Ted Vander Zalm of Wells of Hope Ministry

Water is one of the most basic needs of the human race. And while some parts of the world have it in abundance, it is extremely scarce in other areas. This fact has motivated a group of local Christians to use their God-given resources to change this situation.

Wells Of Hope Ministries founder Ted Vander Zalm has dedicated most of his life to supplying water to needy communities. The path that led to this began when he was a young man,

serving the people of Tanzania while with a missions ministry based in Italy. It was there that he first acquired the skills he'd need for the ministry God would call him to years later. After meeting his future wife Miriam while serving together at the ministry, the young couple relocated to the Niagara region. Ted thought he had moved on from his well drilling days after being hired by at a local school.

Meeting a group of South Americans visiting Canada changed all that, however. "There was a group of Guatemalans that were sponsored by a local organization to come to the Niagara Region to canvas for financial support," Ted recalls. "Through their canvassing, they had heard what Miriam and I had done in Africa, so they called us up and asked for a meeting. At the end of the meeting they asked, 'could you come to Guatemala and do for us what you did for the people in Africa?'" The seeds for what would become Wells Of Hope were planted.

The Vander Zalms felt that despite now having a young and growing family, they couldn't just reject the request out of hand. They felt their first step was to view the situation firsthand, so in 2000 they packed up their four kids into a pickup and drove to Guatemala. They lived in tents for six months, moving from village to village every two weeks or so. The pressing need expressed from the nationals was the same wherever they went: they needed water.

The couple had a decision to make: what was the best way to approach the obvious need. "We came back home and we were kinda hemming and hawing," Ted continued. "We have a small, young family. How can we do this?

Vounteers with the Wells of Hope Ministry

"The women alone, what they have to do to get water... it's like they're human pack horses, (carrying water) all day long. All they do is walk for water."

"But our previous mission experience had reinforced in us that what seems impossible to us, with God, does become possible."

The Vander Zalms mortgaged their home to buy their first drilling rig. Then Ted began drilling locally after school and on weekends to pay off the remainder of the cost for the equipment. Eventually, Miriam opened up a bed and breakfast to help with family expenses (both streams of income are used today to support the family as they focus on their drilling ministry). And all the while, more and more people were hearing about this grass-roots outreach, and felt compelled to get on board. A small nucleus of helpers then started the long drive to South America.

But new challenges met the team upon their arrival. Ted remembers, "We went with the naive idea that if this well drilling rig works in Canada, it'll work in Guatemala, but the well rig we had could not penetrate that volcanic rock. We drilled twelve hours a day... two inches, three inches, that was all we were getting. So it was back to the drawing board."

The mission team found an old, tired rig in Rochester at a reasonable price. After fixing it up and driving it down, it proved to be the missing piece to their drilling dilemma. Headway was finally being made with the new piece of equipment, which the team was able to use for a number of years before bringing it to the point where it was being fixed more often than it was being used. But since the equipment was being used for the work of the Lord, Ted and the others, after praying about the situation, wondered why they were settling for second-rate equipment when he deserved the best.

"I searched and found a rig that was engineered for the geology that we were dealing with in Guatemala, through a company in Alberta. We worked out a deal for all the equipment that I'd need, and it came to $1.3 million. Again, God had proven that what was impossible to us... with him it was possible.

"This time around, it wasn't just Miriam and I, but we had four, five, six other families that put their homes up for collateral to get the loan we needed to buy the rig. So we brought the rig, and drove it to Guatemala, and it's doing exactly what it was meant to do." After using this equipment for a number of years, Wells Of Hope made the last payment  on it this past year.

Ted and the crew are happy to see three or four new wells in operation a year. "It doesn't sound like much, but it's huge because these wells are 1,500 feet deep, and it costs us tens of thousands of dollars to drill one well. We're drilling wells in mountainous regions where people have no resources, no water. And we are bringing that water to the surface. Last year alone, we brought water to the front doors of almost 30 000 people. Whenever I think of that, I'm just humbled."

"And who are we? It's not a statement of who we are, it's a statement of who God is. He works through simple, everyday, ordinary people, to do miraculous things."

Over the years, the strategy used to accomplish the work has been modified. "We pick the poorest area of Guatemala to centralize our base camp, and from there, we network. And we don't go to communities and say, 'you need this.' The communities come to us and say, 'please, can you help us with this?' We're not trying to make Canadians out of everybody. And if the need is legitimate, we see what we can do to help them out. Water is our priority, because without water, there is no life."

Ted's heart breaks when he thinks of the life most of the nationals are forced to live before they are able to help them. "The women alone, what they have to do to get water... it's like they're human pack horses, (carrying water) all day long. All they do is walk for water. So to restore the dignity of the women, we want to break the chains that she's enslaved to... when we can bring water to the front door, she now has the opportunity to discover her own gifts and talents, and become the best version of herself."

When asked how people can help Wells Of Hope, Ted began his answer by sharing how Wells Of Hope can help others. "Part of our vision was not just to meet the needs of the poor, but to be a bridge to allow (other) people to come and meet the needs of the poor. So we spend a lot of time and energy being the infrastructure for people to make an experience of being the hands and feet of Christ in these situations. We host high school groups that will be coming down in February, March and April, we host professionals -- we have a dental team coming down very shortly -- families, retired persons, builders... we want to be the bridge to make the poor real people for them. So it's not just 'the poor', it's Juanita, it's Jose, it's Maria. Poverty has a real name and face to it."

However, the ministry does need as much support as it can get, and Ted did outline some of its needs. "We need members who invest their lives into what we believe and what we do so it can continue. We need financial resources. To drill these wells, we consume roughly $700 a day in fuel alone. We're drilling three weeks, so you start doing the math... the dollars add up quickly. And that's just to drill the hole. You have to equip the well, and other things as well. The reality is, helping the poor without money, you can't do much. The poor don't need more poor people down there. For me to go down and live in a mud hut doesn't help. They need people who are willing to provide for them the basic necessities of life."

People interested in learning more about Wells Of Hope can do so by going to their website: http://www.wellsofhope.com/.

Wells Of Hope: local ministry provides water for needy


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