Engineering and missions united for Randy Larsen 20 years ago through ministry with EMI from Guatemala to the Gaza Strip:
Where was God leading me? 1999 found me torn, struggling to finish my engineering studies, when my heart’s desire was to be in ministry.
Until that point, I had never imagined those paths could cross, let alone unite into a singular focus. I first saw the original EMI logo on an elaborate, hand-sketched master plan hanging on a wall at the Principe de Paz home for girls in Guatemala.
During that mission trip, I listened to the missionary’s testimony and desire to provide a refuge for homeless children. Those carefully planned lines on paper were being transformed into the buildings outside—a place of healing.
There was a similar change happening inside of me. Seeing the EMI masterplan helped illuminate my own path toward a greater purpose. A path that would use my engineering education and budding passion for missions!
Soon after, I traveled to Nicaragua to serve disabled children in unimaginable poverty. We visited a family who lived under a black tarp propped up against a demolished wall. They had only plastic trash to burn for cooking fuel and the noxious smell and heat were unbearable.
At EMI Guatemala we used to say, ‘If you could send one civil engineer to help now, you wouldn't need to send ten doctors later.’
We found a severely disabled 3-year-old girl, who lay on a blanket against the cooler concrete. My job, as the mute English-speaker, was only to hold this baby girl in my arms. Her eyes were glossed-over and her tiny body stunted from lack of nutrition. Feeling helpless, I just held her and prayed. She couldn’t return my gaze, but she did respond to my embrace. What more could I do?
Three weeks later, she died from dysentery and my heart broke, deeply. Thousands of children die every day worldwide from water-related illness—unfathomable! That girl’s easily-preventable death gave resolute purpose to this young civil engineer’s life, and that question, ‘What more can I do, Lord?’ still drives me today.
A drink from any well might quench thirst for a day, but it’s the Living Water that satisfies our deepest need. I describe it as the two hands of the Gospel message, which is what EMI offers with every project: Quality technical design to meet the needs of the poor joined with proclaiming the Good News of Jesus Christ!
“Each of you should use whatever gift you have received to serve others, as faithful stewards of God's grace in its various forms.” – 1 Peter 4:10 (NIV)
That vision was taking shape in my life as I began my journey with EMI. In 2001, I jumped at the opportunity to help start EMI’s second international office in Guatemala. I sold my pickup to buy a one-way ticket and only started raising financial support after I had landed in-country.
Today, I help train and equip about 25 onboarding missionaries and families each year, ensuring they are fully-funded and well-prepared to accomplish their unique, God-given calling. Together with thousands of supporters, we impact lives through ministry projects that bless generations!
One remarkable project was the dramatic transformation of a refugee community in Guatemala. The devastation of Hurricane Mitch had left hundreds of families slipping through bureaucratic cracks, hopeless under a sea of tarps and corrugated metal shelters. Feeling apprehensive, I was assigned to lead an EMI project for this large refugee community.
Both Guatemalan and North American design professionals teamed up to plan the detailed infrastructure, including a bridge, a church, and a clinic. And, after four long years of helping to manage construction, the community began to rise up.
Their mentality changed from looking for handouts to possessing a deep sense of pride in all that they had accomplished. The barefoot children who had once begged for candy, shoes, and dollars now offered me a stick of their gum. Success!
Returning ten years later, I was amazed to find almost every home built from masonry block, boasting bright colors. Many had expanded up another story and street-front businesses were everywhere. While this community and their church still face many challenges, it paints a hopeful picture of what every EMI project has the potential to become through partnership.
After seven years in Guatemala, my heart’s desire turned to seeking those least-reached with the gospel. This gave birth to the start of EMI’s Middle East and North Africa (MENA) office, where I served as founding director for six years.
Our team, together with local believers and ministries, took one of EMI’s most strategic steps of faith. The location and culture challenged me spiritually and personally, but my greatest encouragement is to see God working powerfully in the lives of those earnestly seeking Him.
Looking back at nearly 50 projects from Guatemala to the Gaza Strip, I see the multitude of faces whose lives are changed now and forever. Looking ahead to my third decade with EMI, I see the needs in our world still increasing.
My prayer remains to have the grace and the passion to continue asking, ‘What more can I do, Lord?’