Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Sunday School Goes Awry

Tonight we had a small group from church at our house. We call them "lifegroups" because we try to live life together. We seem to have an unusual demographic. Tonight we had one African American single mother with three kids, one Hispanic single mom with one kid, and one European American (white) single mom with two kids, plus us and our two kids. That's right, I am the only man.

Tonight the ladies had a discussion and I, theoretically, taught the kids. Alone. We went in the back yard and played a game. We sat at the table on the porch and tried to talk about gratitude. I read aloud a nice little story as our lesson, and I tried to lead a discussion about joy and being thankful...

But they ate me alive.

I couldn't get them to all be quiet at the same time. Everyone had to pee. The little ones were cold and told me so. I tried to fix the zipper on one little girl's coat and ended up getting her hair caught in it. At story time I tried to get them to settle down. Then one would start screaming, and I mean screaming, "BE QUIET!!!" and then someone else would scream at the first kid for not being quiet! And so on. It was a madhouse and I had zero control. I gave up discussion and let them play in the backyard, but then they started hitting each other with plastic swords, breaking toys, and screaming at the young ones to try to startle them.

Then they started throwing rocks at me. Other kids arrived out of nowhere, climbing over the backyard fence and rolling up on skateboards and bicycles. At this point I called the riot police. They arrived quickly and opened up with tear gas and water cannons, but the kids were relentless. They responded with molotov cocktails and built a barricade of burning cars and an old school bus. They took hostages. They had demands. Ice cream for dinner and new episodes of SpongeBob! At this point I took a rock to the head and remember no more.

Monday, January 28, 2008

Good News From Honduras

I spoke with my buddy Humberto Del Arca today. He lives in La Ceiba, Honduras, on the Caribean coast. He told me good news about the pico-hydro generator we installed in the remote rural town of Pueblo Nuevo.

The last I had heard, something had gone wrong with the voltage regulation back in October, resulting in the magic smoke being let out of some of the battery charging equipment they had plugged in at the time. ¿Cómo se dice "poof" en Español?

Today I learned that the system had been repaired by a fellow we call "Chainsaw Guy" because we could never remember his real name and he had the biggest honkin' chainsaw I ever saw. He would use this chainsaw as a one-tool lumber mill. First he would fell trees with it, then he would stick it under his table with the blade poking up through a hole and use it like a table saw! He's using his chainsaw in the picture to build a framework for the sluiceway (water canal).

So the system is back online and this brings me great satisfaction! It shows that the villagers really want what we brought, that they have taken ownership of it, and they can take the initiative to repair it when it breaks! That's what we're hoping for! ¡Hasta mañana!

Saturday, January 26, 2008

Engineers with a Mission Talk at Local Church

Tomorrow I am going to a large church here in town to make a presentation about Engineers with a Mission. There are likely to be lots of people, including my boss's boss, in the audience. I find myself nervous. I'm seldom nervous about public speaking anymore, but this time I am. I have two students coming with me, so maybe if I freeze up they can take over.

One of the students is Brittany. I took this picture at the Giraffe Refuge in Nairobi. We fed them from a tree house and their tongues would lap up giraffe chow right out of your hands (or even your mouth!).
Jonathan is the other student helping me. This picture is of him with children in the Kibera slum of Nairobi (one of the places of much post-election violence last month). He is sitting on the concrete wall of an open sewer. He's the white guy in the middle.

Friday, January 25, 2008

Wind Turbine Project Part 2

Today we located a source for the powerful magnets we will use to build the generator of our wind turbine. The magnets are made of neodymium, iron, and boron (Nd2Fe14B) and are so strong that they are rated by the force it takes to pull them apart. The ones we are buying require 75 pounds to separate! Dude!!

School Excitement Abounds

Jono's report card was all A's this period! We are very proud of him because of all the hard work he has been doing. His reading has improved a great deal in the last few months, and it seems to be helping all his grades. We are very happy for him.

