Amazima Design Trip – Recap

It was a whirlwind week, but an incredible one nonetheless!  At the beginning of February our team of volunteers began to descend upon Uganda to be a part of designing a secondary school for Amazima Ministries.  You can read more about Amazima and how our work fits into their ministry in my previous blog post.


We had an outstanding team – our group, which fluctuated up to 14 people, hailed from 7 different countries.  This was cause for quite a stir when the Ugandan pastor of the church we attended noted that a group of “Americans” were visiting (blasphemy says the Australian!) but also set us up for lots of entertainment – we had fun one night belting out our national anthems and I knew the team was past introductions when they began to debate whose accent was the strangest. <grin>  The volunteers carried a great range of experience in EMI projects (including 3 former interns and 3 volunteers with 18 combined trips between them!) and work back home which allowed us to accomplish a tremendous amount of work.


Our trip began with a site visit to the land where we met Amazima founder Katie Davis and their operations manager Brad Lang. Katie shared the history of Amazima and her own journey and how it grew from her moving to Uganda at age 19 to the program which now sponsors approximately 800 children in the Jinja areas.  Helping with school fees and basic needs with personalized attention allows the children to grow and develop while remaining in their homes and in the care of their families. Now as they struggle with the discrepancy that there isn’t a solid secondary school in their area, they are forced to send their older children away to boarding schools in Kampala and Jinja.  Thus the need for a quality secondary school close to the children’s homes.


As we talked about the 40 acre piece of land that will be the future site of the school, we were all struck by the beauty of the place.  Katie said she had a hard time even picturing buildings there that wouldn’t detract from the land’s natural beauty (key design parameter for us).  The key words, which became the theme for the week was peace and bounty (or plenty).  We want to create a school that is a place of peace and which emphasizes the abundance of God’s provision and care.


One of the unique features of the trip was setting up a special brainstorming session with Amazima’s mentors.  The mentors are Ugandan staff who oversee the child sponsorship program – working with the sponsored children and their families to provide personal contact, mentoring, and accountability – some truly remarkable people.  Early in the design process, we invited the mentors to join us so that we could better understand the students’ preferences and framework for life and education so that the design would be relevant and appropriate.  A long roll of trace paper wound back and forth as the architects began doodling with the mentors and it was amazing to witness the transformation as the early sheets were all written from one side (the architects) while increasingly the mentors became engaged in the process so that this became their school.


Our team went extremely hard during the week. The site/civil team dug holes in the ground on the site to determine the ground suitability for supporting buildings and for disposing of wastewater.  They also investigated water supply and electrical options so that we knew how to properly design those systems.  The architects took the initial survey and laid out zoning for the site, got buildings sized and located on the site and cranked out a bunch of floor plans.  With the size of our team, we were able to design something like 9-10 buildings, put together in a solid Master Plan and create 3d renderings of most of these buildings to show how they will look and how the pieces will fit together.


Towards the end of the week, we took a break to join a group of Amazima’s secondary students for one of their times of worship and bible study. As one of the mentors spoke from Romans, it was so encouraging to hear the Word of God being taught by a Ugandan, to Ugandans in a way that was culturally relevant and theologically solid (unfortunately not that common). That the Amazima kids get this week after week was a good affirmation of the ministry.  Although we all felt under the gun, it was special to have faces to put with the school we’ve been working on.


After 6 long days in Jinja, our team presented our work to the Amazima team for their comments and approval.  It was a special night – the team presented well and everyone at Amazima was really happy with the design.  Praise God for this approval that allows our team to move forward in confidence! Here are some pictures to give you a sense:





After the presentation, our team took advantage of the fact that we were at the source of the Nile river and stayed at a nearby retreat center for relaxation, reflection, and to spend some good team time together before we dispersed.  As part of that time, we spent some extended time sharing about the things that God had put on their heart that week and ways that He was challenging them as they return back to their homes.  Indeed, this was much more than a design trip – it was and was meant to be an opportunity to encounter God in a special way by being a part of His work here in our neck of the woods.  It was beautiful to see God working in so many lives.  Would you praise the Lord with us?


