“Serve as a missionary engineer or be a tentmaker.”

How well I remember my friend, Lawrence Emory, a civil engineer with a theological degree, working with the Presbyterians in Colombia. He was a pioneer, delighting in taking his half-ton truck into the remotest backwoods areas. He carried a sledge hammer and a huge iron spike to which he attached the winch on his truck to pull himself out of mud holes or across streams. I don’t know how many church buildings he designed and erected, but a lot. Often he carried a tent and boards for benches in his vehicle and set it up for evangelistic services in which he or young Colombians he was training would preach. 

Lawrence was basically a missionary engineer; he used his engineering through a mission organization. Look into Engineering Ministries International to explore going this route. EMI supports missions and indigenous ministries in developing countries by sending engineers, architects, and related design professionals on project trips to design facilities such as orphanages, medical centers, and clean water projects.

Some relief and development ministries, such as World Vision and World Concern World Concern, also seek people like you with technical know-how.

You can also use your engineering skills as “tentmaker.” A tentmaker is a bi-vocational missionary who may be self-supporting financially, but whose main purpose is to be in a cross-cultural context for the purpose of sharing the gospel. If this is your interest, you might begin by contacting Global Intent. They list as their goal: “to mobilize and equip missions-committed Christians to serve abroad as effective tentmakers, especially in countries of greatest spiritual need.” They claim they can find jobs for almost anyone.

Answer from Jack Voelkel, missionary-in-residence with the Urbana Student Mission Convention; originally published on the Urbana website. Previously Jack served thirty years with Latin America Mission in Peru and Columbia. Find other answers and articles from Jack and others on the Urbana blog.

Editor’s Note: See also Missionary TECH Team, an organization that exclusively does technical and design support for other ministries all over the world.

“Help people learn to use locally available resources in new ways.”

Working on a team that also includes medical, agricultural, and theological specialists, engineers empower people to use locally available resources while discipling them to follow Jesus with their whole life. Imagine designing a rain collection system, a clean water system, or an enclosed oven, and teaching people how to teach others to do the same. These projects can save people’s lives from dirty water, dehydration, and burns from open-fire ovens. This is what it can look like to disciple people holistically, with a vision of seeing a whole community transformed by the gospel.

Answer from Steve, who serves with Mission: Moving Mountains.

“Design or carry out projects for mission hospitals, schools, and more.”

Numerous projects all over the world need the expertise of an engineer. For example, we are currently looking for someone to plan the system of waste water disposal and supervising its construction at a hospital in Niger. Many similar opportunities are available all over.

Answer from Dick, who has served for thirteen years with SIM, including time in Nigeria.

“Be a witness to whom others can relate.”

I’m an industrial engineer, with a Ph.D., and came to Italy as a “tentmaker” working for a US company. Even though Italy is not a “creative access” country, there are still excellent reasons for going the tentmaking route. Generally middle and high level management, engineering, and other technical jobs are the ones that US companies fill overseas with expatriates. If your goal is to get to the mission field as a tentmaker, engineering could be a great springboard.

After several years I decided that the opportunities for the traditional, “full-time” missionary were so great that I left my engineering job. In many countries, where doors for traditional missions work are less open, I would have kept it. Even here, I still work (in another job) part-time so that I can honestly tell people that I’m an English teacher and translator, rather that saying, “I’m a missionary.” What most Catholics here hear when you say that is, “After I’ve finished destroying your culture, I’d like to help you change your religion to that of my non-Christian cult.” 

Have a job you can explain helps others relate to you. And that helps you build relationships and share your faith.

Answer from Jay, who has served in Italy for ten years.

“Engineers are needed in the least-reached countries.”

Your skills are needed where Christ’s name has not been heard! We have helped many engineers go to these places, using their work skills to model integrity and form friendships. The opportunities for engineers are huge.

But I would caution you against going before you have had a chance to build a support network back home through your church and also to get some training. 

Answer from Ari Rocklin, who served for six years in Asia and North Africa and then became international director of Global Intent.

“Be willing to use your engineering skills on the side, and consider other fields that require similar analytical skills.”

I am a former civil engineer. I had committed my life totally to the Lord at a Bible camp when I was 12, but after high school and a year of Bible college, I did not feel that the Lord was leading me into full-time Christian ministry. I went to engineering school. After graduating I worked several years in engineering before seeing the Lord wanted me in some kind of Christian work. I quit my job and went to seminary. My wife Suzanne and I ended up in Irian Jaya doing church planting and Bible translation.

We work in a primitive area and the jungle mountains of Irian Jaya have no roads at all. My engineering training came in very handy in planning and supervising jungle airstrips for Missionary Aviation Fellowship and other mission planes to use. We also put in a small hydroelectric power plant. Many other things we have done or helped other missionaries do were made easier by that engineering training!

Many missionaries, obviously, do not have such skills, so it is very good to have someone with such a background in various fields. Effective missionary work involves a lot of partnership.

Talk to various mission agencies and information sharing services about opportunities to use your training, directly. If the Lord does not open up something along those lines, choose to work in some significant spiritual ministry in some less developed area of the world. There will inevitably be opportunities to use your training, even if you do not use it constantly or extensively. 

I always encourage those involved in engineering or mathematics fields to consider Bible translation. The same analytical skills used in those fields are vital for Bible translation, which I consider one of the most significant ministries of all! What can we do that is more significant than providing God’s Word for the first time for a whole people group or language group?! God can continue to use his Word within that group, with or without missionaries!

Answer from Roger, who serves with CrossWorld (formerly UFM) in Irian Jaya.

“Electrical, RF, and mechanical engineers can work in missions radio.”

has internships, short-term projects and long-term opportunities to serve God by using your engineering skills. They need engineers to construct, maintain, and upgrade their world-wide network of antennas and transmitters. What a great way to make a global impact in 230 languages and 160 countries.

Answer from Alan, who has served for 20 years with TWR and Pioneers in the U.S. and Thailand.TWR