D did well too, as usual, but he had an extra surprise at school today. An intruder was reported to be in the school, and school officials responded by initiating "lockdown mode"! All the doors were locked, including the classrooms. Lots of police appeared, parking haphazardly on the grass as if to communicate emergency. Some were armed assault rifles!

It happened just before school was to be dismissed, so all the parents were just arriving to pick up there kids. The buses were sent away as some kind of precaution. All the worried mamas chattered on their cell phones and with one another, trying to deduce the reason for the commotion. No intruder was found and school was dismissed about 20 minutes later than normal.

Saturday, January 19, 2008

Pinewood Derby Day

Today was our Cub Scout Pinewood Derby and no day at Nascar was ever louder or more exciting! OK, I exaggerate a bit. But it was great anyway.

Unfortunately, the boys' cars weren't very fast this year, but I have some clips of their races. Here's one of D's races. His car was a multicolored rainbow hippie car with peace signs down the middle.

Jono's car was a rocket-looking thing with red rectangles on a wood grain finish. A large black star was on the front and the whole car had a clear coat finish.

It was hard for me to see their disappointed faces when they lost their races. I feared that it might discourage them away from scouting or that it might wound their ability to hope. I know this seems like an overreaction, but that is the thought that went through my mind. And yet, I don't want them to be too concerned about winning all the time either. I really do believe that winning is not everything, it's not even that important at all. People that have to win all the time have issues. I feel a poem coming on...

High strung type A personality
All his e-vents he had to winner be
Quarterback, heart attack, CEO is he
Early death in-different family.

Wow. That was dark. I surprised myself with the vindictive vehemence that was flowing out of me as I wrote that. Maybe I'm the one with issues.

Friday, January 18, 2008

Wind Turbine Project Part 1

Ten undergraduates and I are planning to build a small wind turbine this spring. Students from the organization I advise, Engineers with a Mission, are purchasing plans from Hugh Piggott, a world expert on do-it-yourself small wind turbines. I am really excited about it. The plans call for carving the blades out of wood, preferably with hand tools. It's all very earth-friendly and granola, so I have decided to grow my beard into dreadlocks and wear sandals all the time.

We're going to erect it near the campus at the World Hunger Relief farm which teaches sustainable agriculture to people from all over the world. My new "do" should fit right in. I am hoping to get to build a biodigester too. If we build it, it will look like a giant plastic bag filled with water and goat poop. Bacteria break down the poop in an oxygen free environment, and methane gas is the byproduct. Then we would harvest the methane to cook with or even run a generator! Hooray for poop power!

My long-term plans with these projects is to explore the possibility of developing them into village-level energy businesses that sell energy (either by delivering electricity or gas). The idea is to combat poverty in multiple ways at the same time. First, it generates money for the business owner. Second, it provides a much-needed service at a reasonable price which is likely to save the villagers in developing countries a significant amount of their meager monthly incomes. Thirdly, it empowers women and children and reduces deforestation, because much of the cooking in the developing world is done over wood that has been gathered by women and children. Reducing smoke emissions in their homes will also improve their health. Finally, these types of systems bring a sense of hope that we can't quite understand if we have grown up in a developed country. This hope inspires new thinking and new innovation.

For example, in western Kenya an organization called Circle of Light deploys systems that provide gas and electricity. One young man was inspired after these systems were deployed in his village, so much so that he started a nursery business selling tree saplings. What do tree saplings have to do with electricity or gas? Nothing. But if his family can have electricity and gas (something unimaginable five years ago) then perhaps anything is possible! He could even be an entrepreneur! Hope is born.

Monday, January 14, 2008

First Day of School

You would think I was in junior high. At age 40 I still get nervous on the first day of class. Why is that? Am I afraid they're going to revolt and throw their calculators at me? Will they belittle me with thinly veiled insults wrapped in calculus? Or am I afraid I won't remember their names, after I worked hard to learn them in the freshmen class?

