New Methods, Same Mission
About three months into the pandemic, I felt pretty awful. It was early summer 2020, and the news was not promising. I had traveled to El Salvador in December of 2019 and came back with notes, photos, and data to help our trained water team at First Presbyterian Church, Ambler, PA (FPCA) consider where we could best partner with a community. Our team was within days of going back in March when the shutdown went into effect. By early summer, there wasn’t much to be optimistic about. You know what I mean … the seemingly never-ending limitations of the pandemic, difficult news daily on mounting cases, fragmentation and strife in our society, and the constantly shifting estimates on “when we will get back to normal.”
One day, for no particular reason, Matthew 25:18 suddenly came to mind. I thought about the master’s rebuke to the servant who had buried money he had been entrusted with. The servant simply put it in the ground, where it could do nothing, instead of putting it to use. It spurred me to meet with our associate pastor and suggest that we “unbury” the funds that our congregation had provided. Heck, we were doing everything else virtually. Why not complete our installation and education in Istagua, El Salvador, virtually? He and our trained team were willing to give it a try.
Sarah Moyer working with the operators at Istagua, El Salvador, so they understand the system parts in order to do the installation
It wasn’t fun. Part of the joy of working in country with partners is the relationship that you develop as you walk hand in hand through education and installation. Virtual meetings, as we have all come to know, don’t provide the same connection. It’s harder to “read the room” and pick up on other questions you should be asking, or other concerns that your partners may have, but may be hesitant to surface. It was also virtually impossible to ship anything to El Salvador. Normal shipping charges were astronomical, and travel was still out of the question.
The education team acting out the story of Moses crossing the Red Sea
How did it happen? Each person took hold of the oars, and each pulled in the same direction. Denis Evangelista, the LWW In-Country Technician in El Salvador, was all-in. The trained team at FPCA stepped up. Our 103s (Sarah Moyer and Scott French) developed detailed plans and illustrations to help train the installation and operator teams. Bree Reeder, our 102, came up with innovative videos to replace in-person education and spiritual lessons. She also leveraged Spanish speakers in our congregation to narrate, allowing even more people, who might not have been able to travel, to participate in the mission. As the 101, I conducted the discussion on covenant, project preparation plan, and system management plan over a series of virtual meetings, with able translator Kathleen Recinos. The installation was completed in December 2020, followed by an incredible Water Celebration. Again, it was all virtual, but you could “feel” the happiness and excitement of the community coming through. We really did it!
Water Celebration over Zoom to celebrate the installation at Istagua, El Salvador
Fast forward to July of this year, and our Ambler team took the leap again. My pastor, Ryan Balsan, his wife Jen (a fluent Spanish speaker), and I traveled to El Salvador to meet our Istagua team in person. Every precaution was taken, and we were fortunate to snag a window of time where conditions for traveling were favorable. Nothing brought us more joy than seeing the installation at Istagua and how Pastor Oswaldo and his team have fully leveraged the system. Despite COVID, they continue to make and distribute water, keep meticulous records on their own uniquely designed software program, and still explore ways to expand water distribution. The community at Iglesia Pentecostes Mision Evangelica de El Salvador are very proud of how they have leveraged the system and broadened the distribution and education around clean water. Similarly, we on the FPCA water team can confidently report to our congregation that their dollars have been well invested.
Our team can now also think forward about a “new way of working.” If there is a bright side to the pandemic, it just may be that combining in person and virtual visits can benefit both the initiating partner (IP) and operating partner (OP). A hybrid model of partnership allows more people on the IP side to participate. Virtual prep meetings can make the actual in person visit less of a scramble. The challenges of the last 18 months have nudged us to embrace change. We are a flexible people, and we can bend, shift, and adapt to do God’s work.
Tamara Hayden is a member of the water team at First Presbyterian Church in Ambler, PA. She attended Clean Water U and is a water project management graduate (101), a health education graduate (102), and a water system installation graduate (103).