Monday, August 31, 2015

Lessons Learned

I don't know exactly what led me back to EMI. I've had a heart for missions ever since I started trips in middle school, but I didn't exactly feel a forcible pull back. I didn't have a room of doors opening and closing or a distinct path leading me straight here. I didn't have some heart-altering encounter or hear the audible voice of God sending me. I simply knew there was a need, and knew that faith without works is dead.

My time with EMI has been so much more than works, though. From my eyes, the organization has always lived up to its slogan, "designing a world of hope". It isn't about "Rebuilding the World" or "Designing the Third World". It is about providing hope for the people that we serve, and ultimately drawing both of us nearer to God.

As my year with EMI comes to a close, I have been reflecting on the many blessings that have come my way, as well as the lessons I've learned. Lessons that have come from so many directions and interactions. In different ways, all of my missionary clients have displayed great faithfulness and strength. My Mali clients, for example, just got their fourth potential piece of land taken away by the government, but feel joy because God has blessed them with even better land every time this happens. In all four African countries that I've gotten to visit, the locals who will use our buildings have shown so much hospitality and generosity, even sharing the little that they have. Although our volunteers have had diverse religious backgrounds, skill sets, ages, and nationalities, they have all managed to teach me an immense amount about collaboration, mentorship, faithful obedience, and more. I also got to learn from our interns that are fresh and aflame in their faith, with a deep love of God's beautiful Colorado creation!

Although I don't think I followed the clearest path back to EMI, I do know that it was the right path for me. Now…that path has meandered just .8 miles down the road to a new office! Starting tomorrow I will be working at the Collaborative Design Group in Colorado Springs. Even though I'm moving on, I know this won't be the last of my time with EMI. Amazing things are happening through Engineering Ministries International, and I hope to be part of it again, someday!

Thanks to everyone who supported me this year. I have greatly appreciated your selfless gifts to make this ministry possible!!!

Tuesday, June 30, 2015


One of the most rewarding aspects of each project trip is seeing or meeting the people that our designs will directly impact. The People are ultimately why we do this work. The reality is that the buildings will eventually turn to dust (if they are even built)…but our influence on people (and theirs on us) could last an eternity. For this reason, the IAA project trip was a unique blessing. For the first time, I was on a site with children! A lot of English-speaking children! And it was so much fun.

During our week on site, I got to know a pretty awesome kid named Jacob who had been at the orphanage almost his whole life. Although he was abandoned at birth, his umbilical cord was enough to sustain him for two days until he was found by the police. When he was rescued and brought to the hospital, the nurses thought he was a hopeless case and left him on a table to die. Coincidentally, IAA's volunteer and in-house grandmother Donna had just helped her daughter nurse her severely underweight baby to health for the past several months. With the strength and preparation Donna felt that God had given her through that experience, she decided to give Jacob a chance. Now he's the coolest kid ever. Look at this face!

We also had the rare opportunity to see a child come to IAA while we were visiting. After staring for hours at my computer screen, Jane (the founder) asked if anyone was interested in picking up the kids from school. I jumped at the chance to take a break and see more cute kids. When we arrived at the school we were greeted by an extremely touchy headmaster and asked to meet a girl that they desperately wanted the orphanage to house. Her name is Christine, and she was being fed and clothed by a teacher because her mother is mentally ill and her brother can no longer take care of her. She was beautiful and quiet and longed to hold anybody's hand. It seemed that the process would take a long time since she still had living family. The next day, however, her brother came to sign papers and photos were taken of Christine with everyone involved. He was relieved and she was excited. Over the next several days we saw Christine blossom. She started learning some English and was constantly laughing. The other kids took her in as their own little sister. It was an amazing transition, and even better to know her brother could still come visit anytime he wanted!

And then, of course, there is the team! (Top Row) Our trip leader was Brad Crawford, the very same Brad that was in the UK office, leading my Uganda trip, and ultimately responsible for my return to EMI after my internship (ok, only slightly). His wife and my favorite mentor, Alisha, came along as well. In all of their years with EMI it was her first trip! Heather was a former intern in the Uganda office when Brad and Alisha lived there, so they had a happy reunion. Scott is a civil engineer that has actually been supporting the orphanage for many years through his church in Indiana. Coincidentally, he wanted to join an EMI trip and saw that we were going to see the very kids that he has been in contact with. Greg was the other architect on our team, and lives here in Colorado Springs! (Bottom Row) It was both Alex and Kyle's first trip with EMI and they killed it. Fantastic CADers and all-around cool guys. (Myself). Jenni had a unique situation, because her husband is on staff and was at another orphanage in Kenya at the exact same time as us...but they couldn't see each other. She claims it was better for her to focus on her work, but they were excited to reunite at the Safari. Jane Gravis is the founder of IAA and lives near my parents in Texas! I felt like we really got to know her and her ministry very well on this trip...maybe because she stayed up until the wee hours with us! Marisa is our intern this summer. She is in school in California, and will finish up before [most likely] spending the rest of her life with EMI. Austin is the quietest team member, but a super deep thinker that brought up great ideas during our devotionals. Lastly, Ruedi Tobler tried to save a bird's life that the cat carried in. He has about 100 birds at his home arboretum in Hawaii...but was unable to save this poor bird. He's still a good guy, though.


Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Cold Africa

My first trip to Kenya, and I discovered that there is such a thing as cold in Africa! We were working for Into Abba's Arms (IAA), an orphanage in the Kinangop region situated at over 8,000 ft. elevation. The site sits between the Rift Valley and the Aberdare mountain range. The land is lush and green, and once again blows my perception of the dry, hot landscape that I always assume Africa should be.

Our goal with this project is to increase the site's capacity from the 40 children that currently call IAA "home", to 75. Such a realistic and tangible benchmark was only the first thing that impressed us with the organization. Throughout our week on site we took notice of the personal and intentional care of each child. Not only are the kids provided with a Christian family-like setting in childhood, but they are supported financially, spiritually, and emotionally as they go to boarding school from ages 11-17 and college after that.

IAA seems to do an awesome job of reversing the hands that these kids were dealt. As far as we could see, they really encourage and assist big dreams. One of the reasons this touched us so deeply, is that a similar philosophy has become a large part of our EMI mission. We don't want to be the ones to fully sustain the communities that we enter, but rather to encourage and assist the communities to sustain themselves. God blessed us with an awesome opportunity in Kenya to work toward this goal.

Before our arrival we asked around for any Kenyan engineers or architects that wanted to come work with us during our time on site. IAA founder Jane Gravis immediately thought of Nelson, the oldest "son" from the orphanage and a Civil Engineering student at a Kenyan university. Not only did Nelson want to join, but he wanted to bring 10 friends and a professor for a week! Although the orphanage couldn't host so many people (an example of why new buildings are needed on site!), he did bring a few of his classmates.

Our Philippino-Canadian Electrical Engineer, Coloradan Architect, and Kenyan Civil Engineering students
While site visits are always critical for project design, I think God's plan for this trip centered around discipleship and training opportunities. In many African cultures, knowledge is the only guarantee of one's livelihood. Therefore, people can tend to cling tightly to their skills and expertise. In the same vein, our junior electrical volunteer from Vancouver said that his workplace makes it difficult to develop professionally because his superiors won't take the time to mentor him.

"Be generous: Invest in acts of charity. Charity yields high returns. Don't hoard your goods; spread them around. Be a blessing to others. This could be your last night.
Ecclesiastes 11:1-2 (The Message Translation)

In Ecclesiastes we are encouraged to be openhanded and generous. It says that wherever we are in the present is where we are to giveI think the opportunity for our team to share technical knowledge without boundaries is what made the trip most fruitful. Nelson said that he learned more during a week with us than he had in two years of engineering school. I don't know if that's true since he was already a super smart guy, but I know that he and his friends came in as sponges, and soaked up a LOT.

Nelson (left) with our project leader Brad (center) surveying the site
(photo from team photographer Jenni Keiter)
In addition to the Kenyan engineers, I loved watching our senior electrical engineer (Ruedi Tobler of Toblerone chocolate!) mentor our junior electrical, Alex. They probably finished the electrical component of our project with 3 or 4 days to spare, but Reudi never stopped teaching up until the day we left. Alex was so invested in everything Ruedi had to say, he never even noticed how we loved to watch them work!

I'll leave off with the Lion King's "Circle of Life" lyrics. While being in Kenya felt a lot like the Lion King, these lyrics felt a lot like my life. There is far too much to see, and with every trip I realize just how little I will ever come across! But at least I can fit into my own little place on the path unwinding :)

There's far too much to take in here
More to find than can ever be found
But the sun rolling high
Through the sapphire sky
Keeps great and small on the endless round
It's the Circle of Life
And it moves us all
Through despair and hope
Through faith and love
Till we find our place
On the path unwinding

Monday, March 30, 2015

Designing a World of Hope in Equatorial Guinea

As we drove along a desolate highway-- three immaculately paved lanes in each direction with well-manicured flower beds down the center-- I couldn’t help but be struck by the major gap in wealth that divides the country of Equatorial Guinea. Off to the right we caught glimpses of Sipopo, a community of 52 luxury villas that were built for a one-week conference of African presidents. The mansions sit empty now, reminding me of the Victor’s Village in The Hunger Games: a cluster of opulence within a country that has 60-70% of its population living at or below poverty. We passed hundreds of apartments that were probably built for the 2012 African Cup, but are vacant without a pricetag that locals can afford. Oil money has allowed the government and outside investors to profit, yet our project site didn’t even have running water or city electric. 