But the first day always goes well, despite my reservations. The students are a little high strung too, so my mediocre humor gets a stronger laugh than later in the semester when their interests have waned and deadlines press in on them from every class and extracurricular function. Too much of life is like junior high. Perhaps junior high is too much like life.

Sunday, January 13, 2008

Kenya Polititians Planned Violence Before Election

Today I read the latest news about the recent violence in Kenya. The story says the election violence was planned from before the election, and that it was highly organized. Here is a shocking quote:

"We say it's organized because they are working in groups of 10 to 15 people and in shifts. Their training areas have been identified, some of the people from whom they get money have been identified," commission chairwoman Muthoni Wanyeki told the Associated Press. "They are being paid 500 (shillings, or $8) per burning (a home) and 1,000 per death."

The article explains how those seeking power often stir up tribal unrest and use it to their own benefit.

Each time election season comes around, politicians play the tribal card as a way to whip up support, hobble the political opposition and accumulate land for their fellow tribesmen.

"We've had a long history of ethnic violence in Kenya that has been politically manipulated since the 1992 and 1997 elections," said Binaifer Nowrojee, director of the Open Society Initiative for East Africa, based in New York. "Events of the last two weeks show how rapidly we can deteriorate, and that's what's scaring everybody. The danger is that we can become Rwanda, but we're not there yet."

For a few minutes after reading the article I was shocked and indignant. See the full article here. I thought about other countries with ethnic strife like Rwanda or Iraq (Kurds vs. Arabs) and then I remembered what the day's news had been about. On the U.S. airwaves today, Kenya is not the story, instead it's how Hillary and Obama are using the same tactics to manipulate Americans as they both seek the Democratic nomination! It's disgusting.
I took this photo in western Kenya where much of the violence has occurred. It has nothing to do with the election, but I think it's a really good photograph and I wanted to show it off a bit.

Wednesday, January 9, 2008

Marrow Donation Part 7

Well I don't want to brag, but I'm going to anyway. I'm proud of someone in my family, my half-great uncle. Not that he's only half great. You'll understand if you stay with me. So pour yourself a cup of coffee, relax, and join me on a brief journey back through time. It went something like this:

Nearly 100 years ago, my great grandmother died of TB leaving my great-grandfather, Edward Thomas, a widower and father of two girls. He was a country doctor in Prairie Hill, Texas, not far from where I now live. Edward remarried and had a son in 1920, E. Donnal Thomas, my half-great uncle. Or maybe my great half-uncle. At any rate, my grandmother was his big half-sister. She always called him Skike.

As Donnall (Don) grew up, he would drive his father on late-night house calls in the family model-T, watching his father practice medicine and save lives. Don decided early in life that he wanted to follow in his father's footsteps and practice medicine.

Now, fast forward to 1942. Don is married to Dottie and starting Harvard Medical School. In 1955 they, together, began to research transplantation. (For more info see a great story here.) At that time, the medical community thought transplantation was doomed to failure and he was considered a bit of a quack! In 1963 they moved to Seattle to build a team of researchers that saught to develop bone marrow transplantation as a cure for leukemia. This team is still in existence, and at present has trained the vast majority of bone marrow transplantation physicians in the world. I can remember my grandmother telling me about his work when I was a young child in the 1970's. It's funny, but it didn't really impress me much back then.

Then, while I was in graduate school, we all found out that he won the 1990 Nobel Prize for Medicine! I was suddenly very impressed indeed. He told my grandmother when he heard the news, that "The only thing I hate, is that Daddy's not here to see me get it. I owe so much to him" refering to his father, the country doctor.

So it is with a special satisfaction that I complete my marrow donation. Although I don't really know my half-great uncle, I may have to write him and let him know I have been up to lately. After all, we look a lot alike!

Marrow Donation Part 6

I finished my donation activities today - now we just have to sit and wait to see if the patient responds well. This type of transplant has a 50/50 chance. Not to minimize the seriousness of his condition, but I felt the need to celebrate with another poem, this time, a limerick.