Now as our team is all spread out back to their homes, our Uganda side team (consisting of myself, another staff, and two interns) are responsible for taking the concepts developed during the week and compiling them into a publishable form.  We will rely on our volunteers to support and guide us in our work, but the bulk of the task is ours as the volunteers return back to their various careers.  Our goal is to have the Master Plan and all of the conceptual building designs completed by May.  Would you pray with us that the Lord would empower our work in the next several months?




The Gospel and Architecture

Our EMI design team arrived back into Kampala on last week, but it was not rest time quite yet.  More on the design trip in separate post, but last Tuesday, our team’s lead architect, Tony McBurney was able to speak into the lives of Ugandan engineers and architects in a powerful way.  Tony is the head of an architecture firm in Australia called IDG and comes with a wealth of experience and knowledge.  In Australia, Tony had a chance to give a talk in various places about the connection between architecture and the Christian faith.  This was a powerful topic there in the lives of several people including some of EMI’s former Australian interns.  The chance to give such a talk to Ugandan design professionals was a opportunity that Tony and EMI did not want to pass up.

Because our office has members of the Ugandan Society of Architects and the Ugandan Institute of Professional Engineers, we used our connections to reach out to all of the local design professionals in the area.  We reserved the sanctuary of a local church located downtown and prayed that God would bring people eager to hear his message.

Design + spirituality presentation

Using the language of “Architecture 101”, Tony shared how the story began at a point in space – the Garden, with the Centerpoint being the tree of the knowledge of Good and Evil and how their consequences led to a line where Adam and Eve were cast out, in part for their own protection.  As he continued (talking about space, volume, and the God of geometry), it was fascinating for me (as a non-architect) so see the faces of the Ugandan architects seeing the Gospel in the form of their professional language.

The numbers were not huge – we had 15-20 come apart from EMI people, but the response during Q&A was incredibly edifying.  These professionals were ecstatic to consider how they can use their professional skills in a way that lives out God’s calling on their lives.  They were challenged to think about how to integrate their faith and vocation (something very lacking both in Uganda and in the West).  As I spoke with one of the attendees before the conference, he was excited to hear about EMI and asked, “I just really want to spend time with you guys and learn from you.  Is there a way that I can volunteer and participate in some of the work that you are doing so that I can use my skills to serve others?”  YES!  YES! YES!

We praise God for orchestrating this event and ask for your prayers for the architects and engineers of Uganda – that they would see God in the details and in the overall nature of their work – and that they would live their lives as professionals in a way that brings glory and honor to their Maker.

Amazima Ministries Design Trip

As I write this update, 8 volunteers are in transit to Uganda from all over the world where we will meet tomorrow morning (with 5 longer termers from Uganda) to bring together our full team of 13 to design a secondary school for Amazima Ministries in Jinja, Uganda.  Amazima is a newer ministry, but has grown dramatically in its 5 year history.  Founded by Katie Davis, a woman in her mid-20’s who moved to Uganda 5 years ago to follow the Lord’s calling on her life, Amazima sponsors over 600 children in the Jinja area assisting with school fees, meals, and living costs to impoverished families, and providing training and empowerment for their families as they remain within their homes.  Katie’s blog has become a viral sensation and she wrote a book which has touched countless lives called Kisses from Katie.

Kisses from Katie

Amazima’s home base is in Jinja, Uganda at the source of the Nile River as it empties from Lake Victoria. Jinja has some good quality primary schools, but Amazima has not found satisfactory options for secondary education for their sponsored children.  Amazima has purchased a 40 acre plot of land that they want to develop into a complete secondary school campus with full boarding for the children. Check out the site that we’re working with…


Unlike many ministries that we work with Amazima has full funds already acquired for the construction of the school.  So our work is not to produce conceptual concepts, but to fully create construction documents for this project that will Lord willing begin construction in the fall of 2014.  We have a LOT to do!  You can read more about the detail of the project on EMI’s recruiting link here.  Fortunately we have a really strong team – our team of 13 comes from 7 different countries, we have 3 former interns returning and some wonderful technical talent all around.  It is truly a privilege to lead this team!


