The Water of Life

The thump-thump of the well drill could be heard all over the International Children’s Care (ICC) campus. Sixty times a minute the heavy drill bit was lifted and dropped, slowly sinking a well deep into the limestone bedrock of Guatemala. After working steadily for about two weeks and reaching nearly 350 feet, they hit water—water that was clean and pure.

Within seven weeks during January and February 2005, four wells had been drilled with more than enough capacity to supply the needs of the 700 people who live on the campus.

Gary Bartholomew is a native of Spokane. He and his older brother Lynn grew up helping their father Daryl with his well-drilling company. Gary graduated from Upper Columbia Academy, attended Walla Walla College, and finished a biology degree at Eastern Washington University. After his army service, he returned to Spokane to drill wells with his brother.

Today, instead of drilling wells, Gary has a pump system service company. Lynn owns Northwest Hydrofracturing, which uses a special process to increase the water flow in wells.

Gary and his wife Angie are members of the 140-member Countryside Church near Spokane, where Gary has been the head elder for many years and is a Sabbath School superintendent. Angie is a deaconess and works in the Sabbath School divisions. This church’s members are mission-minded. In the 27 years of their existence, 75 members have been involved in 89 mission projects in 66 locations.

Twenty-one years ago, Gary and Angie adopted Rosita, a 6-year-old girl living at the ICC orphanage at Los Pinos (The Pines) in Guatemala. Then 10 years ago, Ottis Edwards, a retired minister serving as assistant to the ICC president, called his brother Oliver, who lives in Granger, Washington, and is Angie’s father, to go to the ICC campus to do some much-needed electrical work. Oliver invited Gary to go with him, and each winter since, Gary and Angie have been going down to do small jobs on the campus, like building furniture, putting in water and sewer lines, doing electrical work, and now drilling wells.

The idea for a well-drilling ministry began several years ago when Gary and Ira Nation, ICC project manager for the Instituto de Capacitacion Adventista del Peten (ICAP), an Adventist secondary vocational school operated by ICC, met and prayed together in Guatemala City. At that time he began to realize the tremendous need for clean water but did not know how it would become a reality for the ICC campus. His family began to raise funds to hire a local well driller to drill on the campus. That well took several months to drill, never provided clean water, and is now abandoned.

The Bartholomews decided that since they had well-drilling experience, they would drill the wells for the orphanage themselves. When that task was completed, they expanded their idea to include drilling wells for the villages around Los Pinos as an outreach. So in 2004, they began to gather the supplies they would need to take with them to Guatemala, while ICC played “banker” for their fundraising.

They found a cable tool drill rig for sale in Idaho that included all the tools they would need. It was a simple machine they could repair themselves, and, besides, they had used one like it for years. This rig has finally been purchased and is waiting to ship to Guatemala. With many other drillers interested in the project, this rig will double the output of each winter’s efforts.

The Bartholomew family used their trade organization’s newsletter to raise funds and solicit equipment from friends and Northwest well-drilling associations, and soon donations of equipment began arriving.

These trade-organization newsletters piqued the interest of the Stadeli family, a large, well-known Mennonite well-drilling family in Silverton, Oregon, and Gary took an interesting call at 10:30 one Friday night. “Hi, this is Dan Stadeli,” the voice said. “Could you use a Bucyrus Erie, 22-W cable tool rig for your project?” Gary said they would be happy to have it.

The story of how the heavy well-drilling rig and the accompanying equipment was able to go from the Northwest to Guatemala is a story of one miracle after another and the intervention of the hand of God. Money and people showed up just when they were needed to take the next step, and the rig got to Los Pinos the day before the Bartholomew crew arrived to start the drilling project. The drilling began on time.

When the well had been completed, a list of items needed to hook it to the water system was made for Berny Leonardo, ICAP financial director, to pick up on his next eight-hour trip to Guatemala City, which was still two weeks away.

That day, Gary and Angie’s son Rod and his wife Jennifer cleaned up a storage area where the parts and equipment were stored. As they did, they discovered they had every item on the list.

Immediately they started hooking up the new well and were almost finished by supper time. During supper, Bernie came and said that the transformer that supplied electricity to pump water from the river had failed, and there was no water! “When will the pumps [for the well] be hooked up?” he asked.

Rod replied that it was all hooked up, and all that was left to do was to turn on the switch. “I think the angels kept those old transformers running until they were no longer needed,” he says.

Gary says that going on mission trips has brought a new dynamic into his personal and church life. “When in the life of a church, business as usual goes on and on, the church hits a plateau. Missions breathe new life into a church,” he says. Why does he do all this? “It reboots my computer.”

“We see destitute millions down there,” he continues. “While we eat lunch, 14,000 people around the world die from the lack of or from contaminated water, and beyond that, people need the Water of Life.”

Gary is a hands-on kind of guy who wants to minister in a practical way more than from the pulpit. “God wants his people to share what they have learned in a practical way,” he says. “Something happens when we put into practice all the things we have learned.”

The Bartholomew family goes to Guatemala in January and February because it is a slow time in their business. Although Gary and Angie were gone for seven weeks in 2005, they have never had higher sales in the first quarter of any year. “The Lord continues to bless in ways like that,” Gary explains. “Miracle after miracle, God gives a custom miracle to share with anyone who asks about the project.”

Thanks to their willingness to use their skills in a unique setting, the Bartholomews have inspired increasing interest in ministering to the Los Pinos area. During this winter of 2006, Gary and Angie and eight other members of their mission-minded church are drilling a well in a village near Los Pinos, holding evangelistic meetings in that village, and building two concrete water reservoirs on the campus. In March, the Upper Columbia Conference youth department will follow up by sponsoring a trip to build a church in that same village.

February 01, 2006 / Feature