Posts tagged ‘USA’

July 8, 2013


Photo by Leah Wills

Photo by Leah Wills

For the long weekend I went with a group of church friends to hike in the Adirondacks near Lake Placid, New York.  We car camped at a small campground called Wilmington Notch and did two day trip hikes.  I have learned stuff about the Adirondack mountains.  Supposedly there are 46 high peaks (those over 4000 ft) in the Adirondacks and hard-core hikers try to summet them all.  We only had time and energy for 3.  On the first day we hiked the 36th highest peak called Cascade and the 38th highest peak called Porter.  I think we walked thirteen or fourteen kilometers that first day.  It was raining for most of the day and the path was very muddy!  There was a lot of jumping from rock to rock and I felt sometimes like I was in a video game or something.  My feet and legs were absolutely soaked and muddy before we were even halfway up the mountain!  The next day we hiked the 10th highest peak called Gothics.  To hike this one we had to cut through a golf club, and unfortunately had to make quite a long approach (3.5 miles one way) along a road to the base of the mountain path because the bus that traversed the same route was for club members only.  We walked some 22 km that day and my legs were rubber by the end of it!  The hike that day was harder but more interesting than the first day and also less muddy because it didn’t rain too much.  For the last mile we were literally climbing, grabbing onto rocks and roots to help hoist ourselves up.  It was my upper body and not my lower body that was sore the next few days!  It was well worth it though.  We reached the top of a secondary peak called Pyramid, and an amazing view opened up to us at the last moment.  It was amazing and we felt like we were on top of the world!  When I visit places like this it always reminds me of the might and majesty of God, that He created these mountains and he can move them, and also that he had pleasure in creating this earth and looked over all he had made and said that it was very good.


Photo by Leah Wills

Photo by Leah Wills

Photo by Leah Wills


Photo by Leah Wills



Photo by Leah Wills

November 19, 2012

ACDP Conference

Last weekend I attended eMi’s ACDP Conference 2012 (Association of Christian Design Professionals).  When I found out that the conference was being held in Grand Rapids, I knew that I had to go because there would be no reason not to.  I knew that it would be a good opportunity to network with other Christian architects and engineers, to stay connected with eMi, and also to reconnect with colleagues that I worked with in Uganda.  I only had one problem and that was of how to get there.  I thought that I would be able to take the bus, but soon realized that it would be even more inconvenient than usual.  What would only be a six hour drive from Toronto would be a ten hour bus ride and a twelve hour return, not to mention a lengthy transfer in Detroit of all places!  I also couldn’t take my parents’ van, and I was beginning to consider the option of renting a vehicle.  Then I thought to myself; “this is eMi we’re talking about!  Why don’t I just ask if there is anyone coming from Toronto?!”.  That’s exactly what I did, and the Lord answered my prayer.  With only one day before the conference, I got connected with a guy coming to the conference from London.  We simply arranged that I bus to London, and we headed off from there.  It turned out he was a civil engineering student from UWO and a really nice guy!

The conference itself was excellent and I was very blessed to have gone.  We arrived Thursday at around dinner time and that evening had an introduction to a Distaster Response course that I signed up and came a day early for.  What it is essentially is a group of responsible design professionals who have agreed to be ‘on call’ so to speak, ready with only a week’s notice to come to the aid of a ministry with technical assistance in the event of a natural disaster.  The whole day Thursday was the Disaster Response training where we learned about the DR ministry, and also took the State of California’s ‘Post-Disaster Safety Assessment Program’ (SAP).  The purpose of the program is to train evaluators to learn how to assess buildings after the event of a disaster to determine if they are safe or unsafe to occupy (there is also an option for restricted entry).  The main goal of the program is to get as many people safely back into their homes as possible after an earthquake.  It is often the case that people will remain outside their homes, even though they are often safe.  We learned the telltale signs of structural failure, as well as the places to find them, and even went through some case studies.  The course was enlightening, however difficult to totally comprehend the destruction that results from these disasters.

