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The First Priority - Real Life Lessons in Community Development

December 17, 2018

Installation of a spring capture lclean water systemJessi was surprised how many villages would turn down a free clean water system by simply refusing to maintain it. She and her husband, Josh, just completed a two-year community development training program with Reach Beyond where they visited unreached villages in Central Asia to offer clean water help. Known as the CHILI program (Community Health Intercultural Learning Initiative), the program sought to take young professionals with an interest in missions, and give them in-depth training and mentoring to prepare them for career missions.

Jessi and Josh were newlywed engineers working in Houston before joining CHILI.

“All of a sudden I felt this undeniable tug on my heart directing me to something different, something bigger,” she says.

Intimidated by the calling, Jessi didn’t mention it to Josh for about a month. When representatives from a clean water organization gave a presentation at their church, Jessi asked Josh what he thought about it. It turned out that he had the same desire. They agreed to pursue it immediately, before they had kids. Google led them to Reach Beyond’s CHILI program. After a period of prayer and consultation, they applied.

“We left our engineering jobs in Houston, sold most of our things and flew to Ecuador to begin the next two years of our life!” Jessi says.

The Josh and Jessi joined a team of five and trained for six months in Shell, Ecuador. The team would spend two weeks in the classroom and the third in the jungle, installing water systems. At the end of the training Josh and Jessi flew back to the States for a week and then moved to Central Asia.

Installation of a spring capture clean water systemFour members of the CHILI team, three engineers and a physiotherapist, served in Central Asia; the other one stayed in Ecuador to write materials for the next CHILI program. The engineers worked on water projects suggested by a partner ministry in the area, but they also sought out projects on their own. Many of these fell through because the villages did not follow up. 

While they waited, Josh and Jessi began to adjust to their new city. To get around, most people walk or take a minivan ride-share, for about 15 cents.

Josh and Jessi originally assumed they would be learning Russian, but soon understood why they were told to learn the local language instead. People Jessi met on the street initiated civil conversations in Russian but immediately brightened when she responded in their heart language. “We had so many great encounters,” she says.

During one village project, Josh and Jessi stayed with a Muslim lady for two weeks and again whenever they came back for a visit. They had some spiritual conversations, and she knew what Josh and Jessi believed. But nothing seemed to change in her heart. Jessi’s language teacher, a former Muslim, told her to be patient because conversion takes a long time.

During their residency, the lady’s brother-in-law died. Jessi and Josh spent hours with her and her family during the 40 days of mourning. She later told their translator that they were “people of light.”

Eventually, after a series of setbacks and waiting, a village among a major unreached people group in the area showed interest in the CHILI team’s offer. They had previously installed a system to catch water from the springs, but it was not protected from bugs and debris. The village wrote, “You don’t even have to come. Just send us the plans.”

welcoming guests before dinner

When the CHILI team arrived, the local point person had coordinated all the logistics. The team had none of the usual hassle of requesting a cement truck or enlisting workers. The locals knew exactly how to procure the materials and manpower. All the team had to supply was the geotextile for filtering the water. The project took only two days, and the team had time to relax and get to know their hosts.

The team shared their faith with the community, and, as Muslims, the people respected the CHILI team’s reverence for God. The father of the man who organized the water project said he wanted to read the Quran and the Bible together. His son said, “I call myself a Muslim, but I am actually undecided.” He asked for a Bible, because he liked what the team had told him about Jesus. So, when the CHILI team returned to the village later, they brought a Quran and a Bible.

“When I joined CHILI, I thought I was going to be walking into needy villages, filling their needs with my ‘amazing’ engineering skills and hopefully getting a chance to share some of Jesus’ love with them along the way,” Jessi says. “But God has been using this time to teach me that when I am with these people, my engineering work is not the top priority. The number one priority is learning how to love them.”

Jessi would advise anyone considering missions to be open-minded and teachable. “Things are always changing, and God is always showing us something,” she says. “Be excited about whatever God has for you.”




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