For a country with so many foreigners coming to profit off of the oil, I was shocked at the  carelessness of the airport. Upon arrival from Gabon our temperatures were taken and hand sanitizer applied before we could enter the country. That was good. They were doing their part to prevent the spread of Ebola. But before our first in-country flight we walked through a security checkpoint with a non-functioning metal detector and no airport employees to be seen. When our flight was called we were herded down several winding corridors to the tarmac where we boarded the plane and grabbed whatever seat we wanted. On our second in-country flight we stood in chaotic line to have our tickets handwritten for us. Afterwards, our three missionary hosts were allowed to bypass security and accompany us to our gate. In fact...some African travelers didn’t even have to go through security. Of course they stopped us suspicious foreigners. 

Although most of our cultural experiences happened en route, our time on site did allow for a few moments unique to Equatorial Guinea. My favorite was when our cook strolled up carrying a live crocodile in her purse. Upon seeing our bewildered faces she plopped down her bag and pulled it out for us to see. After we pet it and took a few photos...she just put it right back in and walked off to the kitchen like it was no big deal. Later we all tried the croc...and then passed it to the Africans who thoroughly enjoyed the delicacy.

Another special moment was the nightly worship of the seminary students. For a half hour every evening they would take a break to sing and play instruments before returning to class. It was great to hear a Spanish version of How Great Thou Art, right after we had heard a French version in Gabon!


Overall, we only had 2 1/2 days on site to survey and master plan the seminary’s less-than 2 acre site. Our process had a unique dynamic, as three of their four directors are local nationals. Meetings had to be translated between Spanish and English, and thus took twice as long. As we worked through designs with the ministry we began to notice a few things that were truly unique to the Equatorial Guinean context. First, we discussed a building at the back of the site that was literally cut in half by a CMU wall. It was explained to us that a Senator owned the property to the rear and built the wall where he wanted it...reducing the length of the seminary’s property by several meters. Nonetheless, a new road was constructed at the front of the property several meters forward of the previous road and actually allotted them more land. In addition to the strange property conventions, the ministry insisted on a multi-level structure at the front of the property. We assumed this was meant as a status symbol, a common wish amongst our African clients, but that isn’t what we were told. According to the directors, the government will seize property without a significant presence on the main street because they are considered to be making poor use of the land. 

Existing Education Center
Existing Education Center
It was truly astounding to see so many visible impacts of a corrupt government. I don’t think I’ve ever seen the disparity between rich and poor as clearly as I did in Equatorial Guinea. At the same time, however, the ministry was one of the most joyous that I’ve worked with. The directors were constantly joking around and truly committed to improving the lives of their students and the communities they reach. I am hopeful that our buildings will allow the ministry to “make good use of their land” and allow them to keep what is rightfully theirs. I am proud that EMI could go to design a world of hope. 

Our team with the two missionaries that gave us a tour of Malabo on a 6 hour layover

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Gabonese Village Church

After the service we greeted every person in the congregation in a processional. They sang for us, hugged us, and tried to speak in either French or their tribal language so we just laughed that nobody knew what anyone was saying.

Sunday, March 1, 2015

Cross-Cultural Design

"To the Jews I became like a Jew, to win the Jews. To those under the law I became like one under the law (though I myself am not under the law), so as to win those under the law. To those not having the law I became like one not having the law (though I am not free from God’s law but am under Christ’s law), so as to win those not having the law. To the weak I became weak, to win the weak. I have become all things to all people so that by all possible means I might save some."
1 Corinthians 9:20-22

Our time in Gabon was kicked off with a devotional on this part of Corinthians. We discussed how we, American architects and engineers, could possibly become like the Gabonese in order to succeed at the job God called us to do. Sometimes, we realized, relating to the Gabonese wasn't as complex as understanding their deepest cultural values. Sometimes, it simply meant not assuming that their perceptions are, or should be, the same as ours. 

In the U.S. I have been to two monkey-themed baby showers. They were full of cute monkey decorations, cakes, and registries full of monkey clothes and baby accessories. Along with elephants and giraffes, monkeys are often adorning children's clothing in America. But what about in Africa where monkeys, elephants, and giraffes are actually walking around?

Many of the pediatric doctors at Bongolo keep toys to give out to their patients, including beanie babies. When we asked about the few animals remaining on the shelf, one doctor gave an explanation of why she couldn't hand those out. The lamb, because she uses it for Sunday School demonstrations; the dragon, because it's too terrifying for the kids; the monkey, because when asked "what is this animal?" the kids responded "meat!!".

It was a shockingly different perspective. Could you imagine any kid in America wanting to eat a cuddly monkey? I further recognized their extremely different view of monkeys when I saw this warning poster for Ebola:

However, in relation to the architecture and engineering we had to dig a little deeper into understanding the Gabonese (although I think understanding their view of monkeys was a good start).

