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Divine Assembly for God's Glory

Technology. Engineering. Solar panels. Water filtration units.

These terms are not usually associated with missionary work or mission organizations. Some of us may picture a missionary as someone who is involved solely in Bible translation or language learning and preaching in a remote village. Surely an engineer couldn’t be used for that kind of mission work, could he?

This is the story of how God did just that — how He assembled a team of engineers and tech guys to help get the gospel to remote locations.

Time is an unreplaceable resource for missionaries as they work to get the gospel to an unreached people group. Missionaries want to spend their time learning the language and teaching God’s Word. But the daily tasks of living take so much more time when living in a village hundreds of miles from the nearest store, gas station or electric pole.

Nearly 50 years ago, it was very difficult and costly for missionaries to live in these remote places. Women often spent hours every day boiling water so that it was safe to drink. Families had to rebuild when their village house burned down due to incorrect wiring or lightning strikes. Missionaries used kerosene lamps for light, which did not work well in the humidity. They had to use their gas boat engines connected to car alternators to charge the battery, which had just enough power for their communication radios and a tiny light.

God saw the challenges these missionaries had in daily living and ministry and the time and energy it was taking away from getting the gospel to people. He had plans to assemble all the parts at just the right time to help them — one person and electronic component at a time. He had plans to use technology to assist them in accomplishing their purpose, to save them time and to speed up the gospel’s entry into unreached areas.

Nestled in the woods on the shores of Lake of the Ozarks, there is a building that houses some intelligent minds, incredible engineering feats and humble hearts. That place is Offgrid Tech (OGT). It is part of the training that Ethnos360 provides to those who are being readied to go out into parts of the world where “normalcy” doesn’t include electricity, clean water or other aspects of what we consider a developed society.

Offgrid Tech exists to fulfill the Great Commission by training and equipping missionaries to manage the physical aspects of living in remote locations. They accomplish this by offering several levels of technical teaching, providing appropriate equipment and offering relevant consultation. Whether missionaries want to use solar power or need a water purification solution, Offgrid Tech can provide them with the technical help they need to have an effective ministry. And this isn’t only for Ethnos360 missionaries; OGT offers its expertise and equipment to all like-minded mission organizations.

The TECH part of their name is actually an acronym that captures the heart of their ministry. T is for teaching, E is for equipping, C is for consulting and H is for helping. 

God began assembling the components for this ministry by calling a missionary kid named Tim, using a pile of wood and an ill-fated outhouse.

The History of Offgrid Tech

Tim See grew up in the country of Haiti where his parents worked with Unevangelized Fields Mission (now known as Crossworld). His father helped to start 37 churches in the mountains while helping missionaries with their construction projects. Tim remembers traveling when he was 13 years old, going with his father to help a missionary build a church. Because that missionary didn’t know how to build a church building, the wind had knocked down the walls and rafters soon after he had put them up. Tim helped as his dad took the rubble on the ground and created a church building that would stay standing even when earthquakes hit. 

Later, that same missionary had a thriving ministry teaching children how to read so they could read the Bible to their families. The ministry had so many children that they needed a bigger outhouse. The missionary knew that he needed a strong concrete floor in his outhouse to protect against the termites, but he didn’t know how to build it. He ended up getting materials that did not work to reinforce the concrete in his outhouse floor.

Tim said, “This poor missionary was doing the best he could, but he was spending way too much money. And the Lord just said, ‘Tim, I want you to learn how to make an outhouse floor so that you can help other missionaries do it correctly.’” This was the Lord calling Tim as a teenager to help missionaries with the technical challenges they faced on the field.

When he returned to the USA, Tim chose to earn his architectural engineering degree because he would learn about 17 different fields of engineering including structural, mechanical, electrical and hydrological. His plan was to take what he had learned and help missionaries with technical aspects on the mission field.

The Lord brought Tim and his wife, Chris, together and gave them a heart to go to the mission field. Chris had grown up as a missionary kid in the country of Brazil. They entered then-NTM’s training and were on their way to Indonesia — or so they thought. The training center asked Chris to stay and teach culture and language learning courses for missionaries because of her linguistics training and experience on the mission field. Once leaders saw Tim’s knowledge and experience in all those engineering fields, they asked him to come on staff and lead the construction and maintenance department for the training center.

Part of Tim’s role at the training center was leading the work detail program. In his role he interfaced with all the men in training. Once they arrived on the mission field, these missionaries had many technical questions. Missionaries from many different countries wrote letters to Tim because they knew that he knew a lot about engineering and about the mission field. Tim took time in the evening, after a full day of overseeing work teams, to find answers for missionaries’ questions and then write them explanations of what to do.

In 1976, when solar panels were still in the very early stages of use, some missionaries took them to the field and then reported that they did not work. Tim started doing research and learned there was only one solar panel that would work in the heat of the tropics. He bought two tiny solar panels to test how much sun they needed, how to place them and what batteries would work with them. There were no instruction manuals explaining how to set up a solar electric system.

In his research, Tim wrote to NASA and said, “I’m trying to help missionaries with solar panels. Could you please send me information for using solar panels on planet Earth?” They wrote back and said, “No, I’m sorry, we can’t help you because we don’t use solar panels on Earth. The only place we use solar panels is in outer space on our satellites. If you find out how to use them on Earth, you let us know so that we'll both know.”

