An hour in and the sweat dripped from my nose while the muscles in my forearms burned as I worked to widen the throat of a $0.50 PVC adaptor. Working with a meager file from a small pair of scavenged fingernail clippers left behind by a previous missions team, I felt like Tom Hanks in Cast Away. An additional 30 minutes later and I finally had my custom adaptor installed to fit a very non-standard “half inch” pipe plumbed to convey fresh, purified water from water retaining tank down 40 feet to a small water fountain and spigot located at the entrance to the hospital. Additionally, the ultraviolet (UV) disinfection system, fresh from its own 3-day substantial overhaul and repair effort, was working like a dream and my personal victory would come the next morning when the fecal coliform and E. coli tests were fully incubated and ready for analysis. Everything was coming into place – but that was yesterday.
Today was our last day at the hospital and orphanage, and I left feeling utterly defeated. The day started with the UV system, which had operated so smoothly the previous day, blaring a cascade of sensor fault alarms and forcing the unit into an automatic shut down. Meanwhile the pump that feeds the UV system wouldn’t even pass a drop of fluid; it had completely seized. Hours passed as I tore apart the pump and the UV system to see if I could figure out what was wrong, but to no avail. “Come on! You are the water expert here, you have to figure this out” was what I muttered to myself between fits of desperate prayer. Eventually Jonathan and Mark happened by and could probably read the desperation on my face. An hour later, Jonathan had the audacity to suggest that we just re-assemble the pump with half of the internal components removed… and to my continued astonishment it worked. Our time was drawing very short and I hastily reassembled the system and bypassed the faulty fail-safes on the UV system. With minutes left things were once again working, if only just. This time the system was more like a deranged Frankenstein rather than the elegant bacteria killing machine resurrected during the previous four days of effort, and worse still I had no time left to train the staff on how to maintain the unit.
I am deeply concerned that the system will fall back into disrepair. While the current water samples from the UV system came out negative for E. coli and fecal coliforms, other samples from the site that feed water to the disinfection system came back very positive. It will only be a matter of time before the finicky system malfunctions or operator error strikes and the entire supply will be contaminated again.
I left with the sense that the hospital and orphanage deserved better. I was frustrated with my self for not overcoming obstacles and adapting more quickly throughout the week so that things wouldn’t have come down to the wire. On the ride home I stewed on the events of the day and muddled through the negative self-talk. I reflected on 2 Cor 12:9: "My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is perfected in weakness." May the glory be Yours, Lord.