Donation: Middle-Aged Fat Guy
For hours, made on his back lie
His blood has the goods
To shouldn't the shoulds
To blue the otherwise black sky

Frankly, I'm quite impressed with myself, but then again, that doesn't take much. I again invite all three of my readers to post their own (clean) limerick on the topics of cancer, blogging, or what ever strikes your fancy.

Tuesday, January 8, 2008

Update from a Kenyan Orphanage

In light of the recent violence in Kenya, I wrote several of the people I know there to check on them. One lady, Catherine "Mom" Muth, runs an orphanage in the small town of Neema (nay-A-ma) for over 100 children whose parents have died of AIDS. I visited there in 2006 and tried to help them with their solar panel problems. Catherine was a delightful person and the kids were gems. We visited the classrooms of the school she runs with volunteer teachers, and then all the children came out to sing us songs. Their singing, while child-like, was beautiful in its enthusiasm and tight African harmonies. I left a bit of my heart there when we left. Below is a photo of some of the younger ones.

This is her email cut-and-pasted from what she sent me. It is sad, and yet hopeful. It is tragic, and yet filled with unquenchable faith.

Brother Brian,

The Lord Jesus be exalted! Thanks a lot for your concern and prayers. We are safe at Neema and we thank God for it all. We however had a very traumatising experience on the night of Dec 2nd and 3rd, when thugs boke into my house and did a lot of mess, harrasing me and an Australian lady missionary, stole property, and worst of all raped the missionary. They even tried to attack twice after but were blocked by the watchman and our boys.

Following the nasty events,my children and I resolved to take some precautions, including my temporarily moving out of yhe centre while we improve on the security of the house. We also intend to hire trained guards and procure a guard dog. To further strengthen security we intend to have secure perimeter fence around the center. All of this will require funds. We are requesting our friends to pray with us, as well as contribute, as the Lord leads them. Otherwise, the entire nation of Kenya is bleeding and hurting but we are praying and trusting God for peace.Thank you for praying and God bless you .I will keep you posted on the situation at Neema. Meanwhile please pass our new year regards to your students, family and friends.

Together in the battlefield,

Marrow Donation Part 5

This morning I began my stem cell harvest. After 10 shots of "G" to stimulate the stem cell production in my blood marrow, it was finally time to collect them. They hooked me up to a modified platelet collection machine that took blood out of my left arm and put it back in my right arm. Between the comzouta and the guzinta the blood went through a centrifuge gizmo that collected the stem cells. I produced nearly 400 mL of "product" as they call it, and I posed for a picture with the bag o' blood. I'll post the photo when I get a copy.

Laying on my back for four hours during the collection was the hardest part. My butt was sore and my arm hurt from holding it in one position for so long. The also gave me an anti-coagulant drug to keep my blood from clogging up the machine. But this drug binds to the calcium in my blood stream which has the effect of making me feel "tingly" in my face and arms. When I got up I was dizzy for about 15 minutes.

The net effect of all this was to put me in a bad mood. In fact, I was grumpy. But as I lay there the last half hour, anxiously awaiting for it to be over, I was reminded of a verse from the Old Testament book of Isaiah:

"But he was pierced for our transgressions...
And by his wounds we are healed." ISAIAH 53:5

This verse describes, centuries before the birth of Jesus, how Christ's suffering and death was for us to be healed, for us to be reconciled to God, and for us to be forgiven. It seemed to me that God was reminding me of his sacrifice for me, and encouraging me that I could "share in his sufferings" in a little way, in order to help someone else be healed. May it be.

Monday, January 7, 2008

Marrow Donation Part 4

I am in Dallas tonight, staying at the Hotel Indigo. It's hip and swanky. M and I are enjoying some date time and just finished a great dinner of crab cakes and steak. Tomorrow I get hooked up to the machine that pulls the stem cells out of my blood stream. I have had some headaches and backaches from the shots and a little fatigue. But other than that it has been relatively painless. In celebration, I have decided to write a Marrow Donation Haiku:

A dude has cancer
Shots make my bone marrow ache
It's good blog fodder

What do you think? Is it a masterpiece? Please post your own Haiku about bone marrow, cancer, blogging, or what ever you want. Or, if you prefer, write me a limerick instead. I'm bilingual.

