From Engineering to the Amazon: Find God’s Call

By Ellen Drees

“Oh Lord my God, when I in awesome wonder, consider all the worlds Thy hands have made; I see the stars, I hear the rolling thunder, Thy power throughout the universe displayed,” were the words that went through my head as I looked up at the pinpricks of stars that lit up the Amazonian night sky, as I looked out across the mighty Amazon River when the sun rose and the wind whipped my hair, and as I stood atop the canopy walkway at 120 feet, soaking in the green vista.

Ellen Drees

But how did a University of Texas (UT) civil engineering student like me end up with a LEAD internship and go to the Peruvian Amazon? My life has been interwoven with the ELCA since birth and with LEAD since its inception. I started considering a LEAD internship in August of 2014 after having a conversation about it with my mom while hiking in Colorado. I was unconvinced, though. What do I as an engineer have to offer to LEAD? I’m not going to go into seminary, youth ministry, or really any occupation related to the church. Through my internship and conversations I’ve had with LEAD staff and others, I’ve adopted a different viewpoint.

When people ask me what I’ve been doing with LEAD this summer, my answer is: A little bit of everything! I have been helping with the LEAD website, including starting a new section for book recommendations, taking pictures at LEAD events like Camp Hope Base Camp, and sorting pictures for LEAD. I travelled to visit the other interns, took pictures of them, and developed a series of pictures and a video describing their day-to-day roles. I also was a co-leader for the LEAD Peru Pilgrimage. I helped with the group in Lima, and led a group to Iquitos and the Amazon Jungle, serving as the organizer of the church visit and translator. I am incredibly blessed to say that this was my 6th time in Peru.

I differentiate from the other LEAD interns because I am not seeking long term employment in any of the work that I have been doing this summer. Although I will be looking for an internship related to engineering next summer, I still believe that I found part of my call this summer. My mentor, Chris Hicks, gave me a Franciscan Blessing to start our time together – one of the lines that stuck out to me was “May God bless you with enough foolishness to believe that you really can make a difference in this world, so that you are able, with God’s grace, to do what others claim cannot be done.” UT’s motto is “What starts here changes the world.” I am a great believer in the ability of every human to do great things in this world that create a lasting impression: a footprint in the sand that does not wash away.

I found that what I have played with as hobbies can leave a great impact if I shape what I do in the right way. I can use my photography, my newfound webpage skills, and my heart for mission in Peru and other places to make a difference in the world. I can do all of this through a great God who allows people’s light to shine through in their talents. I am always looking for opportunities to grow my skills while growing leaders. As a female in engineering, I think leadership skills are extremely important, and the church is a great place to develop the necessary tools. LEAD’s mission is so incredibly important in a chaotic world where the growth of many churches is halted and stagnant ideas disillusion faithful young people.

When I was finishing Confirmation in 8th Grade, I wrote a faith statement that culminated in the phrase “Simple faith in a great God.” I have simple faith that our great God will continue to guide me along my journey as I leave the sacred space of this summer. As I reflect on wrapping up my amazing internship experience, I am grateful for my mentor Chris, the rest of the LEAD staff, the people who joined me on the Peru pilgrimage, and the other interns with whom I have grown strong friendships. Now the words that go through my head are “Then sings my soul, my Savior God to Thee, how great Thou art, how great Thou art!”

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