Baylor engineering team sparks electricity in Honduran village

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    Baylor engineering team sparks electricity in Honduran village

    By Matt Pene
    Published: March 27, 2007

    WACO, Texas (ABP) -- Grad student Ryan McGhee has spent nearly all of his free time in the last several months doing one thing -- building an electrical turbine. But despite the tool’s seemingly pedestrian function, McGhee calls his work “an act of worship.”

    “I have been given a specific skill set for engineering work, and while I’m not the type of person who can get up in front of a church group and play music, I can sit behind a desk and do calculations,” he said. “Hopefully I can bring glory to God that way.”

    McGhee is studying to receive a master’s degree in engineering from Baylor University. He also attends First Baptist Church of Woodway, where he works with a team of 20 Baylor engineering students called Engineers with a Mission. The students are designing and building a turbine to power a hydroelectric generator used to recharge batteries. The batteries will then be used in 54 homes in Pueblo Nuevo, a remote village of 500 people located in north central Honduras.

    Most of the residents in Pueblo Nuevo are poor farmers who use homemade kerosene "candils” for home lighting. The candils are glass jars filled with kerosene and a cloth wick. Needless to say, the candils are costly, give poor light and cause accidental fires.

    “It’s incredibly basic there [in Pueblo Nuevo],” McGhee said. “Most residents can only light their homes for short period of time. It feels good that we can help them.”

    The group is building some parts of the turbine system and purchasing others. In August, McGhee and other students will travel to Pueblo Nuevo with Brian Thomas, an engineering lecturer at Baylor who is the faculty adviser for Engineers with a Mission. They will spend a week building a weir, or spillway, and the water intake system required for the generator.

    It will be the second time the group has traveled to Pueblo Nuevo. Last December, Thomas, McGhee and other students spent a week exploring the feasibility of installing the hydroelectric generator on a small river near the village. They determined the river could sustain such a system.

    Thomas and his group are partnering with a network of churches in Honduras supported by Denver-based Mission to the Americas. A few hundred small churches have been established in this area of the country, both in urban and rural areas. Pueblo Nuevo has one of those new churches and a bi-vocational pastor.

    “The network is very important because they lend us credibility,” Thomas said. “It seems to the villagers that the church brought us in, and it illustrates God’s provision for them.”

    Thomas said the entire experience stretches the students spiritually, mentally and physically. Aside from the long days working to construct the weir and water system, the living conditions in some parts of Honduras can be eye-opening. Each night, groups discuss poverty, wealth and suffering in an effort to understand it all.

    “It’s sometimes a shock to our students to see people dealing with suffering and being afforded no opportunities,” Thomas said. “Each night, we ask the students questions like ‘what are the spiritual moments of the day?’ and ‘how does this affect your relationship with God?’”

    Thomas’ group is not alone. Since 2002, hundreds of Baylor students and faculty members have traveled to countries around the world using skills related to their major and field.

    These “discipline-specific” mission trips allow students to serve indigenous populations by offering basic health care, literacy education, technological infrastructure and religious education.

    Dub Oliver, vice president for student life at Baylor, said the trips help students see how their specific abilities and interests can be used to serve others. It shows “how Christians are called to loving responsiveness to those in need,” he said.

    The engineering Honduras trip is part of a much larger Baylor project to bring “appropriate technologies” to developing countries. The approach is based on helping people in other countries develop infrastructures like clean drinking water and reliable power sources.

    Thomas credits Walter Bradley, distinguished professor of mechanical engineering at Baylor, for introducing him to the concept of appropriate technology. And since the concept took flight a few years ago, interest in it has been growing -- Baylor has added an appropriate technologies class to its School of Engineering and Computer Science.

    Even better, Baylor business students are providing a business model so the system is financially self-sustaining.

    While all of the Baylor students who travel on the trips pay their own way, Thomas estimates the upcoming Honduras trip will cost about $5,000 in peripheral costs. He is currently in the process of raising funds.

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