So, Tim saved up his money and started testing panels, batteries and charge controllers to find out which ones truly did work together for missionaries. He also recreated the hot and humid conditions experienced on the mission field to see which equipment would hold up. He did not want missionaries wasting time and money to ship equipment to the other side of the world only for it not to work.

After his testing, he was able to recommend a particular set of solar electric system equipment that would work for missionaries. He also explained to missionaries how to care for their systems so that they would continue to work and provide electricity. This was the beginning of many years of research and development so that Tim and the team at OGT could recommend the best equipment for missionaries on the field.

Sometimes Tim would invent equipment or parts to meet a particular challenge that missionaries had when that equipment or part was not yet on the market. They started making simple fuse blocks for solar electric systems after 18 missionaries’ houses mysteriously caught fire. The OGT staff suspected that rats had chewed through their wires. Today fuses or special breakers are built into every system.

Other times God connected Tim with manufacturers who listened when he explained the challenges missionaries had when using the manufacturers’ product on the field. They then adapted their product to overcome common challenges like insects and snakes getting in, ants eating the copper out of the wires or the lack of sunlight during monsoon season.

A team installs solar panels on missionary Jonathan Ames’s house in Kuyu, Papua New Guinea.

The Book

Eventually one missionary wrote, “Why don't you just write down all of your best ideas, and then I won't have to keep asking these questions because I don't know what questions to ask anyway.”

In his spare time in the evenings, Tim started writing down his ideas in a book especially for missionaries. He began by looking through his binders containing hundreds of letters to find the most common questions missionaries had asked him. He explained technical concepts in simple ways that would help missionaries use the information to help with daily living in remote locations. The goal was to have a simple manual that missionaries could use to find the answers to their questions on 32 different technical topics.

Once Tim finished Tech Tips for Living in Remote Locations in 1990, he offered to teach its concepts to missionary candidates at the training center as an elective course. As the students who took the course arrived on the mission field, field leaders discovered that those missionaries could install the equipment they needed in their remote locations and learn the language two years faster than those who did not have that course.

Soon after that, they asked that all missionary candidates take the Missionary Technology course as part of their training. Tim and Chris even traveled to the United Kingdom, Australia and Canada to train instructors to teach the course to missionary candidates there. Later they added a one-semester Tech Specialist course for individuals interested in supporting overseas operations within an entire field or, at the very least, among their team. They have since begun offering Summer Solar Electric Systems, a one-week seminar to help better equip missionaries in planning and selecting equipment, setting up water and solar equipment and maintaining a solar electric system. Attendees learn about PV panels, solar electric batteries, charge controllers, inverters, fuse and breaker boxes, grounding, surge protection and basic household wiring. The seminar also covers the most efficient types of lighting, fans, kitchen appliances and pumps for use on these systems.

If Tim and Chris had gone to Indonesia as they had planned, they would have been helpful to the missionaries in that country, but the ministry of Offgrid Tech would not have been born. By keeping them in the USA, God multiplied their influence in speeding up the advance of the gospel as they’ve helped thousands of missionaries across the globe. Over and over God assembled and fit the components in place at the perfect time to help missionaries through technology challenges. Today the team of OGT continues to help missionaries save time and materials, as well as preserve their health and safety, as they work to bring the gospel to those in remote or isolated contexts.

 Offgrid Tech

The Philosophy of Offgrid Tech 

Purpose driven. Technology assisted.

It’s not about incredible technology or the unique tools available. It’s not about geographic locations or complex cultural paradigms. It’s not even about a specific language or group of people. It’s about the only purpose worth investing our very lives for: seeing the hope of the gospel extended to those in remote or isolated contexts.

So why do missionaries use technology, and why does OGT train, equip and support missionaries? The answer that drives OGT is that time is a non-replaceable resource.

One of the basic things that OGT teaches is that missionaries should not use a particular technology if it doesn't save them time to focus on their ministry. Years ago, Tim saw missionaries take too many solar panels to the field, and they ended up wasting their time with extra equipment that they didn’t need or that wouldn’t work well. That is one reason that OGT does extensive research and development — to save missionaries time and money by pointing them to the equipment that will work in their environment.

Today when the staff of OGT gives missionaries help and advice about how to design their solar electric systems, they encourage them not to go larger than a certain size. The point is that it’s not about trying to recreate all the comforts of home in the jungle — it’s about saving time and energy to reach people with the gospel of Jesus Christ.

In Conclusion …

Much of the above article was written by Tamara See. I then went myself to interview the staff of OGT. To say that I was overwhelmed by what I saw and heard would be an understatement. The care, the concern for safety, the desire to be a blessing — the team at OGT is an incredible display of God’s grace and love.

While at OGT, I asked them what items were most asked for by missionaries. The answer? Water filters and complete solar electrical systems, of course. But just as needed are the advice and help that the missionaries ask for to diagnose problems or to choose replacement parts.

Since they work with humans, their biggest challenge is … communication! Another challenge is the constantly changing cultural landscape in the countries where missionaries serve. As electricity and roads move deeper interior and technology is more available, this affects the dynamics of living. On the other hand, the biggest blessing for OGT team members was being a part of the success of missionaries’ ministries. They felt blessed to be able to help provide missionaries with the energy needed to keep them ministering in their respective isolated villages and hamlets.

I ask that you bring the team from OGT before the God of all mercy that He would continue to endow them with the wisdom they need, the creativity to work through challenges and eyes to see the best path forward.

Tags: Ethnos360 Magazine,
POSTED ON Jul 08, 2024 by Bruce Enemark and Tamara See