PITTSBURG — The First Christian Church in Pittsburg recently completed its year-long venture to bring clean water to a third-world village.

Santa Emilia, Nicaragua, is a mountainous village dominated by a coffee plantation. Since 2007, Pastor Pat Nixon has tackled numerous projects in an effort to better the lives of those who live there. From building preschools and classrooms to buying land for a clinic, much has improved since the pastor’s involvement.

“A year ago, the people in the village approached us and said ‘what we need more than anything else is clean water,’” Nixon said. “During the dry season, they would get water to their neighborhoods only once every eight days.”

When this issue was brought to Nixon’s attention -- water was available at only four spigots in the community. Worse yet, some of the water was polluted with chemicals from the plantation.

“I mean, they drink that stuff,” he said. “Compared to warfare, (bad) water kills more people every year.”

The project was estimated to cost about $23,000. Although Nixon initially projected this to be a three-year endeavor, the project took them only a year to complete. Specifically, it began in Feb. 2017 and ended in January.

“Inherent with that, the people of the village promised to provide most of the physical labor,” he said. “They have done that by the hundreds.”

Funding for the project came from a variety of sources, the largest of which was a $10,000 grant from Schubert Mitchell Home Builders. Additionally, the project received a steady stream of money from the Federal Communications Commission, donations from Trinity United Christian Church of Cheney, and a $3,000 grant from the Kansas region.

The workers captured three springs and built water-capture tanks. This distribution center allowed them to get water to two of the higher neighborhoods.

“We now have seven times the water than we did before,” Nixon said. “We added a chlorination system, so not only is the water good, but we’re also hoping to keep it good.”

As of right now, the villagers still have to go down to the tanks and fill their buckets with water. The church is exploring the prospect of bringing water into the homes themselves.

“We’re looking at what they would cost and the water engineer is going to give us a bid,” Nixon said. “Ask me in a couple of weeks, and I’ll know where things stand.”

With a population of about 1,800 people, the average income of the villagers is about $750 a year, Nixon said.

“They are so stinking poor, but in many ways, they are as happy as Americans once they have their basic needs met,” he said. “Nobody is happy watching your kids go hungry, but once our basic needs are met, it makes me realize how little our material things do to bring us joy.”

For Nixon, the relationships he’s formed are among the greatest rewards of this whole experience.

“We’ve gotten to know them as friends, not just a project,” he said. “The drawback is you hear about the sadness in their lives. Sometimes there’s nothing I can do for them, but they are my friends and I feel bad for them.”

Nixon visits Santa Emilia at least twice a year, with the primary trips scheduled for February and July. Over the years, a variety of people have joined him, including people who are not from his church.

“We want people to know that it is a physically demanding trip,” he said. “Sometimes we have to walk up the mountain and it can be physically taxing, but when you sit there in the midst of a bunch of Nicaraguans who are your friends, you say ‘this is why I came here.’”

— Brandon Schmitz is a staff writer for the Morning Sun. He can be reached at bschmitz@morningsun.net.