Mission slakes thirst for water and knowledge



Boy from Costa Rica drinking from outdoor tap
A boy from an impoverished area of Costa Rica drinks water from an outdoor tap, thanks to Agua Viva Serves, a nonprofit organization that resulted from the mission work of First UMC, Winter Park. Photos by Gary Bogdon.

WINTER PARK – Missions to Central America from First UMC have led to new sources of clean, flowing water and helped satisfy a thirst for knowledge in an impoverished area on Costa Rica’s border with Nicaragua. 

Several years ago, a group from the Winter Park church embarked on a weeklong trip to Los Chiles, Costa Rica. The lack of water in the area came to the attention of Rick Baldocchi, an Orlando engineer on the mission team. The result? A nonprofit organization called Agua Viva Serves, dedicated to creating a supply of life-giving water to thousands of area residents. The organization also is a mission supported by United Methodist Global Ministries.

“Rick met missionary Marion Woods in Costa Rica,” says Blake Davidson, executive director of Agua Viva Serves, who lives eight to nine months of the year in Costa Rica.

“He asked Rick about the water situation and showed Rick this area that basically didn’t have any water. My dad was retired and used to be an engineer,” Davidson says. “He returned with Rick and they brought the first drill rig and would go there a week at a time to drill these wells. Here [in the U.S.] you have surveys to find water and there you have nothing. You turn the machine on and hopefully get where you need to be to draw water. It took a couple of years of trying.”

At the time, the residents were digging wells by hand, going down only 30 feet. Without support, the holes eventually would collapse on themselves.

Davidson recalls two other problems: Toilets that were just holes in the ground would leach into the water well pits, and there were many cases of dysentery. Then, in the dry season, the holes would dry up.

Mission team members from First UMC, Winter Park, help install a septic tank
Mission team members from First UMC, Winter Park, help install a septic tank in Los Chiles, Costa Rica. The project is intended to ensure that clean water flows from the wells installed by Agua Viva Serves.
Shannon O'Donnell of First UMC, Winter Park, works with students studying English during a recent mission trip to Los Chiles, Costa Rica. English language skills will help the students land jobs in tourist attraction areas.

“Most of the people are Nicaraguan refugees,” Davidson says. “It’s a no-man’s land between Costa Rica and Nicaragua, and that area the [Costa Rican] government will not give services. There is rarely electricity that far north and certainly the government will not invest in any type of water.”

Some places have electricity for the wells, and others use generators. Solar power is in the preliminary planning stages, Davidson says.

A former commercial pilot, Davidson became involved after he took a leave of absence and returned to Orlando to see his family. His father talked him into going on a mission to Los Chiles to help out.

“I had never drilled a hole in my life and I didn’t have any thought to having success, but God has other ideas. I went and saw them draw a little success. I came back here [Orlando] and I got a calling in my heart.”

Davidson got a team together. The Winter Park church got a grant and “we drilled the first two wells in 2010. The area now has 53 wells and is serving over 5,000 people,” Davidson adds.    

The wells are holes in the ground made with PVC pipe that must be maintained. The residents must pay into a fund to maintain the wells as their responsibility.

“Now generally there are 10 homes off one well, but we have 40 homes off a new well,” Davidson says. “The people have to help pay for the electricity, and this is super successful. Now they don’t have water for just a day or a week but have water forever, and we’re trying to give them a plan to have it last forever.”

Davidson performs administrative duties in Costa Rica and engages community leaders there to join the project. Fundraising is his task when he spends time in the states. Individual donors currently support Agua Viva Serves, which has attracted little grant funding and isn’t a part of any church budget, he says. A large  fundraiser is held annually in Orlando in April.

“I see our next step is Nicaragua. Right on the border, I have talked to the mayors and see the feasibility of us going there,” Davidson says. “The Los Chiles area is the poorest area of Costa Rica. Our work there is preparing us for working in Nicaragua.”

Books for students learning English

Thanks to another mission trip from First UMC to Los Chiles, books for English-speaking students have presented an extra benefit to their education.

“This book thing is the side to it all,” says Santa Bogdon, a First UMC member who initially joined a mission trip to help build a house.

Blake Davidson of Agua Viva Serves in front of a well and apparatus
Blake Davidson, executive director of Agua Viva Serves, visits one of the organization's well sites at Isla Chica, Costa Rica.

"I went down originally as [part of] a mission team to work on the house. I did work on the house. But there is a school training students in English for a year after they finish high school. We broke up our days working on the house and some days worked with English students and taught Bible school.”

Bogdon and others worked one on one with the students, with structured lessons and casual conversation that builds relationships. Students who learn English can go to the country’s tourist attractions and apply for work. 

“I really liked the kids and they were awesome,” Bogdon says. “As I was chatting with one of the interns on the way to the airport, I said I would like to send them something and would English reading material help. You kind of give whatever you have to the people there when you leave.

“When we came back, I cleared the books off my high school son’s bookshelves and went to the store and bought books and sent a kind of care package with the [next mission] team that went down. It was not this massive book donation, but I asked the church members to participate and books have been sent down like care packages. The books were high school and middle school levels and fiction that they would enjoy reading and helping their English skills.”     

“I enjoy the ministry,” Bogdon says. “I would absolutely recommend mission work to other people.”

Click here for information on ways to support Agua Viva Serves.

– Brenda Eggert Brader is a freelance writer based in Winter Haven.


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