Blessings Between Beaches: An Experience in Engineering & Missions
by Melissa Matis, Junior (Mechanical Engineering)
The Dominican Republic is a vibrant country. It has white sandy beaches, picturesque mountains and lush, tropical forests; it’s the definition of a true traveller’s paradise. However, you don’t have to look too far past the palm trees to see the flip-side of this nation’s story; over a third of the country’s total population lives in poverty, and almost twenty percent lives in extreme poverty.
This summer, I was blessed with the opportunity to return for a second summer mission trip this August to Camp Canaan, a church camp located in a rural area of the Dominican with a team from the Raymond B. Jones College of Engineering at Lipscomb University. Our team consisted of two Lipscomb engineering professors, Dr Greg Nordstrom and Dr. Fort Gwinn, another professor from Union University, and seven engineering students. The camp we were at functioned as a Christian ministry that served the surrounding area, offering various retreats for all ages. With the revenue it generates, Camp Canaan supports many Dominican pastors and their churches.
Our trip was centered on meeting one of the camp’s most pressing needs: a reliable, efficient water delivery system. Up until this summer, the water system was quite unreliable. The system in place was not operative enough to provide the all the dorms with enough water with effective pressure, especially when large groups came to stay. This posed significant problems. Our team designed a solar-powered pump system, supplying a network of pipes leading to three large tanks placed on the roof of the camp’s canteen. This improved the pressure problems and allowed for a large capacity of water to be stored.
I have had a desire to participate in missions from a young age. Growing up, my grandpa inspired me through all the adventures he went on to foreign countries with the goal of telling people about Jesus. Coming to Lipscomb has given me the opportunities to apply engineering in a refreshing fashion that I feel is quite unique from other universities. One of the main things that drew me to this school was the emphasis the Engineering department places on serving around the world. I absolutely love be immersed in a different culture and meeting people from places far from your home. I truly believe that I learn the most, become more aware of myself and the world around me, grow the most and am humbled the most when I throw myself into situations that are uncomfortable or filled with unexpected challenges. There is also lots of knowledge to gain from the professors and my fellow classmates when going on a mission trip. When Dr. Nordstrom asked me if I was coming to the D.R. this year, I did all I could to make it possible to go. Adventure is something that drives me and I believe that the Christian experience and commitment is rooted in adventure. The trail that God takes us on is filled with incredible and unexpected twists that require us to trust and follow. This year’s trip showed to be exactly that.
Handling adversity is a way I saw God clearly working through our team. There were aspects of the design process of the project that needed to come together on-site. It was amazing how smoothly team members were able to work together. I attribute this to the common bond and goal we shared in Christ. There were challenges like tough physical work and challenges diverting us from our original plan, but they were taken in stride and things worked out better in the end. I feel it was God’s way of showing us how much we truly need to rely on Him, that this project was not made possible by any of our doing, but purely by his strength and intelligent design. Trust is something I feel God is continuing to teach me. This attribute allows for an ability to take adversity in stride. It provides a way to live freely, without the chains of worry. I really see this kind of attitude from the Dominicans. They rely so heavily on their savior and have a wonderful easy-going, peaceful perspective on life and the challenges they face. They have a beautiful sense of what is important in life. The way they drop what they are doing to have a conversation with you instead of letting you just pass on by is something I aspire to take back home with me and practice. Some of my favorite moments of the trip were spending time getting to know the locals. I will to be the first to admit that my Spanish is quite lacking but it was so cool how language barriers were overcome by something as simple as kicking a soccer ball around together, and even more importantly through the common thread we shared with the Dominicans in Christ.
Alternative energy is something I am very passionate about. I love the outdoors and how nature is clear evidence of our Creator. It inspires and encourages me how our team decided to take steps to use clean, environmentally-friendly energy in this project. It is an awesome way to show respect for what God has given us through his beautiful creation. At the end of the week, seeing the pump move and feeling water flow through the pipes was an incredible and humbling moment. The fact that energy from the sun can be captured and transmitted to a pump that in turn delivers water throughout an entire camp is pretty mind-blowing. It really hit me how complex and genius God really is, and how we as engineers aren’t the ones making this project possible, but rather it is through God and the many incredible intricacies that exist in His creation. I’m glad I was able to participate with such wonderful friends and mentors in the project of helping bring water to camp Canaan in the Dominican Republic. It is my prayer that it will in turn point to something greater, serving as a physical reminder of the living water Christ speaks of in John 4:13-15: “Jesus said to her, 'Everyone who drinks of this water will be thirsty again, but whoever drinks of the water that I will give him will never be thirsty again. The water that I will give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life.' The woman said to him, 'Sir, give me this water, so that I will not be thirsty or have to come here to draw water.' ”