Thursday evening was the beginning to the actual conference, and all day Friday there were a series of larger talks, worship times, and smaller break-out sessions.  Because I was already familiar with eMi, I went to more of the technical and detail-focused break-out sessions.  In the morning I went to one seminar about how to treat water in the developing world context, and another about the cholera epidemics that recently occurred in Haiti and Seirra Leone, how ‘Cholera Treatment Centers’ are designed and function, and how a few eMi volunteers assisted in relief work in both places.  Here is a cool video that was produced by the ‘Global Health Media Project’ that shows the story of cholera in a very clear way.

In the afternoon I went to a break-out about how master plan design is approached in the developing world (with examples of eMi master planning projects – the project I worked on in the DRC included), and one last one about Biodigesters which are a technology used to capture and harness the methane gas from human, animal, and other organic waste.  The gas can be used for cooking, heating, lighting, or running a generator.  I later discovered that even Toronto  has many initiatives underway using anaerobic digesters, including the Toronto Zoo.

On Sunday morning we headed back home.  Not only did I learn a lot about some very interesting topics, I got to reconnect with some absolutely amazing people (you guys ;) know who you are and it was so great to see you again!), and I was also spiritually filled.  I was again reminded that I want to use my abilities for God’s overall purpose, even though I’m not sure yet where my place or role is to best do that.  Here are some great words that I got from the weekend.

“Prayer is surrender – surrender to the will of God and cooperation with that will. If I throw out a boathook from the boat and catch hold of the shore and pull, do I pull the shore to me, or do I pull myself to the shore? Prayer is not pulling God to my will, but the aligning of my will to the will of God.” – Eli E. Stanley Jones

“If you do away with the yoke of oppression, with the pointing of finger and malicious talk, and if you spend yourselves in behalf of the hungry and satisfy the needs of the oppressed, then your light will rise in the darkness, and your night will become like the noonday.  The Lord will guide you always; he will satisfy your needs in a sun-scorched land and will strengthen your frame.  You will be like a well-watered garden, like a spring whose waters never fail.  Your people will rebuild the ancient ruins and will raise up the age-old foundations; you will be called Repairer of Broken Walls, Restorer of Streets with Dwellings.”  – Isaiah 58:9-12

“It’s not rocket surgery!” – Rose McPherson concerning all things related to civil engineering :D

September 16, 2012

New York City

The next morning it was time to head to the next destination:  New York City.  The other guy who ended up visiting Boston at the same time as me was also planning to head to NYC and so I ended up giving him a ride.  The first excitement of the day was nearly having my van towed because of local rules for street cleaning in Cambridge.  Yikes!  We headed out at nine in the morning with plans to stop in New Haven on the way so that I could check out Yale.  We arrived two hours later and Yale also had a beautiful campus and great facilities.  They didn’t offer a tour though which was too bad, but there was someone there who was able to answer my questions.  We also quickly stopped in on the building across the street which is the Yale University Art Gallery, designed by architect Louis Kahn.

After grabbing lunch we began the second half of our journey to New York City.  The directions and roadways got more and more confusing and so it was very helpful having someone in the passenger seat!  The traffic conditions were good and we arrived smoothly to Manhattan and found the parking garage I had looked up in advance.  It was certainly strange to leave my keys with a valet, but many garages in NYC are small and have lifts that stack parked cars one above the other.  Crazy!  Because I wasn’t going to meet my next contact until closer to the evening, I walked with my Boston friend up to Time Square and hung out for a few hours and had beers with some friends of his.  Soon it was time for me to leave and find the apartment of the friend that I would be staying with for the next two nights.  I took the subway so that I didn’t have to walk too far again with my heavy bag, and didn’t have any trouble finding her.  She is an awesome girl who is the friend of a fellow intern that I met in Uganda.  One of her housemates joined us and we went out to a restaurant in Alphabet City that made excellent southern food, and then had a chill evening at home just chatting and relaxing.

