Low Tech High Touch
1 March 2005
Engineers! Does the occupation imply massive intellect and miniscule heart? Not at Messiah College in Grantham, Pennsylvania! The compassion of Messiah's students, reflecting Christ's, reaches across the Atlantic into the interior of Africa.
It all started in 1996 with a dream in the mind of Dr. David Vadera dream to help young Christians commit their lives in faith to serve Christ's kingdom. "I want," he explains, "to enable my students to love God through the excellence of their work and to use their gifts to love neighbors around the world, particularly the poor, disadvantaged and persecuted."
The first effort was straightforward: Dr. Vader's engineering students spent several months in the classroom designing a solar-powered electrical system. Then a few of them installed it at a rural hospital operated by SIM and the local church in Mahadaga, Burkina Faso, West Africa. While they were there, the Handicap Training Centre captured their attention and their hearts. So they returned to their campus with a new challenge: hand-powered tricycles for people who had been paralyzed by polio or accident. The next team took the design to Mahadaga and built tricycles custom-fitted to the size and disability of the recipient. Significantly, they also trained local staff to follow the design and build more tricycles.
The dream continues to grow. The teams are no longer limited to the engineering department. Students majoring in biology, communication, business and other disciplines use their gifts and skills as members of project teams. One group designed and installed a solar-powered water pump for the hospital. Another team of students developed plans for manually operated water pumps for irrigating the gardens at the Handicap Centre. (They dream of the day when they will have reduced the cost of the pumps so much that individual villagers will be able to afford their own pumps, and groups will be able to manufacture pumps to sell.)
Meanwhile, for the severely disabled, the tricycle team has now designed transferable electric power kits to install on the hand-powered tricycles. Most recently, the 2004 solar team installed a power grid that can provide enough electricity for the existing hospital and handicap center and additional buildings planned for the future.
It's not all work! During their time at Mahadaga, Messiah students compete in wheelchair races with the children and hold foot races for neighbor children. They take the crippled children to a nearby waterfall and help them "climb" it—an experience the children will never forget.
What does it mean to the students? Dave Sandberg says, "It's very satisfying to know that you've made somebody's life. Not their day, but their life. Through our education, we are changing people's lives." Reflecting on the integration of education and service, alumnus Dan Dourte said, "We can use what we learn in the classroom to serve Christ by meeting a real need in a developing community." And Tolu Ogundipe summed it up: "I feel like we're fulfilling the Great Commission…. Love is the greatest thing."
The mission team at Messiah has taken a Greek name, Dokimoi Ergatai (DE), which means "approved workers" (see 2 Timothy 2:15). Says Vader, their sponsor, "These 'approved workers,' as our name proclaims, test in practice the knowledge of the mind and convictions of the heart, each one making a significant personal sacrifice to participate. Here, technology is no longer just about engineering; it is also about sociology, communication, business and more." He also notes the high level of leadership and decision-making the students must assume. He muses, "When I read how Jesus sent out the 12 and the 72, I wonder if He also trembled." You can see for yourself at Messiah's The Bridge that the DE students effectively reflect God's qualities.
SIM worker Francoise Pedeau urged the team, "You must continue. Life has been better for us here since you've come to work alongside us."