Saturday, January 5, 2008

Cujo the Cat

The other day I was awakened by a panicked Jono telling me a kitten was stuck in the Christmas tree. I ran into the living room to find one of the kittens near the top of the tree, screaming. Her foot had become tangled in the wire for the lights and she was stuck, terrified, and apparently in some pain.

I tried to pull her out, but the leg was held fast by the twisted strand like a bear trap with twinkle lights. She began swatting and biting my hand. Then, in defiance of the law of gravity, Gracie the mama cat ran up the side of the Christmas tree and bit my arm. The metallic wire branches sproinging like released springs as she ran, ornaments were catapulting off of the tree. A glass ball shattered. A gingerbread brontosaurus lost his head and tail. Gracie thought I was hurting her baby, apparently. We shooed her away and began trying again. Another kitten joined the riot and bit D's foot. Jono was running around the house in a complete panic, dressed only in his tighty whities, hands over his ears, and screaming "make it stop! make it stop!". Martha and I were yelling instructions to each other over the hysteria.

I was about to get the wire cutters to cut the kitten loose when the second wave hit. I didn't see it coming. A band of Lilliputian archers filled my backside with arrows! No! Worse! It was Gracie leaping upon my back and sinking all four fang-teeth deep into my hip! M told me later that she had flown at me with all claws bared and mouth wide open. I screamed and we chased her into another room and, this time, shut the door. Perhaps I was in shock, but I don't really remember what happened next. Somehow, Martha got the kitten out of the tree and everybody soon stopped screaming. We counted twelve puncture wounds from bites and numerous claw marks as we cleaned up and administered band-aids. Gotta love cats.

Marrow Donation Part 3

I woke up this morning with a dull ache from my knees to my lower back. They told me to expect some bone discomfort as I transform into a marrow stem cell factory. It was nothing a little Advil couldn't take care of. I have also developed partial invisibility.

I went back to the Scott and White clinic where an twelve year old nurse took my vitals and gave me more shots. These hurt quite a bit like a bee sting. But afterwards there was no pain.

Friday, January 4, 2008

Marrow Donation Part 2

What do a sixty-something man with multiple myeloma and middle-aged fat guy have in common? Soon they will have the same blood!

Today I began the series of shots for my marrow donation. Technically, it's a peripheral blood stem cell transplant. If the shots work, my bones will work overtime to produce stem cells to such an extent that they will spill into my bloodstream. Next week they will be extracted and flown to an undisclosed city where the patient lives. He will be receiving a large dose of chemotherapy that will kill his own blood marrow and the cancer. Then he receives my stem cells and his body starts producing new blood with them. No problemo.

The drug name is called Neupogen, but insiders call it by the slang name "G". Today I received 4 mL of G, two in each arm. They say I will likely experience some bone pain, but so far I don't feel anything. My dosage is large, they say, on account of me being large.

You, too, can sign up to be on the National Marrow Donors database and perhaps save someone's life.

Thursday, January 3, 2008

Kenya All Just Get Along?

