Doctors and teachers have a clear place in mission, but what about waste management consultants? We spoke to Ben, a waste management consultant based in the UK, who has been using his professional skills in a series of short-term trips to Mongolia, to find out more.
What got you interested in short term mission?
My family. Two of my older sisters went on short-term mission trips, inspiring me to consider doing the same. Later, I went on a trip to Budapest with OM and enjoyed that, so I’d got a taste for mission.
My wife and I also felt called to use our professional skills for God’s glory. Isaiah 61:1 was an important verse for us as it shows a calling to the broken hearted and poor in spirit. We felt our skills should not be kept for our society and ourselves alone, but shared. We had also received prophecies and believed that God was saying that he had a place for us in his mission.
That place became clearer for me over time. In my profession, I see waste as a resource rather than a liability, but I believe that’s true on a spiritual level too. In the beginning God said his creation was ‘very good’, meaning it probably wasn’t filled with rubbish. So part of bringing God’s kingdom ‘on earth as it is in heaven’ means looking after creation. And that means disposing of waste well.
As we prayed and discussed the options, we realised that God could use our skills in his mission without us becoming traditional, full-time missionaries, so we approached various organisations to see how we could serve short term.
Why go to Mongolia?
‘It wasn’t my first choice!’ Ben laughs. ‘Sri Lanka would have been nice and warm! All the other organisations we spoke to would take my wife and use her teaching skills, but they didn’t know what to do with a waste manager! But in Mongolia, OMF had a place for her and recognised a waste problem and had the capacity to use me.
What was the first trip like?
Initially I went for three weeks to see what opportunities there would be to use my skills. It was the end of winter, so it was a tough time to go and there were some frustrating things, but my overall impression was positive and that there was a surprising amount I could do.
How have the repeat trips worked and what kind of things have you been doing?
I’ve now been out to Mongolia three times for around three weeks at a time because, from a practical point of view, it’s an easy amount of time to get off work, and to get permission from my wife and child!
I’ve been involved in helping set up and develop three waste management projects that are now proving really successful and are supporting a gifted local evangelist and his alcohol recovery ministry. They were burning coal to heat their buildings, but I noticed that a large amount of cardboard and pine-nut-shell waste was available. Pressing these rich carbon products into briquettes created a much cheaper and cleaner alternative to coal.
Once they started making these briquettes, they quickly used the cardboard within the local area. So setting up the first formal recycling collection service in the area was a good way to get more cardboard and collect other recyclables. So better waste management reduces air pollution and increases recycling, helps the ministry become financially self-supporting and provides employment for those on the programme, enabling them to move on. It’s all part of the gift of new life that Jesus offers for those on the programme.
The third project supporting the recovery ministry turns animal fats, which are plentiful in Mongolia, into soap. On my return visits I’ve been helping develop this project. By adding essential oils, the soap is becoming a product tourists might buy. These sales increase the project’s income, but essential oils are expensive and have to be imported, so on my next visit, I’m planning on taking a distillation kit to them
so they can distil the oils from local products.
The local, long-term team does most of the legwork on these projects, but I come alongside on a regular basis and help develop the projects with equipment or training and they can always email me for advice. There are definitely opportunities for someone like me with professional skills to come regularly as a kind of ‘long-term, short-termer’ and support long-term workers.
How do you see your work fitting into broader gospel ministry?
Recently I’ve been reading Michael Frost’s book Surprise the World. It looks at how part of mission is to bless, or strengthen, others. So I see my ministry as blessing not just creation or the people who are running the programmes out in Mongolia, but also the people that are on those programmes. I don’t see myself as an evangelist like J.John standing up in front of thousands of people, but I can equip and bless people, like the local evangelist who leads the projects, by using my skills.
What advice would you give to anyone considering a Serve Asia trip?
If you’re considering it, just go for it!