Meet Caitlin Terry from South Jersey, USA.
Caitlin is a gifted engineer on a Christ set mission. Her not so typical travelling bags are packed with metal tubing and drilling machinery, enabling her to travel to different parts of the world helping local communities source for water.
Though well equipped to help provide a basic need to many, Caitlin’s most important travelling tool penetrates more than the earth’s crust, is drenched in the gospel of truth and gives access to the source of this life and our eternal life: Jesus Christ.
BRIEFLY TELL ME HOW YOU BECAME A CIVIL ENGINEER.
Cait: I became a civil engineer sort of by accident. I chose the degree of study, but it wasn’t my first choice. I had planned to study meteorology, but when I was 17 my mother was diagnosed with breast cancer and she passed away a year later.
I decided to go to a university that was closer to my dad and my little sister, but meteorology wasn’t offered. I was good at math and science and was told that I should try engineering; it wasn’t easy and there where so many times I wanted to quit, I didn’t like it at all. Then one day my dad said to me, “Maybe you can use it to help people – you can build bridges in Africa”. That idea stuck with me and I started to see my future in engineering from a better perspective.
BRIEFLY TELL ME HOW YOU CAME TO CHRIST.
Cait: I grew up in a Christian household and was raised by parents who loved Jesus and showed that love to others. They were a great example to me as I grew up and I accepted Christ as my personal Saviour when I was young. It hasn’t been an easy road, however God has always been with me.
I can also see my past as a carefully guided path. I ended up as an engineer in a non-traditional way, which eventually changed my entire direction in life.
WITH SO MANY COUNTRIES IN NEED HOW DO YOU DECIDE WHERE TO GO?
Cait: I am always invited into a community. The invitation is coordinated either by national NGOs, local missionaries or partnering US aid agencies. These communities are requesting help and/or training with regard to safe water, sanitation and hygiene education.
Because I go to so many different countries over the course of a year, it might seem like I just hop around and show up in communities unannounced like a drill-rig-carrying-salesman. Deciding where to go can actually take up to a year in research, communication with the community and prayer for guidance. My process follows a “who, what, warnings, when, how” check-list.
Once I get a request to help in a community I have to research the surface and geological conditions to see if our drilling equipment will be suitable or if we will need to find alternative solutions for accessing water, such as rain or spring catchment, and storage. The geological research also helps me determine what type of latrines would be appropriate. After that, I research the culture to see if they have accepted or would be accepting of the type of latrine; the types of latrines I can work with depend on the traditions, habits, patterns or beliefs of the culture.
I diligently follow the conditions of the proposed project country with regard to safety. In addition to our State Department Travel Warnings, I follow the world news as best as I can for each of the countries.
The time of the year that the project is scheduled is based on their “dry season” because it is the best time to drill while the ground water is at the lowest point, so water will remain in the well year-round. I also have to work around the schedules of my host communities. They have seasons where they are planting or harvesting, so in order to have community involvement I have to be aware of their schedules.
You can start to see now how it can take about a year from when I get the request, to when I actually get to the community.
HOW DO YOU SUPPORT THE WORK YOU DO?
Cait: Donations support everything I do. Most of the time, I don’t need to raise funds for a specific project because I use monthly donations for the materials, but sometimes a project is just too big (El Salvador Spring Catchment) and I have to find additional funding. I have used social media crowd-funding; “A Place to Poo” for a large latrine project in Panama and “Gift a Goat” for the livestock program in Haiti, sold original photos at small galleries, bookstores, coffee shops, online and I have even had bake sales to help support projects.
WHEN YOU VISIT A NEW PLACE HOW DO YOU ENGAGE THE PEOPLE AROUND YOU WHEN SPEAKING OR TEACHING ABOUT CHRIST?
Cait: I am working alongside Christian NGOs, national pastors and missionaries; I am there to support their ministry to the local communities with my skills in water/sanitation and hygiene. I do share Christ with those I am working with side-by-side because they are always curious as to why I would stay with them and help and I am able to talk about how much God loves them. When we have closing ceremonies, I use that time to share whatever God puts on my heart for that particular community. During those ceremonies, I always have a translator so that my words are clearly understood.
AS A FEMALE CIVIL ENGINEER WHAT ARE SOME OF THE CULTURAL CHALLENGES YOU HAVE FACED ON YOUR TRAVELS AND HOW DO YOU HANDLE THEM?
Cait: I have to be very careful with where I work and how I work with communities. I have found that working in certain cultures is not appropriate for me to lead as a woman. It isn’t that I can’t do it, I have done it, however I have learned that I have to be considerate of the best way for people to hear about Jesus. If there is anything blocking that message based on their traditions or religions, I need to respect that. Even in villages that have a higher respect for females, I still face challenges every time I present a new idea, but I work with the men and we eventually work it all out.
I had a particular project once where I felt so defeated by my inability to connect with my team of locals that I asked God why he gave me a passion and skill in well drilling. I wondered why I wasn’t talented in sewing or cooking or another skill that I could teach women. I am passionate about improving the health of the entire community with water sanitation and hygiene education, but the only time I interact with women is during the hygiene education. I was sent Philippians 1:6 by a fellow teammate who knew about my internal struggle with my missionary skill set and it reminded me that God started this in me. I wasn’t even planning to be an engineer but here I was, an engineer in a different country working in a field that only God could have planned.
WHAT HAS BEEN YOUR FAVOURITE PROJECT TO WORK ON AND WHY?
Cait: Every project is so unique with different highs and lows. It is hard to pick a favourite, but a couple of my favourite communities are in Guatemala and El Salvador.
WHAT IS THE BIGGEST CHALLENGE YOU HAVE FACED IN YOUR JOURNEY WITH CHRIST SO FAR?
Cait: Losing my mom; I was so sure she would be healed. Even watching her take her last breath didn’t hit me at first because I expected that she would still be alright in the end. I never got angry with God, but I did struggle to trust Him for many years after.
THROUGHOUT YOUR TIME SERVING GOD IN IMPOVERISHED COUNTRIES AROUND THE WORLD, WHAT IS THE BIGGEST CHANGE HE HAS CREATED IN YOU?
Cait: He has made me stronger, emotionally. I am a rather passive person and dislike confrontations, however I have had to be tough with people sometimes to do what is right. I never would have imagined myself being able to sit across from a local leader in South Sudan and tell him no to his demands, but I did.
I sometimes have to be firm when communities just want a hand-out and not a hand-up. It is so much easier to just give people what they ask for, but I have learned over the years that we need to equip, educate and train people to be able to care for themselves. You know the “teach a man to fish” quote, that’s what it is about in development.
WHAT ARE SOME LESSONS THAT CHRIST IS TEACHING YOU NOW?
Cait: He is teaching me that I need to keep my time with Him as a priority. It is so easy to get caught up in the work here and be too tired to read or pray before or after a long day of work. Transition into being a missionary was harder then I thought because I felt like if I wasn’t working all the time, I wasn’t worth it to my supporters. I felt like project progress would validate me and I burnt out quickly. I realized that I was validated by God and God alone. I still make progress, but if I fail, I fail. I am following God’s lead in where I go and what I do and if I am going to follow properly, He needs to be a priority.
DO YOU HAVE ANY ADVICE FOR YOUNG MISSIONARIES AND CHRISTIANS IN GENERAL?
Cait: Keep God up front in your daily life. It is so easy to get caught up in the tasks and to-do lists, no matter where you are living. It is so easy to think that the project you are working on is more important than spending a time in prayer or studying your bible. We need to finish the race set before us and we can’t do it if we burn out.
If you are interested in any of Caitlin’s projects please check out her website www.howmanycows.com