The following day was similar to the second day in Boston.  I went out on a day trip to discover Manhattan and visit Columbia University’s graduate school of architecture.  I started there on the Northwest side of Manhattan, and spend the morning wandering down through Central Park.  I stopped at the Guggenheim Museum (Frank Lloyd Wright), the Whitney Museum of American Art (Marcel Breuer), and the new Apple Store (Bohlin Cywinski Jackson).  After walking the entire length of central park, I finally got on the subway to check out the far lower West Side neighborhood of Chelsea and the newly developed High Line (Field Operations/Diller Scofidio + Renfro)  The High Line was probably my favourite site of the day.  It is a one mile stretch of what used to be a raised rail line, that has been redeveloped into an urban park.  It offered new and surprising views of the surrounding city, was full of activity, and has a very coherent and beautifully thought-out design.  I also checked out the Chelsea market which is an enclosed urban food court, shopping mall, office building, and television production facility that was formally the National Biscuit Company factory complex (where Oreo cookies were born).  I got on the subway one more time and arrived at the financial district where I got a view of the One World Trade Center (David Childs/Daniel Libeskind) under construction, but was disappointed to discover that I needed a ticket obtained in advance to see the National September 11 Memorial & Museum (Michael Arad/Peter Walker/Davis Brody Bond).  Until next time then.  I then headed to Battery park on the southern most tip of Manhatten, and saw the Statue of Liberty in the distance backed by the nearly setting sun.  By this point I was absolutely exhausted (my knee is still bothering me) and headed back to the apartment.  That night I cooked dinner for my hosts and some additional friends that they invited over.  We spent another fun evening at the apartment.

Because I didn’t need to leave New York right away in the morning, I set out to see yet a few more sites (or shall I say buildings) before I went to pick up my van.  I went to see the new Cooper Union building (Morphosis), the University Center (under construction) at the Parsons New School of Design, and lastly the New Museum of Contemporary Art (SANAA/Gensler).  Finally at noon I picked up the van and headed out of the city Princeton and then Philadelphia-bound.

September 16, 2012


I left on my road trip early Sunday morning in my parents minivan (stylin’ I know) bound for Boston.  The journey was around seven and a half hours – definitely the longest I’ve ever driven on my own.  I felt so strange crossing the border on my own in the van, with nothing but my few belongings in the back.  Some highlights along the way were stopping for Tim Hortons (I had mixed feelings of bliss and resentment), and passing a place called Canadaigua.  I also passed over some crazy awesome old steel bridges.  The toll roads took some getting used to, and I’m glad we don’t have those in Canada.  For some reason my GPS had reset itself or something and sent me to downtown Boston instead of Cambridge.  It was pretty crazy to drive through the downtown of that city, and there were a lot of underground stretches of highway.  Once in Cambridge it still took quite a while to get myself to a parking garage because of road closures.  Students, trees, brick buildings, and narrow one-way streets were EVERYWHERE.  I was disappointed to find that my phone didn’t want to work in the States (a slight oversight), and so I decided to walk to the place I was supposed to meet my CS host and try to call him on a pay phone.  Luckily after a few tries I was finally able to connect with him.  My CS host turned out to be a really nice guy.  I soon met his two other housemates and a visiting cousin who was staying over the same days as me.  That night we met up with a few other people and hit a couple of bars for food and drinks.

The next day we got up pretty early, and I headed out on a day trip while the others went to work.  I visited MIT and Harvard, and both schools were great.  Harvard was my favourite because they actually gave a formal tour and were much more friendly and welcoming, are a much bigger school, and have amazing facilities.  MIT had more the small town feel and instead of having an individual building, were mixed together in a large building with many other departments.  They were still good about answering my questions though and showing me around the maze of architecture rooms and studios.  Both the university campuses were gorgeous.