We would appreciate your prayer for our team as we labor from February 1-10 to help Amazima see their ministry and outreach to the Jinja community grow.

Father to the Fatherless – Published!

As we shared in some earlier posts, Jeff led his first team project trip in September to serve a ministry called Father to the Fatherless. See here and here to get a sense before the trip, and here to see the trip wrap up.  As you saw, a great deal was accomplished during the trip itself, but that was only the beginning of a long involved effort to complete the design work, drawings, and publish our Master Plan for the ministry.  In mid-December, just before our fall interns returned home, we thank God by His grace that we were able to complete the project and pass it along to the ministry in time for Christmas!

Site Perspective

Above is a 3d rendering that our architecture intern Christine produced showing how all of the buildings will fit onto the land and below is an artistic rendering that one of our volunteers David made for the children’s homes, which are the first priority in F2tF’s planning.  This team did some incredible work and it was such a privilege to be a part of it.  We trust that images like these will go a long way in helping F2tF raise the funds that they need in order to build these buildings and see their ministry lived out.

Chlidren's cluster rendering

In addition to the pretty pictures, we gave the ministry drawings that will aid them in planning – building types and locations to fit the site, floor plans for the bulk of their buildings, and technical information like how to get water from the well distributed to those buildings.  Take a look:


Finally, and not so picture worthy, we gave them an 80 page report with information on everything from the soil profile, to recommendations for waste disposal, to how they should plan to power the site.

This team worked incredibly hard, putting in over 1750 man-hours on this project.  This is amazing even more notably in my absence as I had to make an unexpected return to the US.  My co-leader Sarah and the interns and volunteers picked up the pace even more to get this project done and it is beautiful to see.

I was so encouraged to receive an e-mail from F2tF in the last couple of weeks saying that they have been showing these documents around and they have already raised $8,000 towards their first children’s homes and the associated infrastructure.  Praise the Lord for this!  I am grateful to know the leaders of Father to the Fatherless and trust that they will continue to hold closely to the Lord as they seek His best plans for their ministry.  I am grateful to have had a role in serving them.

F2tF – Trip Wrap Up

Thank you all so much for your prayers for our team as we worked for Father 2 the Fatherless (F2tF).  We had a great trip and it was such a privilege to have this wonderful group of people for my first project trip lead:IMG_7430

As I’ve shared before, the building site is gorgeous.  The 75m drop provides wonderful views (even if it provides lots of other design challenges):


One of our architects (a repeat volunteer) wrote his wife and said, “this trip is very similar other EMI trips I’ve been on…everyone is huddled around a table with their laptops working long hours with insufficient fluorescent light.”  There is something accurate in that description <grin>:


When we weren’t cranking out drawings and putting together test data, we were asked to represent F2tF for a “friendly football game” with some of the villagers.  Little did we understand that we were playing against the village team with about 200 onlookers.  Because I was the project leader, I was the de facto captain of our team (yikes!) which was soundly beaten in spite of their attempts to take it easy on us.???????????????????????????????

With less than a week at the site, the team worked diligently to put together a Master Plan for the 83 acre piece of land that F2tF owns, put together preliminary floor plans for 14 different buildings, tested water quality, soil strength and more.  Whew!  You can see the proposed Master Plan here which includes homes for orphans, a community medical clinic, a church, a primary school, vocational training and more:9146 Master Site Plan 02eAs I shared in my post from the site, the new well from Living Water is operating and already a huge blessing to the community.  Our civil engineering team tested the water to compare the old and new well and it doesn’t take an engineering degree to read these petri tests and decide which well is better for the community (hint, more dots are bad).  I’m so grateful to have had a role in seeing this come to fruition.


