KINGSPORT — Touched by the story of a church in Puerto Rico that didn’t have consistent access to water, Betty Cress mobilized her Women on Mission group at Beulah Baptist Church in Kingsport to fundraise for a well in 2020.
Little did they know that in September 2022, the well would be the sole water source for a whole city and would also be the means for introducing people to the Living Water in a time of crisis.
Drilling of the well started two years ago but took longer than expected as pipes and drilling equipment had to be upgraded. At one point, Pastor Jorge Santiago of One Church Comerio (OCC) needed $6,000 more to pay the driller.
Cress reached out to the national Woman’s Missionary Union and asked if she could use some money from a Pure Water, Pure Love grant that had been awarded but not used.
The WMU agreed, and by the end of summer 2021, the well was finished.
OCC started using the well to fill up their cistern that pushed water into the church. Before the well, the water supply to the cistern wasn’t stable.
At first, the well was being used only for the church. Santiago said he battled negative thoughts and felt like the resources for the well could have been better spent. After all, his vision was for the well to provide water for the whole community, and people weren’t coming.
“(The Lord) gave me that vision, and I knew He had a moment specifically for that,” he said. “That’s when Hurricane Fiona came, and I saw it coming true.”
Hurricane Fiona hit Puerto Rico on Sept. 18. During the storm, Santiago’s family and a few other families stayed at the church. The Monday after the hurricane hit, Santiago received a call from the local fire chief asking if he had a pump.
The entire city was without water.
Santiago had a pump in his house and started asking the chief how deep he needed the pump to go. Suddenly, his wife Rebeca looked at him.
“Jorge, why don’t you tell them to come to the church. We have a well!” she said.
Immediately, Santiago started getting parts together and purchased a hose to provide water to the people. By Monday afternoon, the church was providing water to the city.
For 15 days, OCC provided water to everyone, from the fire department to the city water trucks. Out of the 20,000 people living in Comerio, Santiago estimates that 10,000 came to get water.
“And the rest of the people got served from our well too,” he laughed.
At some point, water stopped coming. Santiago was afraid the well had dried out, but tests showed it was just the pumps that had failed. “I was very sad when that happened, but I also knew God was doing something,” Santiago said.
Although a majority of the people in Comerio had water, Santiago knew there were still more that needed it. He decided to do a Facebook Live video asking for money to replace the pump and rewire it correctly.
The community, and NAMB’s Send Puerto Rico program, contributed enough money to change the pump, get new pipes, change the electrical cable and wire the system correctly.
Send Relief Puerto Rico and the Baptist Convention of Maryland/Delaware donated money so that 12 washing machines could be put outside the church. In five days, people washed around 300 loads of laundry, Santiago said.
Santiago has experience ministering through a hurricane. OCC was actually started in the aftermath of Hurricane Maria in 2017 as Santiago began a Bible study to meet the spiritual needs of the people.
While people were getting water, Santiago and his church would share the gospel, pray with people and build relationships.
“Through this, the Lord was letting us serve the community, and we were just taking advantage of every single moment,” Santiago said.
Before Hurricane Fiona, attendance at OCC was around 20-30 people with most attendees being members. Since then, attendance has jumped to 60-70 people with a majority of attendees from the community.
Many have received Christ, and Santiago has started preparing his church members to teach small groups of new believers.
“It is amazing to see all the things that the Lord can do with a simple well,” Santiago said. “Those things that are very insignificant are the things that the Lord uses to shine His glory and to get people to know that He is a great good Father.”
Back in Johnson City, the people of Beulah Baptist Church are humbly amazed, Cress said. “We all should be humbled by how the Lord has worked,” she said.
The story of the well continues to be shared, from the Holston Baptist Association’s annual meeting to a national podcast.
Cress said that she has learned to not be afraid when serving the Lord.
“Trust the Lord to help you to do whatever He has set forth for you to do,” she said. “I think that’s what Pastor Santiago does. He just gets right in there and does whatever is needed to help his church people.”
Santiago said he was grateful for the many people that came together to provide the money for the well.
“They can now today see that the money that they put into that well, it resulted in someone’s salvation,” he said. “It was completely worth it, every single penny.” B&R