Tuesday, July 31, 2012

And the end of things...

After spending most of my summer attempting to learn and most of the time failing at Spanish, I have now finished wild ride of an internship in Ecuador. It was an incredible experience and as I try to readjust to the American culture and NOT respond to people with "gracias, seƱor", I thought I would give a brief overall summary of my summer.

Quick - 5 minute summary:
It wouild be an understatement to say that HCJB kept us interns busy. Throughout our six weeks, there was plenty of work to do and plenty of culture and sights to take in. In all, there were 17 student interns in the program, 5 engineers, 4 media students, 7 medical students and one translator. We were incredibly diverse, coming from all over the country, from California to New Jersey to Montana to Vermont and Texas and many more. We were split up into two groups: the first of which stayed in the capital of Quito and the second which traveled down to the jungle in Shell. I was part of the latter (Score!) with two other engineering interns, Renee Lau and Ryan Hough, and three medical interns. 

Renee, Ryan and I spent the majority of our time working Monday through Friday in the community development office in Shell with four other missionary engineers. Our main projects included a topographical survey of the jungle community of Amazonas, a water usage study of the Hospital, updating outdated Autocad drawings and many other small tasks that needed to be done.

Throughout the summer, we would join the Quito interns for the weekends or for other "short" trips, such as the trip to the mountain community of Daldal where we spent two days digging trenches for their water project. As a group spent time with the kids as well, holding "VBS"-style camps for both the national children as well as the local missionary kids. These were almost as wild and crazy as the jungle trips...

In all, I would have to say that this has been one of the most effective mission/humanitarian groups that I have ever been a part of. Even as an intern, I felt like I had something to contribute and actually a help rather than a hindrance. I also felt that we as an organization were making significant strides in helping these, in some ways primitive, communities in their long-term development, something that is surprisingly rare among missions and humanitarian trips.

The Longer, Makes-Me-Scratch-My-Head-And-Think summary:
These trips are unique in the sense that it becomes nearly impossible to return from them unaffected and to simply return to life-as-was. As a result, here are some things that stuck out to me as I was reflecting on my time at the equator and the missions work that HCJB does.

1) It doesn't matter where you are or what work your are doing, it's still all about the people
Whether they speak English or Spanish, live in the northern hemisphere or the southern, people are the same. They just want someone to notice them, they want some ray of hope and purpose in their life and they want to be a part of a community.

2) There is one culture that can unify
As interns, we spent the first week of our trip in Quito getting trained on the cultural differences between the U.S. and Ecuador. During this week, the current missionaries did their best to teach us the best ways to relate to and develop relationships with the nationals without offending their culture. It was pretty overwhelming at first as it seemed that even if I had 100 years of orientation, I was not going to fully understand their culture to relate to them. But as soon as we began to interact with the local Ecuadorians, it became clear that even though as one missionary put it,  "we gringos can tend to bulls in the cultural china cabinet",  our culture of christianity was enough to span the gap. We didn't understand why they had to greet every single person with a "buenos dias", even if it ment interrupting a meeting, and they didn't understand why cared so much about getting to places exactly at the right time, but what we did understand was that we were all sinners and we all had the same savior. We had this underlying common thread of unity that helped us grow in relationship even when I would say I was married "estoy casado" instead of I'm tired "estoy cansado"

Another good example of this cross-cultural unity was in the Shell office where we had four different engineers from four different countries (USA, UK,  Ecuador, Netherlands) working with three engineering interns from California, West Virginia, and Colorado. We came from such unique backgrounds, yet it was incredible how easily everyone came together with one common purpose of helping out the local communities.

Equally as cool, in kind of a random set of events, I had the priveledge of sitting in when the media team interviewed Mincaye, one of the Waorani who spears the five missionaries back in 1956. Looking from the outside, we were about as opposite as two people could get. I came from an affluent, modern suburb in the middle of the US, spoke English and bout y food from a grocery store. Mincaye grew up in a hostile jungle environment spearing monkeys and eating them for dinner. And he spoke such a rare jungle dialect that we needed two different translators just to speak with him. And yet, somehow, talking with him, you would have felt as if he were just one your best friends that you haven't seen in a while. It was a incredible community and an awesome experience.

3)  HCJB is a good example of how following God works.
When HCJB first began, the founders felt a call to base their headquarters in Ecuador. They didn't know it at the time, but because the headquarters were in the mountains on the equator, the mission would later be able to broadcast short wave christian radio to both the northern and southern hemisphere and therefore reach essentially the whole world. I think that it is this attitude that has helped HCJB reach the place they are today. Throughout the mission, there is general belief and trust in God and other people. When engineers Bruce Rydbeck or Alfredo Leon head into a community, they don't go in with the mindset that they know everything or with the feeling that they are better than the community members. They go in looking to learn from the community and see how they can fit in and provide the community with what they really need. Oftentimes, this involves putting off projects until the community is more prepared for the endeavor, or walking the community through the process of raising up water committy leaders and representatives. The whole goal of the process is to help the communities grow together and to learn about God. If this isn't happening, the project often gets put on hold.

