Saturday, July 2, 2011

Consejo de Cabezas Calvas (Counsel of Bald Heads)

For our last night out in Honduras we ate at one of my favorite restaurants, La Ponderosa in La Ceiba. Several friends from the area joined our team to eat lots of grilled beef, chicken, chorizo, plantains, and of course, the best refried beans on the planet.  They mix in little bits of sausage and serve them in a "bean pot" over burning charcoals.  Thinking about it makes me all misty eyed. Be still my angioplasty. 

I found my soul refreshed somehow, being with a couple of gringos my age. Don't get me wrong, I love being with the students, but a conversation with my peers was just what I needed that night. Let me introduce you to a couple of great families.  On your left is Mike Pettengill. He and his wife Erin are missionaries in La Ceiba.  Erin is a nurse, and they do medical care in impoverished neighborhoods, care for street children, and church planting. It's intense.  See Erin's blog.  On your right is Brad Ward.  He and his wife Trish are also missionaries in Honduras, managing a farm that provides income to a rural mercy hospital.  See family webpage.

So you see, I am in the presence of greatness. Erin and Trish are also qualify as "greatness", but they weren't bald so they didn't make the picture.  (Technically, I'm not bald either, but rather an uber-hip head shaver.) Our conversation that night filled me with new confidence and erased any doubt that taking engineering students on short term discipline-specific mission trips is what I need to be doing. 

You see, last summer I read a book that was simultaneously inspirational and challenging to my core.  The authors were somewhat critical of short term missions (STMs) and claimed that when done the wrong way, which is often, STMs can do more harm than good. The book made me think long and hard about how and why I keep doing these trips every year. It made me a better trip taker and trip leader. It made me a better follower of Jesus Christ. But it also worried me a little that this activity I have poured so much physical and emotional energy into might be out of step with what is effective in the long-term and, frankly, what it is that God wants me to be doing. 

I wanted to get these missionaries' opinions about the value of STMs to their long-term work.  I was pleased to find out that both of them had read the book more thoroughly than myself, and thought it was a bit too critical of STMs.  Both of them had well thought out opinions that gave me much counsel, wisdom, and reassurance that STMs, at least the way we are doing them, are effective, wanted, and transformative to both the participants and the nationals served. 

["When Helping Hurts" = the book that both moved me to tears repeatedly, and simultaneously scared the refried beans out of me]

And if our conversation over grilled meat and pots of refried beans wasn't enough to nourish my soul for like, at least a decade, when I returned to the US I received some more encouragement in the form of a comment on this very blog from a former student, Mr. Brian Ballard.

Brian went with me on a trip to Kenya way back in 2006. He is now married, gainfully employed, and expecting his first child at any day. He said "Please know what an impact traveling with you as a student had on my life...even 6 years later. I take pride in knowing that (through you) I've had a peek at what using engineering for the greater good looks like. I'm still trying to figure out how it will look for me long term."

Be still my angioplasty. 


Laurie Matherne said...

Yes. It's necessary to plan an angiogram after a few meals in Honduras. If you are not poor, and all you eat is beans, that is. As far as that book, I know lots of people loved it. I found it depressing. Have you read, Too small to ignore by Wes Stafford. Compelling read by the president of Compassion International.

Chris Anderson said...

I wouldn't take that book to heart and I'm glad you were encouraged by others while in Honduras. Mr. Ballard is not alone in his inspiration from trips. While I never was able to join you on one, I still feel that helping found Engineers with a Mission was probably the most meaningful and important thing I did in college. I encourage you to continue your ministry as God has led you to - both as a mentor to young engineers and as a technical missionary to Honduras and Papua New Guinea. God bless.