"You need to go on a project trip," he said. "It's the most important step in getting to know us."
And so we signed up for our first Engineering Ministries International project trip. We had no real idea of what to expect other than needing anti-malarial drugs and some Spanish.
When we looked at all the projects listed, none of them needed a mechanical engineer. And I bet you can guess what else they did not need. That's right -- photographers. But when Kevin spoke with Zack, the Trip Leader for the Escuela el Sembrador project (master planning for a farm school expansion), he told him that as long as he was open God would find a way to use him.
That's how Kevin ended up riding a horse 16 miles around Honduras with a companion named Jose, who spoke very little English. Kevin does not speak Spanish or Horse, but the boundaries of the 500-acre property needed to marked with GPS coordinates and this was the fastest method.
"Being open" is also how he ended up researching methane digesters (Google that, just not while you're eating). As a farming school, El Sembrador has a LOT of cattle, and as you might imagine they produce a lot of....ummmm....well, you know. El Sembrador is also "off the grid," self-sufficient for their electricity needs by using hydroelectric power. However, when the school can double the number of students they serve they will need an additional source of energy. And it turns out there is a lot that can be produced with all that manure.
Fun Sidebar: Ever traveled abroad and wondered about that part of the US Customs form where it asks if you have been to a farm during your trip? I've always thought, "WHO has to check 'yes' on that box? And what happens when you do?" Well, we learned. You get your shoes scrubbed and sanitized by a friendly Customs & Immigration Officer who, when you apologize for the cow poo, will smile and say, "This is your tax dollars at work!"
When Kevin originally spoke with Zack and inquired about my coming along, he said they would love to have a photographer join the team. I told him I would like to document the project in whatever way they found most useful and his suggestion was to produce a piece for eMi and one for El Sembrador as well. While the design team worked their design skills I wandered all around the school grounds collecting great imagery.
Which is how I learned that a carbon fiber camera tripod WILL conduct electricity. I was trying to step over what appeared to be a downed barbed wire fence. When my tripod dragged the wire I noticed a strong jolting sensation running from my right hand all the way to my hip. I am embarrassed to say it took at least five solid jolts before I realized what was going down. In my defense, it was going to be a really cool horse shot.
On other days I followed team members while surveying, testing wells, and gathering site data. I found leaf cutter ants and newborn piglets, spoke with students and practiced my Spanish. I went for walks with Jenny, the wife of another team member, and her infant son. One day we got caught in the middle of a slow-mooving (meant to misspell that) cattle drive and had to press up against the fence. It was an electric fence, but by this time I was on to those sneaky devices and was able to warn Jenny. Had I chosen to follow Eric's group on our first day in country, I would have witnessed him helping birth a calf. You know what that means? It means I can say I know someone who literally had a cow.
Through all that adventure on horses and among electrified fences we heard God clearly. Our greatest yearning at that time was to just find the place where He could use us. This was our third short-term mission trip and the first one where I did not come home and immediately spiral into a month-long bout of depression. Instead, I was totally pumped. I had just spent a week watching God reveal what He could do if we remained open and willing.
I hope you'll keep watching with us to see what He does next.
Click here to see the video from the Honduras trip, or here to see the photos.
"Maybe you should just fly out to Colorado Springs and kick some tires."
That idea was offered up by a good friend, mentor, pastor, excellent biking companion. We had begun to take notice of just how many ministries and non-profits were based in the Colorado Springs area (more than 100) and it made us wonder if that might be a good place to start. So in April of 2012 that is what we did.
Through a few friends and family members we found we had enough contacts to arrange some quality "sit-down" time with quite a few organizations. We met a staff leader at Young Life, a center director with Torchbearers International (Capernwray), and the CFO of Compassion International. But the best meeting of the week took place at Engineering Ministries International. It was supposed to be a one-hour meeting with Gary, the vice president. He spent five hours with us and when we left I told Kevin I thought I could see our next life.
That was our first meeting of the week and I would have been fine had it been the last.
But huge, life-altering decisions are not made so quickly. While I would have been happy to begin the application process right then and there, my part in this deal is a little less complex. I am not now, nor have I ever been the bread winner and I don't know how it feels to shoulder that load. As a woman, I draw my mothering self-worth from seeing that my kids are clean, well-behaved and exceed state standards on their annual homeschool evaluations. Those things are not heavily dependent upon a certain income level. Dads, on the other hand, feel solid when they can not only provide the basic necessities, but also the extras like braces and college funds and new bicycles. And let's face it: not many of us expect missionaries to have those things. But more on that later...