Like Paul, we had to find a way to become like the locals in order to ultimately bring them something greater. We had to play by their rules and take cues from their designs and methods of construction without compromising on the aspects that we know are important.

We took a lot of cues from the existing trusses on site. We realized that the EMI-designed truss (bottom-right photo) was correct overall…but the wrong metal shapes were used. With the information that we have from this trip, we now know that this is the metal that they will use, and we should design accordingly on the next structure.

We also learned that the construction men will only dig a certain depth for septic tanks and then stop. Therefore, we need to calculate the size of future septic tanks with this number, even if that means making it really wide. 

In addition, the construction teams will only use 6" CMU. We have been designing everything with 8", and didn't discover that it isn't being constructed that way until we were on site. Knowing this information might change the structural designs and is critical for our future buildings.

All of this information really validated, to me, the importance of traveling to the sites for which we are designing. Although it took about three days to get to the hospital…visiting the campus is not something we could have compromised on. In addition to the information that we gathered from physical structures on site, we also learned a lot from talking to the staff and reading their body language. One of the most important things I've learned from working in a cross-cultural setting is the difference in the directness of Americans, and the indirect communication of most Africans. Although many of the Bongolo staff that we worked with are American, we did face the difficulty in understanding indirect communication with the local staff members that we met. As if architecture wasn't hard enough without miscommunication…

EMI + Bongolo

The first leg of this project trip was spent in LeBamba, Gabon at Bongolo Hospital. It was a huge privilege to go to Bongolo, as EMI has done two previous trips and other in-house projects for this hospital. We love partnering with Bongolo, because as part of the Pan African Academy of Christian Surgeons (PAACS) they are having a huge impact on the nation of Gabon. Not only do they provide healthcare for 1/3 of the country, but they are striving to train local African surgeons, nurses, and midwives so that it is no longer necessary for westerners to provide so much of the healthcare. Currently, the hospital staff includes American general surgeons, physicians, and opthamologists, surgical residents of many nationalities, Congolese general practice physicians, and Gabonese CRNAs. An average of 900 patients are seen each week.

Overall, the travel time to Bongolo was about 3 days
On the way to Lebamba we stopped at a pastor's house in Lambaréné for lunch. They fed us omelets, tomatoes, baguettes, and mysterious local fruits that were far too sour to eat! 
Our transportation for the 11 hour ride from Libreville to Lebamba was this van. It only took the American doctor about 7-8 hours to drive it, but Africans are known for their unique view of time. Nothing is too important to hurry.
This is the whole design team plus Keir, the head surgeon (red shirt), Ally, a visiting nurse that cooked dinner for all of us every night (front and center), and Paul the ground's keeper (the head popping up in the way back)
Our goal at Bongolo was to provide several things. First, we came up with a new master plan so that the hospital's future growth is strategic and functional. Second, we were tasked with the design of a surgical consultation space, a lecture hall and dry lab for the nursing school, and a new lab closer to the center of the campus. We also had a team of 4 electrical engineers that analyzed the entire site and provided suggestions for improved electrical practices. Work on these trips is intense. Most days were from 7am-midnight. Now that we are back in the office, we will continue to develop our drawings into a construction set that can be used to build our designs.

The team discussing master planning with two of the surgeons
Beautiful Bongolo Church

Thursday, January 29, 2015

Mali Project Progress

There is just about a week before I head off to my project trip in Africa!

Our team had to send our passports to the Gabonese Embassy in DC to get visas into Gabon so we would love your prayers that they come back to us on time. Unlike Uganda who had us toss over a crisp $50 US bill, Gabon requires $200, mailing off the passport, a letter from the ministry stamped and approved by the government in Gabon, proof of a yellow fever vaccination, a two-page application, and more. It will all be worth it if we get there safely and smoothly, though!

Another part of preparation for this trip is to complete my other in-progess projects so that I can focus on these two new ministries. The community center in Mali is coming along great. In the words of the client:

"...let us say how excited we were to look at your plans. They were so much more interesting than the first ones we commissioned. When we got that early version from the local architect we said, 'Oh, this can work.' When we saw these new ones we were like, 'Wow, this is going to be great!''


"Wow, Jordan you did an amazing job at taking our comments into consideration 
and making it work. We love it!"

So we are feeling encouraged that this design might be of real benefit to the ministry in Mali! As I mentioned before, our immediate task is to create a conceptual design that can be used for fundraising, and a team from our West Africa office will further develop the drawings once the money is raised.

Here's a peek at what we've been showing them:

I was also walking around the city of Bamako, Mali on Google Maps and found some really great photos that describe the place!

I hope everyone's new year is off to a good start. I'll be updating next from Africa!!