After all of those tours it was already mid-afternoon, but it wasn’t too late to do a quick jaunt around Boston.  I quickly mastered the subway and managed to see many of the sites and buildings that I wanted to see before I met up with the others again that evening.  I saw the Boston City Hall, a market area, the harbour front, the Institute of Contemporary Art (Diller Scofidio + Renfro), Trinity Church, the John Hancock tower (I. M. Pei & Partners), the Boston Public Library (Philip Johnson), and the Christian Science Plaza (I. M. Pei).  It was an awesome day.

That night our CS gang decided to go grocery shopping and then eat in.  We all chipped in and made delicious lasagna and enjoyed it over good wine, great conversation, and classic rock/pop music that eventually led to an in-house dance party of four.  Good times!

February 8, 2012

Garden of the Gods

I have now been in Uganda for two and a half weeks!  Time is already flying!  It feels as though it was a decade ago when on January 14th I flew down to Colorado Springs for a weeklong orientation with the 25 or so other interns who are serving at the other offices around the world.  It was an unforgettable week.  Near the end of my time in Colorado Springs, we visited a place called the ‘Garden of the Gods’ which is an area of large, beautiful red rock formations.  It was surreal and I could totally imagine a giant or some other fantastical creature plundering through the almost gravity defying landscape.  Already reflecting on orientation week at this time, I felt as though the week was like what it may have been like in the Garden of Eden, or a shadow of what heaven will be like:  being surrounded by a huge family of Christ followers, all with a passion to serve God with their gifts.  

During the week we did many activities together including cultural lessons and games, lessons about missions and the role of eMi, lessons for designing in a developing country, small group times, prayer times, outdoor hikes, and many other things.  The days were jamb packed and whenever I could get away between activities I would take time to process it all.  It was certainly a lot of information to take in in such a short time.  Not only was orientation week a dive into culture, design, and Biblical mandate, it was also a time of spiritual self-discovery.  By learning more about myself and studying my personality, my strengths, and my spiritual gifts, I was better able to see what my place might be in the work of the Kingdom.  I feel like my nomadic life over these past few years has prevented me from taking on spiritual leadership roles, that I have been in a season of being served and that I will soon move into a season when I will serve. 

I become melancholic when I think I might not see the people again who I got to know that week.  What an amazing group they are!  Their faces and enthusiasm are forever engrained in my memory!  I thank God that I was able to hear so many testimonies, both from young people like me, and professionals who have years of experience serving in missions and in their respective fields.  What a witness to God’s amazing intervention in people’s lives!  In formulating my own testimony, I have realized that God has indeed brought me to serve at eMi for a reason.  Not only will I be serving people in need by being here, I think that God will really stretch me in the process.  Already I am finding I have a greater dependence on God and am hungrier than ever for His Word.  I find that at home it is easier to ignore God and do things my own way, while here I have to depend on Him or I will be overwhelmed.

I find that I miss Colorado Springs a little bit.  It was a beautiful city, quite spread out with the consistent presence of the pre-Rockies looming in the distance.  It reminded me of my visit several years ago to Calgary.  I love mountains because their majestic presence reminds me that for God anything is possible (Matt 17:20).  We had a magnificent view of them from the place we were staying.  It can be easy to forget that creation too is God’s handiwork and that through it also He makes Himself known.  Some of my fondest memories from orientation week are the group hikes in the beautiful landscape, evenings in the hot-tub under the stars with a bunch of interns, and rocking out to music or chatting during car rides – a different set of people every time.  The week almost felt like a dream and I almost didn’t want it to end.  It was time however to do what I had been called to do.  After months of fretting, praying, pondering, fundraising, and at times freaking out, it was time to go serve with eMi in Uganda.  It was good preparation for what was to come.  I couldn’t imagine jumping right into things here in Uganda without taking a week to solely pause, reflect, and pray.

To any of you 2012 interns who are reading this, I miss you and all the very best!  I am praying for you all and your work with the other offices.  We must keep in touch!