In case you aren't up to speed on East African news, there is trouble in Kenya, the country considered to be the most stable of the entire region. The recent presidential election was very close and violence has broken out over much of the country, especially in slums. I won't try to be an amateur reporter on the subject, instead I will provide links to some stories I have read.
This is very troubling news to me personally. I have made friends from both Kikuyu and Luo tribes, the two that are now fighting each other. I can't tell the difference between them. I have also seen tribal loyalties influence business decisions in a way that was frustrating to my partners from the U.S., no, more than frustrating, it seemed ridiculous. This captures how I feel now. I am upset and saddened by the violence. I am worried for the vulnerable and for the entire region. I am even embarrassed for a people I have grown to love, and yet, now are reflecting the worst side of mankind. It illustrates that every culture, like every person, has dark sides in need of redemption. Please pray for peace in Kenya.
The following photo was taken in Kitale, western Kenya. It was taken at a church on a Sunday morning as we waited for services to start. Nathan runs a ministry called Circle of Light that deploys cooking and lighting technology businesses in rural west Kenya. Kitale is not far from the city of Eldoret, where families fleeing the violence hid in a church and were burned to death by rioters this week.
With friend Nathan Chesang visiting church in Kitale, Kenya, 2005.
(photo credit Sarah Gibson)

Tuesday, January 1, 2008

MacGyver and the Apostle Paul

Our four-wheel-drive SUV turns off the paved highway and onto a rocky, rutted Honduran road. The next five miles will take forty minutes. The road is very narrow at times, and muddy patches threatened to engulf our tires up to the axle. Large rocks jolt our spines and we find ourselves alternatively holding our breath and laughing out loud like we are on some amusement park ride for the developing world. Our engineer’s eyes look with doubt at the earthen bridge that cannot be wide enough for all our wheels at the same time. Shifting into the lowest gear, we climb up and down hills that are alarmingly steep. Guardrails? We don’t need no stinking guardrails. Our tires spin on loose rocks in protest of such abuse.

Then we come to the river that has, apparently, swallowed the road. The laughter ceases so that the only sounds are running water and a whispered prayer. We pause for a second and then drive slowly into the river. Though we cannot see the bottom, we know the path. The word “faith” bubbles to our consciousness but the intensity of the moment will not allow meditation on this metaphor. The water splashing over the hood is too distracting. Climbing out onto the opposite bank we collectively exhale. Almost there.

We pass homes surprisingly well walled with mud and roofed with palm branch thatching. Finally we arrive at the small village of Pueblo Nuevo, a loose grouping of about 50 such homes. Are we here for the adventure? The curious smiles on barefoot children remind us we are not.

We are here because of relationship. In fact, we ARE because of relationship. We are made for relationship. The Christian view of the world has at its deepest roots the Trinity. Three distinct persons, one in essence. The Trinity is. The Trinity has always been. When God said to Moses, “I AM WHO I AM” He was revealing the meaning of his name, Yahweh. It means the self-existent one, the one who was not created and had no beginning, the one that always was, and is, and is to come. The persons we call the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit were in relationship. They communicated and loved in a beautiful ebb and flow from before the creation of anything. God did not need to create man in order to experience love. He had experienced love already. Love and relationship are central and definitive to who He is. The incarnation of Christ is the supreme initiative of God to reconcile the broken relationship between Himself and all of mankind. That is the meaning behind the scripture “God is love.” And that is what gives love its power here on Earth; it is cosmically grounded in the nature of who God is.

As engineers, we like an elegant theory. Applying the theories of physics and mathematics is the basis of engineering. So as we consider the “theory” of the Trinity, we are struck by its beauty, its elegance, and the way it explains what our intuition tells us are the most important parts of life: love, kindness, family, intimacy, in a word, relationships. Isaac Newton’s gravitational theory explained both the orbits of the planets and the trajectory of a falling apple. The universality of its application speaks to its truth, (even if Einstein showed us this truth was incomplete for apples falling near the speed of light). Like gravitational theory makes sense of apples and planets, the Trinity “theory” explains the significance of love; a significance already felt by lovers, children, and country music song writers. This significance, this gravity, harmonizes with our life’s experience in a way that speaks to the truth of the Trinity.

So what? What does this mean for us today? It means the nucleus of who God is, a relational, loving Person, provides us with a cosmic basis for our own love. It is the stuff of romance, but it is also the stuff of brotherhood, of self-sacrifice, of paternal and maternal love, and the love for our neighbor. Even neighbors in say, Honduras, who we have never met. Real love, then, is not limited to a simple emotional response. It is more than chemistry and biology – or electricity. It is, in a sense, divine.

