January/February 2008 Issue
Engineers and Architects Draw on Skills Overseas
By Robert White
Before the sod is turned, before the foundation sets, before the cornerstone is laid, Engineering Ministries International (EMI) Canada volunteers have already finished their work.
Based in Calgary, EMI Canada’s three-person office sends out teams of eight to 10 design professionals, from architects to engineers to surveyors, on short-term mission trips. In one week, team members meet with ministry staff overseas who have a construction project in mind. The EMI team helps survey the proposed land and assess needs and resources, and then provides drawings that can be used for later construction or fundraising. While some projects never get built, many do thanks to the solid foundation (even if it’s only on paper) created by the EMI teams.
“It’s an amazing, intensive week of design work. We get done in a week what would normally take two to three months back home,” says Steve Ulrich, director of EMI Canada. Ulrich ran his own architectural firm in Kelowna, B.C., until taking part in a Youth With a Mission (YWAM) Discipleship Training School (DTS) in 1995.
The DTS outreach portion landed him in the Philippines and Thailand, changing his career priorities. He soon sold his firm and began working for YWAM in Colorado. When that office moved, instead of packing up, Ulrich began working for EMI’s American head office that was founded in 1981.
By 2002 Ulrich’s family was ready to move back to Canada so he decided to start the EMI Canada office (www.emicanada.org). “Our biggest issue right now is getting known,” says Ulrich.
Including the two North American offices – and its counterparts in Guatemala, Uganda and Northern India – EMI has 55 staff and interns and has completed more than 450 projects in 75 countries.
Since EMI Canada opened, Canadian volunteers have been involved in about a dozen projects in countries like Kazakhstan, Brazil and Niger, and Ulrich is looking at possible projects in Rwanda, Haiti and Ukraine. Ulrich says they schedule projects about every four months, working around university schedules to allow students to take part in EMI’s intern program. The students put their studies into practice and are mentored by experienced design professionals.
“It’s an awesome experience for them,” says Ulrich. “They get thrown into the deep end.”
In most cases, once the team leaves the drawings with the local ministry, they don’t see the finished project, which can be somewhat disappointing, says Ulrich. But “some people on a team have gone back to their churches and come back to take part in the building.”