So we had some deep thinking to do, and some faith exercising to tackle. Also, we needed to experience a real live eMi project trip. Which is how we ended up in Honduras, riding horses without names and testing electric fences.
In The Princess Bride there is a scene where Westley awakens from having been mostly dead all day and asks what is happening. Inigo responds by saying, "Lemme 'splain . . . No. There is too much. Lemme sum up."
That is a good example of how we feel when we try to explain how we got here. We could start from our first trip with eMi, or our first family mission trip, or that book we read (Radical by David Platt) or we could back way up to the point when we started looking around at our ridiculously blessed life and asking, "Is this all we are here for?" I suppose if we want to get totally real we could go back forty years, but only God could tell that story accurately so maybe we will just start with Jamaica.
In July of 2011 we traveled on a family trip with IsleGo Missions. None of us had ever been on a mission trip of any kind and Kevin searched high and low to find one that would allow all five of us to go (Emily was only 5, and most trips require participants to be much older). Beyond some basic details on what our days would entail, who was going, and where we would sleep, we really had no idea what to expect.
I just realized I really do need to back up quite a bit further. The truth is that Kevin and I sort of did know what to expect from Jamaica. We had gone there on our honeymoon and frankly, it was disturbing. We stayed at a clean and elegant all-inclusive resort where smiling staff members catered to our every whim. Wanting to see more of the island, we ventured out on a couple of excursions. What we saw was disheartening poverty, and it left us convinced that precious few of our tourism dollars were making it outside the resort walls. We had gone to Jamaica because we had heard how beautiful it was, yet we could not find that beauty and we returned home not wanting to go back.
Fast forward to the IsleGo trip. We spent a week working alongside residents of the impoverished Steertown community, building houses. We played, taught Bible stories, fed, and sang worship songs with children in Seville Heights. We visited residents of the government infirmary, those forgotten or abandoned by their own families. At the end of the week as the airplane wheels lifted off the runway, I choked back sobs. I now saw Jamaica as a beautiful place and this time our desire was to not return home without having been changed.
We felt the small changes, the ones that caused us to shrug off flat tires and broken appliances or to feel lost in places like Target. Those changes lasted about two weeks. We settled back in to our First World groove and devoted the quiet times to digging around the messy corners of our brains for evidence of a more lasting impact. I think we expected God to drop some sort of grand revelation on us, some instant idea for where to go or what to do. Honestly, He seemed a bit silent. Like the science teacher who has just asked a question and is staring at you, waiting for an answer.
The answer took us on another journey. . .
Click here to see photos from that trip to Jamaica, plus the ones we took the following year, because you know...once just isn't enough.
I feel like we owe you all an apology.
We wanted to tell everyone a few months ago. We wanted to be straight about it every time someone asked, "So what cool adventures are up next?" We don't like having to sit on exciting stuff, even if it's mainly exciting to us.
But now we are free to share the next chapter. No, we are not selling the rest of our stuff to backpack around Europe (that was a real rumor). No, we are not moving to Central America (it was a slight possibility). No, I am not pregnant (just no).
We are joining Engineering Ministries International. Kevin will be a Project Leader, taking volunteer teams of design professionals to the developing world to design facility expansions, renovations, and master plans for Christian ministries serving the lost, broken, forgotten, and impoverished. He gets to use 20+ years of experience in engineering to leave a lasting impact somewhere outside of the Western world. Me? I get to photograph it.
Practically speaking, this means we get to do the whole purge/sell/pack/say good-bye thing all over again in about six months. It means instead of blogging daily from a new national park we will blog occasionally from a new perspective. Rather than tales from great hikes we will have stories of God's great redemption. We won't be dodging moose and bears as often as we dodge stuff like malaria and mango worms, but that sounds like the stuff of excellent blog posts. Like the time in Honduras when I tried to hop a wire fence on a farm and learned that carbon fiber tripods will indeed conduct electricity. Or when Kevin spent two days on a horse with no name (really) following a guy who only spoke Spanish as they plotted the GPS coordinates of the farm boundaries. We named a truck after him. The Spanish man. Not the horse, obviously, since it did not have one.
We invite you to stick around. All our stuff from last year's travels is still here. Meanwhile, we will be sharing how we got here (this decision) and how we will get there (the next dream). Or more accurately, how GOD will get us there. Because that is a story that never stops unfolding, never stops being fun and exciting, and breath-taking and worthy of following.
Mango worms, malaria and nameless horses notwithstanding.
P.S. With this post, we officially launch our new(ish) site. The main content will change a bit, but all the content from our year on the road will remain accessible under the menu tab "2013 RV Trip."
We are missionaries with Engineering Ministries International, based in Colorado Springs, and traveling around the globe to serve.
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