And this love can motivate us to a life marked by service. When we have come to really believe that God loves us and desires a relationship with us, we are changed. He loves people. As we abide in that love, He cultivates our hearts in such a way that we really begin to love people too. When we hear of people suffering, we are stirred with compassion. Perhaps our hearts are pricked for the victims of a tsunami, or a hurricane, or a war. As we mature in Christ we slowly come out of ourselves and become aware of those around us. As we respond to the vocation to which God has called us, in our case engineering, we imagine ways in which we can use this vocation to serve people, especially the “least of these” of whom Jesus spoke. As we enter into this new life of service, perhaps we are naïve, perhaps we are scared. Perhaps we imagine ourselves as Christian engineering heroes of some kind like a cross between MacGyver and the Apostle Paul, but the realities of project implementation and the difficulties of dealing with real people with real problems soon banish this absurdity.

And so, as we step out of our SUV into an intense Honduran sun, we shake enthusiastic hands with Santos, the lay-pastor with which we are partnering in this project. His wife and children come out and we shake hands with all of them. Then more people come from places we can’t see and we shake hands with them too. Greetings are important here. People are important. Perhaps we could learn something about relationship from these people. Those that do not speak Spanish are soon a bit left behind as multiple conversations develop around them. Keep smiling, try not to stare at your feet. We soon move inside to have a drink. Extra chairs are brought in and we sit at a simple wooden table. The open doors and windows are filled with curious children’s faces. Plates are set before us with the biggest tamales you have ever seen. We are showered with hospitality and humbled by their giving.

After a time of greeting and refreshment, we don our sunscreen and water bottles, our walkie-talkies and other electrical gadgetry, and begin our hike to the river. We walk past the cinderblock church that will serve as our workshop. A local carpenter using only a chainsaw and sandpaper has beautifully made its wooden doors and windows. These people are resourceful. Soon we leave the footpath and begin to descend a steep cow trail to the river. We try not to look to winded compared to the locals who are obviously tougher than we are. A dozen school children follow us; we are the most interesting thing around today.

The river does not have a name. It’s just a river. A spring further up in the mountains keeps it flowing all year long. It is about ten feet wide, one foot deep, and flowing rapidly. It is pleasant and cool here, the riverbed is rocky and lush and beautiful. But we see something else too, another kind of beauty. We see kinetic energy of mass in motion. This river could provide the people of Pueblo Nuevo with a source of electricity by the installation of a small hydro generator. Someone breaks out a global positioning system receiver and records the coordinates. We begin our river flow measurements. Careful records are kept and back-of-the-envelope calculations are made. Check my math. Did anyone bring a calculator? For the next two days we repeat this routine at different points in the river. The children eventually loose interest and no longer follow us.

Finally, several men of the village are employed to help with the final stage. We carry the equipment to a point in the river where a natural dam of boulders forms the ideal spot for the generator. It’s not too far from the cinderblock church, and Santos has agreed to give us some church land for the battery charging station. We build a water channel to direct a portion of the river to our hydro generator. As water spills through a six foot long fiberglass tube, it turns a propeller which drives a generator to produce electricity. The men dig a shallow ditch by hand so we can bury the power lines to keep out curious children and free roaming cows. The power lines run 750 feet up the hillside to the church where Santos will operate his battery charging station. He, like us, desires to bless his neighbors, his brothers and sisters, sus hermanos y hermanas.

Just as power flows through these power lines to bring light to a community, love flows through this web of relationships to bring the Light of the world. We love because we have been loved. We bless because we have been abundantly blessed. We have given our sweat, our minds, two weeks of our summer, and nearly $2000 each, and with God’s guidance at every step, built a micro power station to alleviate a little of the world’s suffering. Perhaps there’s a little MacGyver in us after all.

(c) Copyright 2007, The Center for Christian Ethics at Baylor University ( Used by permission.