It is cool to see how the development and interests of the communities are put above that of the HCJB engineers. It may seem tedious and frustrating at times, but so many people have responded with praise, remarking that many groups often come and promise things, but that HCJB is the first to follow through. It is clear that people are above product. Which brings me to...

4) I love this type of engineering
I love how much this trip has shown that engineering can be a very social and people-oriented field instead of just a numbers game. And the cool part is that it doesn't have to take place in Ecuador for this to be the case. For me, it is so easy for me to overlook the people in engineering due to the current mathematical or engineering problem in front of me. This trip has been a great example of how engineering can still be a very people-oriented career. 

So thanks..
...to all of you that gave so generously to help me go on this trip. It was a blast and very encouraging to see how my field of engineering can actually make a difference not only in people's material, but spiritual lives as well. I had a wonderful time and am hoping to make it back there sometime soon.

If you are reading this, it means that you made it through all of that crazy writing above me, and for that I applaud you. If you would still like to hear more about the trip or just want to talk, let me know. I would be more than happy to. Thanks again, and God bless.


Back in Shell - with everyone

Near the end of our trip, all of the interns from Quito joined those of us in Shell to work together both in the Desarollo Communitario office (Community Development) and in the nearby Hospital Vozandes Del Oriente. It was great to introduce the Quito-ites to the jungle, and watch them squirm a bit when they saw all the bugs.

Below: The Desarollo Communitario Team
From left to right: Renee Lau, Eric Fogg (Engineer missionary from Michigan), me, Alfredo Leon (Emgineer from nearby Puyo, Ecuador), Alex Leon (Missionary Engineer from Southampton, England), Wim DeGroen (Engineer missionary from the Netherlands), Ryan, and Quito-ites Will and Ian

Below: The original Shell crew, an incredible group of people from all over the U.S. and the world

From left to right: Eric Fogg, Renee Lau (Eng, CA), me, Alyssa Temte (Pre-Med, MN), Alfredo Leon, Alex Leon, Wim DeGroen, Susan Metzger (Physical Therapy, MT), Ryan Hough (Eng, WV) and Elizabeth Diesing (Nursing, VT).

Below: After enjoying beautiful weather for a whole week- rain for only about three hours a day- we knew our luck was running out. It rained a good 20 hrs straight on this day. (And this is considered the dry season!) Of course as interns, we had the privilege of riding in the bed of the truck on this trip to a jungle community.

Location:Shell, Ecuador

I know I'm a nerd, but...

A few pics of Mt. Chimborazo, which, in case you were wondering, is the closest point on earth to the sun. (it's much smaller than Mt. Everest, but it still wins since it lies on the equator)

Digging trenches for a water project in Daldal

After two and a half weeks in Shell (3000ft altitude) we all traveled to the mountain community of (12000ft) to help dig 14km of trenches for their water project. It was a stark contrast from the jungle, but very beautiful nonetheless

Below: Head engineer Bruce Rydbeck inspects the most recently installed collector tank. It's very simplistic so that the locals can keep it running, yet just technological enough to do the job. Pretty sweet.

Below: Engineer Ephraim leads our group to the next collector box. HCJB likes to hire Ecuadorians such as Ephraim, who grew up just a short distance from Daldal, as they know more about the land and people and culture than any gringo could.

Below: We also worked with the kids in the community as well. We were very intentional on teaching them hygiene, by making them wash their hands before they were given their snack. Clean water can't help anyone without proper hygiene and sanitation.

Location:Daldal, Ecuador

Tuesday, July 10, 2012


Just across the street from the HCJB community development office in Shell is Steve Saint's i-TEC organization which utilizes modern technology to equip jungle missionaries and doctors that serve in remote regions. The foldable chair in the pictures below are a great example. The chair folds into a 30ish pound backpack that can be easily transported by the missionaries who are dropped by plane into the Amazon. Sort of like the Swiss Army Knife for missionaries, this chair can act as a dentist chair, stretcher, or operating table that is perfect for doctors looking to help the romote communities. Villagers in Woarani, Shwar, Quechua and other jungle communities will now have access to a sort of medical attention the likes they have never even dreamed of before. Now that is what I call engineering.


A Pleasant Surprise

Sort of by accident, I got a brief break from autoCAD today just in time to join our Media Interns as they interviewed Mincaye, the infamous warrior from the Waorani tribe featured in "End of the Spear". It was incredible to see as from the outside it would have seemed that we the most opposite people in the world, yet because of the selfless act of missionaries (Nate Saint, Jim Elliott, etc.) back in 1956, Mincaye (now a christian) I felt as if I was reuniting with an old friend.