Posted by: justinknabb | March 6, 2013

Volunteer reflection: Ryan’s spiritual breakthrough

By Ryan Anderson, Villanova Univ. Mechanical Engineering ’07

Waslala Nicaragua hike

Early morning hike in Waslala, Nicaragua

I remember first hearing about Water for Waslala and becoming instantly fascinated with the mission of this organization.  Their work seemed like a mix of Indiana Jones and what I was learning in the classroom at Villanova.

I’ve been fortunate to have had some Indiana Jones-like moments in my career thus far — I’ve served as a human test dummy for NASA Space Suits and have helped build subsea oil well control structures.  Right along with those experiences, however, I can honestly say that my role in helping to design a water system for the Zinica #1 community in Waslala with my senior design team is among the single greatest technical achievements I have ever been a part of.

Seeing photos of children, their mothers, and grandmothers getting water from the tap stand reminds me how fortunate we are in the United States, and how different life is for those living in the developing world.

I went to Waslala in the Spring of 2006 anticipating just how much this experience might transform my life. It turned out to be more enlightening than I had even imagined.

I became close friends with the guys on the trip, especially after spending a week together removed from conveniences of the regular American world of which we were so familiar. I was also surprised that I managed to  figure out what I was supposed to be learning in Fluid Dynamics without the use of a computer or a calculator.  Beyond the friendship, learning, and high adventure, I’m convinced a greater force was at work the entire time.

Padre Nelson, the parish priest, did not speak any English — and while I did not speak any Spanish, I felt a deep connection with him and the people of Waslala as the week progressed. He opened us to the challenges that the people felt every day.  For example, at one point we had turned up no viable water sources for one of the communities.  The families were traveling for miles and children would often spend an entire day carrying containers of water back and forth, missing school in the process.  We passed a farmer on the way back to town who had initially refused to share his spring water.  After all, “It was barely enough for his farm.”

But then Nelson delivered a sermon that I’ll never forget.  We all listened on the side of the mountain as Nelson explained how Jesus gave to the poor, welcomed the children into his arms, and how God provided and Jesus fed the 5,000 when the apostles thought it could never be done.  For a moment I felt as if I were transported back to the dawn of Christianity, when the apostles heard the Sermon on the Mount, and there was a great stirring in my heart.

The farmer no doubt felt this as well, as he agreed to share his water.  I realized at that moment the Holy Spirit was speaking to me on my own Mount, calling me to help in a greater way than I had been called before.  I felt ashamed that I had not heard it before.  I wrote a letter to Padre Nelson about the spiritual transformation I underwent, and I was told he read my letter in his radio address that Sunday after we left.

I left Managua to return to Villanova convinced to continue– more than anything else — my spiritual journey in the Catholic Church in a much more involved way.  After hearing so many Biblical stories of God speaking to man, the doctors of the church, and the saints, I knew he was speaking to me.

And, I finally heard him.

I may never have my name enscribed on any foundation for the work I have done for Waslala, but what Waslala gave me was far greater than what I did for her.

It is with much hope that I ask: “St. Augustine, Pray for her!


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