Our week concluded back in Kampala, where we were able to visit a slum area where F2tF founder, Mathias, spent several years as a street child.  Our team visited a local church – a 10′ x 20′ rick shack enclosure with about 50 people when you include our team.  It was a blessing to see these people so excited for what the Lord is doing and to have a chance to worship with them (I was asked to play).IMG_7638

It was a fantastic trip and your prayer covering is so appreciated.  Now with all of our volunteers home or in the air, our Ugandan team (consisting of myself, 2 interns, and a Civil Engineering volunteer) will be taking our preliminary sketches and putting them into CAD drawings while refining the master plan, civil design, and fundraising renderings.  There is still much to do so your ongoing prayers are greatly appreciated!

F2tF – Update (Monday)

Yesterday our team arrived in the village of Namuganga to walk the perimeter of the land for Father 2 the Fatherless.  The site is gorgeous and it was wonderful to begin to dream as we were swarmed by village kids that wanted to see what we were doing.  Here is our team before the walk getting hearing about the vision of F2tF.


As we were walking, we got towards the lower end of the site and there was a big crowd of people.  I wasn’t connecting what it was but at the bottom was a moving sight:


Here stands Jja-jja – “granny” along with a whole host of kiddos that have come to draw water for their families.  There was a HUGE line of people that had come to fill jerry-cans full of water to bring to their families.  Water quality test results aren’t back yet but it’s no doubt cleaner than the brown water that is drawn from their old hand-dug pit.  It was so moving and I was just thankful that my job lets me be a part of doing something like this.  Praise God!  Thankful too to our partner church Cornerstone E-Free that was part of raising funds for this well.P1050797

P.S. – please continue to pray for David – his flight has been delayed or rerouted 3 times and he is supposed to arrive today. Pray the Lord will get him here safely and help us all to acclimate him well.

F2tF – Ready to Go (and Well Update)

This afternoon, 4 men from the US are hopping on planes to come to Uganda.  I will be meeting them along with 2 interns and 2 staff and on Sunday we head out to the village of Namuganga to develop a master plan for Father to the Fatherless (F2tF).  You can learn more about the project here.  The ministry is trusting God for big things and it is a tremendous blessing to be able to use our skills in such a direct way to see God move.

A couple of weeks ago, we shared a special update about the F2tF regarding efforts to put in a well.  You can read more of the backstory on the well here.  The short version is that F2tF REALLY needs a well – and a good one – because the hand dug put that the community currently uses is dirty and inadequate for them least of all the several hundred orphans and widows that are envisioned as part of the ministry.

The drillers, from a partner ministry called Living Water, warned that the site is in an area known for being difficult to tap.  They agreed to make 3 attempts to finding a water source.  The first attempt was a low yield well with limited capacity.  The second wasn’t even worth casing.  For the third attempt, they went to the bottom of the site and as they were working, the drill rig broke meaning it took several days.  When they finally did get moving, they tapped into a strong source of water – with a preliminary estimate of 1000 gallons per hour capacity!

This is tremendous news! Our civil engineer tells me that this should be sufficient to provide water for everything that F2tF is envisioning along with the needs of the community.  So as we prepare to go out, it is wonderful to know that we can dream big with the ministry for all that they wish to see on this piece of land.

We will try to give an update during the week, but as we are going – we would appreciate your prayers:

1) For the volunteers and staff as we travel.  Pray that the Lord would use this time to prepare hearts and minds for the task ahead.

2) Pray that the Lord would provide for all of our needs – for consistent power, for sustenance as we labor diligently, for all the logistics as we travel from our hotel/workspace to the site (about 40 min. apart).

3) Pray for team unity – that we could build each other up and that we would work well together as we throw together a team of 5 architects and 4 engineers all of whom come from diverse backgrounds and experiences. Pray that the Lord would speak in a special way into the hearts of each of the volunteers, interns, and staff.

4) Pray that we would serve F2tF well.  That we would help them refine their vision and that we can develop site plans and building layouts that F2tF can use well as a basis for fundraising and construction.

5) Pray that the Lord would open up opportunities for us to share the Love of Christ with the people around us.  On airplanes, at the hotel, and in an outreach into a Kampala slum at the end of our trip.