Senior EMI overseas staff share their stories in 2016
A Life Worth Living
by Randy Larsen, Recruiting and Development
It changed everything for me! In a study abroad program I suddenly found myself in Nicaragua holding a disabled baby girl. Her family’s home was made of black plastic tarps cascading down from the concrete wall of a ruined building. The one light bulb was covered in toxic soot from the plastic trash they burned as cooking fuel. This malnourished girl responded to my touch, but there was emptiness behind her sunken eyes. I didn’t know Spanish then, but it didn’t matter. I didn’t know how to express in words the compassion I felt for this young mother anyway. My heart burned with the desire to help make a difference—to do something, anything.
She died shortly after this eye-opening visit. She was one of the 6,000 children in the world who die each day from illness caused by a lack of clean water or adequate sanitation. Statistics like these paralyzed me; the faces of people I met in Central America made it real. Over the months, I discovered a love for people I just could not turn my back on. I was graduating as a civil engineer with skills desperately needed in the developing world – skills that could save lives. Yet the burning question remained, “What was I going to do?” The answer came clearly in Luke 9:62, as Jesus responded, "No one who puts a hand to the plough and looks back is fit for service in the kingdom of God." I couldn’t shake those words. Almost unknowingly, I found I had already grasped the plough.
I took a step of faith hoping to make a more significant impact through an internship with Engineering Ministries International. Fuelled by a deep compassion for those without hope or opportunity, and with more than a dash of youthful idealism, this university graduate began a remarkable journey with EMI. This 16-year journey has taken me through over 40 projects, 30 countries, and service in three EMI offices.
One defining EMI project began in Guatemala in 2002. Hurricane Mitch had destroyed countless homes and devastated many lives. Once relocated to a rural undeveloped area, survivors slipped through bureaucratic cracks and were all but forgotten. Feeling apprehensive and unqualified, I was assigned to lead an EMI team to design an entire community for 2500 of these refugees. My team’s task was to design the water and waste water systems, several miles of streets and drainage, a bridge, a church, and a clinic for the community. However, the design was just the beginning; I was asked to oversee implementation as well.
Four long years later, this hardworking community, our faithful Guatemalan construction manager named Paco, and I accomplished this formidable task. The impassable streets that once carried sewage were replaced with a sanitation system and paving that directed the torrential rains away from homes. I advocated with the local government for electricity and land titles to be provided for the majority of the families. Missionary and local friends helped provide medical care, and even my parents got involved to provide small business training. The church established a primary school and scholarships for the children to continue into high school. The community was being dramatically transformed!
During those years we suffered together with the community through sickness, setbacks, and funerals. We celebrated the joys of new birth, graduations, and renewed hope for a better life. And our love for one another grew. In the beginning the kids always ran to me nagging for handouts: candy, shoes, dollars! Things changed as I spent time in their homes, worked with their fathers, and visited their classrooms. They started greeting me by name, jumping on my back, and sometimes (on a good day) they offered me a stick of gum. For me, that was success. EMI’s tag line ‘designing a world of hope’ was becoming real. However, I believe God is more interested in the work He is doing within us than the work He can accomplish through us. As I grew in relationship with the community, I saw another transformation happen inside of me. I was growing in love and the sense of responsibility to steward all that I had been so freely given.
Recently I returned to Nicaragua where EMI has just reopened our Central America office. My team’s task: to design an equine therapy centre for a ministry working with disabled children. Many years after my first visit, the names and faces have changed, but the children are the same. They are waiting for that touch of love and the Hope that endures. While the work seems endless and project trips continue, may we rise to the occasion and partner with local ministries to share hope. Let’s make a significant impact in another’s life.
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