year to around 40 per year currently. And that will increase as more workers are trained.
And it’s not just well drilling that the workers are doing, They also maintain and service all the pumps. For if the pumps were not maintained, the people would go back to their previous unsafe sources of water.
When Gary is at his home in Washington State, he frequently receives text messages from the drillers asking for advice. “I didn’t think I’d drill a well by WhatsApp,” Gary says. And he stays very busy with the activities of the ministry. As Angie states, “Every day of his life, he does something for Water for Life.”
The Impact of the Pandemic
You might wonder what impact the COVID pandemic had on Water for Life when many countries were shut down. It proved to be a blessing for this ministry. Here’s why. The volunteer couple who were supervising the drilling when the COVID shutdowns began couldn’t return home right away. That gave them several more weeks to train two Guatemalans. When the couple was able to return home, they realized that these workers were now able to take on the responsibilities of drilling on their own.
Well drilling and pump maintenance are transforming the lives of villagers near the Los Pinos and ICAP campuses. Yet, Gary and Angie are interested in a more important work that is being conducted – sharing the good news about Jesus who provides the spiritual “water for life.”
Sharing About the ONE who Gives Living Water
Water for Life has hired 11 part-time Bible workers to share the gospel with the members of the community where wells are being drilled. Here is the effective plan that has been established to share the “Water of Life” with the villagers. Team members go into a village, buy property, drill a well, and then build and establish a church on the purchased property.
Gary recalls the story of one little girl that was bitten by a deadly, poisonous snake. She was probably 12 years old. One of the ministry workers was there at the time and heard the screams and commotion. He sprang into action and took the girl to town where she could be treated. It saved her life. In time, this girl was baptized, and she is in church every Sabbath.
Through the ministry of Water for Life, many churches and children’s programming shelters have been built. There used to be one central church in Poptun, the town closest to ICAP and Los Pinos. Now there are seven churches. God has been working through the Water for Life ministry to expand His work in that area.
From Building Wells to Building Churches
Water for Life works very closely with the church leaders in the Petén area which is the northern 1/3 of Guatemala. According to Gary, “We’re building churches all the time.” He frequently receives pictures of baptisms. A pastor of a church in the area may have up to 11 churches he oversees. He is involved with baptizing people where the Water for Life Bible workers have been serving. But Gary humbly recognizes that these are “the Lord’s baptisms.”
Eston Thompson, former teacher at ICAP, had this to say about Water for Life’s effective witnessing approach, “Before we started drilling wells there was no way to go and start a conversation or talk about the Bible with these remote villages…The well drilling has unlocked these villages. We’re free to go to work.” Gary’s response to him? “Yes, you are. Because we do Bible work, you go in the name of Water for Life. Tell them you’re a part of the family that provides this safe water.”
Dedicating Each Well to God
Once a well is completed, Water for Life conducts a dedication service. Angie states that “sometimes, the villagers won’t let anyone use the water until they’ve had the dedication.” Gary adds, “They’ll put a chain and a padlock on the pump.” This struck him as odd because the pump was available from which the villagers could draw clean water. But they were insistent that they wanted to wait until the dedication of the well. And they wanted Gary to be the first one to use it. This is telling as the ladies in the village may have to walk 30 minutes one way to get water – even from a contaminated source. At these dedication services the Water for Life team distributes Bibles to the villagers. What a double blessing! Water for Life multiplied!
The Blessing of Water for Life
The ICC family has been blessed by Water for Life. And we are pleased that ICC was able to play a small part in helping to spawn this ministry many years ago. And the blessings of the partnership continues. Several ICC donors can trace their support of ICC children through a referral from Gary and Angie and/or from their time serving with Water for Life.
Gary and Angie had no idea that they would become involved in such a ministry as Water for Life. “God has very interesting ways,” says Angie. “We thought we would hire that driller to drill the well and the problem would be solved. Some of us can only see so far.”
Gary sees the ICC and Water for Life partnership this way, “You’re an advocate for the work that we do, and we are an advocate for the work that you do. This idea of partnership is God’s efficiency working through His people.”
If you’d like more information about the ministry of Water for Life you can access their website at: h2oforlife.org.