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Engineering's partnerships bring hope to Africa

Posted: Jan 17, 2013


Hope comes to Africa in two ways: water and the Gospel. Olivet, partnering with Brighton Church of the Nazarene (Brighton, Mich.) and KickStart, will soon be providing both to the people of Swaziland in southeastern Africa. From May 5 through 21, 2013, students, staff and faculty from Olivet will be on the ground to bring hope.

Led by Dr. Kenneth Johnson '93, engineering department chair; Dr. Thalyta Swanepoel, communication professor and a native of South Africa; and Jennifer McClellan '91, coordinator of missions and student ministry, this Missions in Action (M.I.A.) trip is already bringing together mission goals, technical expertise, journalism and music in exciting ways.

“We want to keep people thinking about Africa’s challenges,” Dr. Johnson says. “With this project, we are focusing on the AIDS epidemic, and ways to get water and food to areas where the needs are great.”

Multi-faceted project to address many needs

Working with KickStart, a California-based organization dedicated to changing the way the world fights poverty, Dr. Johnson and a team of engineering students led by Jesse Dawson (senior, engineering major, Rochester, Minn.) are designing and will install a pumping method in two unirrigated fields. During the two-week trip, they will also conduct soil analysis, and teach soil modification and management techniques to the local people. The goal is to improve crop yield and provide food locally.

One field is owned by an AIDS task force, and the other is owned by Southern Africa Nazarene University (SANU). The plan is for these fields to produce crops to feed Africans while opening more avenues for sharing the Gospel with those who work in the fields and receive the food. The prayer is that what is learned on this project will transfer to similar projects in other African countries.

“We’re excited about how we can help the people of Swaziland,” says Al Herndon, worldwide missions team leader at Brighton Nazarene. “And we’re anxious to see the results there and how this technology might help the people of Kenya and other areas in East Africa.”

In addition to its soil and water problems, Swaziland is also at the epicenter of the worldwide AIDS epidemic and has the highest HIV prevalence in the world at 26 percent. According to AVERT International, one in four adults there are living with HIV. Ten percent of Swazi children under age 18 have lost at least one parent to HIV/AIDS.

“This is a staggering statistic that we, as the body of Christ, simply cannot ignore,” says Dr. Johnson, who lived in Swaziland for two years with his parents when his father was writing curriculum in the early 1980s as part of a USAID program.

Students from Olivet’s Department of Communication — led by Dr. Swanepoel, noted writer on the topic of HIV/AIDS — will accompany the engineering students on this trip. They will interview those who are suffering in Swaziland’s epidemic and document their stories.

Many firsts underscore project’s significance

Brighton Church of the Nazarene has stepped forward with the first gift to fund this project: $5,000 from the church’s worldwide missions team that works with Nazarene Missions International. “Working with my home church, Brighton Nazarene, on this project is especially rewarding for me,” Dr. Johnson says. “Their support of this project is a meaningful affirmation for me.”

On Friday, January 18, 2013, a benefit concert — the first ever sponsored by the Department of Engineering — helped raise that awareness among the Olivet community and surrounding area. Messenger, a contemporary Christian music group that grew out of the worship ministry at Brighton Nazarene, performed that evening, along with Audrey and the Class Act, a group of Olivet students. Both groups donated their time to do this. All proceeds from the concert are going toward project funding.


Students enrolled in Olivet's Roaring Tiger ROTC Battalion