Out of the Ashes // Kenya


When the fire started in the canteen on February 9th at Tenwek Hospital in Bomet, Kenya there was little they could do to stop it from engulfing the entire upper floor and roof of the building. This building also contained the hospital kitchen, statistics offices, laundry, sterilization and (of most concern) a small portion of the orthopedic ward. Staff rushed to evacuate patients from the building only to discover they had not been waiting around to be rescued. Patients with limited mobility managed to get out and get moving. Hospital beds and wheel chairs were later located far away from the hospital.


Praise God that no one was injured or killed by this fire.  Fearing that it would spread from one building to another in the congested campus, they began to dismantle the timber roof of the nearest building and made desperate efforts to beat back the flames with small water hoses and any fire extinguishers they could get their hands on. As disastrous as it was for this building to be destroyed, the results could have been much more traumatic if other adjacent clinical patient buildings had been affected. The results were about as good as they could have been for an event like this and it was clear that God’s hand of protection was present.

The fire left everyone at Tenwek Hospital well aware of how much worse this could have been and thanking God for sparing so many lives. The question that came to everyone’s mind is how they could prevent such a disaster from ever happening again. The potential for over reaction could be great, but in everyone’s mind, something must be done.


EMI has been a long time partner with Tenwek Hospital, helping them design several buildings and master plan the hospital campus. Shortly after the fire, Tenwek asked EMI to come help them plan for rehabilitation, consider impacts to the campus master plan and evaluate fire resiliency and preparedness. With plans already in place to come to Tenwek in the next few months to begin preparations for their new cardiothoracic center and water/wastewater system rehabilitation, we decided to move up our trip and help them make lemonade out of these lemons. So, myself and another EMI staff member left a few days later to assist them in whatever way possible.

Recovery from something like this is not fast, but the good news is that Tenwek hospital will recover and will be better off in the future. During our visit to Tenwek, we noticed that a couple simple construction techniques, like firewalls and replacing combustible materials, could be retrofitted into existing buildings to prevent fires from spreading and causing such a tremendous impact. They could also provide protection in high fire risk areas, such as kitchens that would stop fires from getting out of control.


In developing world design, many times it is hard to find a balance between what is necessary and what is ideal. In the US, we design to codes that help make buildings safe and functional. To expect this level of design and construction in most developing world contexts is not practical and often too costly. Instead, we normally have to make compromises in design standards that we would consider to be ideal in order to be appropriate for the context. At EMI, we explain this in terms of a development ladder. Our goal is not to take them from step 2 to step 10, but to incrementally increase safety and functionality in our designs. Step 3, step 4…etc. We look to find the practical things that they can do to improve using local labor, materials, and equipment and without dramatic increases in cost. This is engineering at its core. It is challenging, it is outside the normal confines, and it can also be very frustrating.

As we evaluated fire resiliency and preparedness at Tenwek Hospital, it became clear that we (EMI) have not always done a great job prioritizing and stressing the potential hazards of fires in our designs. Fire hazards at facilities like hospitals are especially high considering the concentration of people, many with restricted mobility. This was a wake up call for Tenwek, but it was also a wake up call for EMI. The building that burned at Tenwek Hospital was not an EMI designed building, but in all our years working at Tenwek and other mission hospitals, we have not often recommended major changes to existing structures just for fire resiliency. Granted, prioritization for such things would likely not be very high where budgets are tight, but we shouldn’t let that stop us from making such recommendations.


Now that news of this disaster at Tenwek Hospital has spread throughout mission hospitals in Kenya and sub Saharan Africa, awareness of fire hazards is likely increasing. EMI also recognizes this as an opportunity to share information with our many hospital clients so that they can be better prepared and more resilient for a similar disaster.


His Grace is Sufficient // Nepal Reflections

DSC_9250The people of Nepal have been gripped with fear as the aftershocks of a massive 7.8 earthquake have continued to shake the ground beneath them.  Rumors swarm as to when the next “BIG ONE” will hit while each ensuing tremor serves as a constant reminder of the buildings they saw crumble to the ground, injuring and killing thousands of their neighbors, friends and loved ones.   Not trusting the structure over their heads, families relocated to tents in clear spaces that would give some assurance of safety and rest for another day.

Just as some had begun to put their fears behind them, another large earthquake (7.3) shook those feelings right back to the surface.  I had arrived in Nepal with EMI’s first Disaster Response (DR) team a few days before this earthquake and I can honestly say that the shaking was unlike anything I had ever experienced.  After it was over, I went outside to assess the situation around me.  Birds were circling overhead and a cloud of dust hung in the air almost symbolic of the spirit of fear hovering over the people.  By the time I reached the streets, they were flooded with people.  Many were crying in disbelief that it was happening all over again as they held tightly to loved ones or frantically searched for evidence that their friends and family were safe.

The moment was surreal, but helped me empathize with the experience of the people I had come to serve.

Our EMI team had come to connect with partner ministries to provide technical assistance primarily through structural assessments of damaged buildings.  The evaluations gave many the assurance needed to move on, some to return to their homes and others, plans for rebuilding.


Earthquakes of this magnitude typically leave questions as to why some buildings are completely destroyed while similar structures seemed to be left undamaged.  Some of this can be explained by physical characteristics of the structures that are easy to identify by a trained eye, such as: simple structural techniques, the age of the structure, or slight differences in materials and/or workmanship.  There are also significant geological reasons why some areas have more intense shaking than others, which can be much harder to identify precisely without significant shake monitoring and geological studies.  Still there can even be anomalies outside of those causes that are even more difficult to explain.

Our team visited areas near the epicenters of the initial 7.8 magnitude earthquake and the 7.3 magnitude earthquake as well as many areas around Kathmandu valley and saw numerous things that were hard to explain.  For example, in Kathmandu, we anticipated that damages would be much greater than they were in many areas.  That is not to say there wasn’t considerable damage in some areas, but it wasn’t as widespread as we expected.  Kathmandu valley is a former lake bed, meaning the soils are expected to not be resistant to shaking.  However, not far from some of the historic sites of Kathmandu which received heavy damage and extensive media coverage were similar old multiple story buildings with large ground floor openings (soft stories with few rigid support walls) that were not built to any sort of earthquake resistant code but were still relatively undamaged.

My team was on the third story of an older building in this alley when the 7.3 magnitude earthquake hit

My team was on the third story of an older building in this alley when the 7.3 magnitude earthquake hit

Perhaps even more surprising was what we saw in Ghorka, only 12 miles from the epicenter of the initial earthquake.  The damage in this area was relatively insignificant compared to buildings that were of similar construction hundreds of miles away! Again, that is not to say there was no damage in this area, because there certainly was, but it was much less than other areas.

What made this difficult for our team was repeatedly getting the question, “Is this structure safe?” An honest answer to most was a resounding, “NO!” Most of them were not safe structures to be located in an earthquake prone area to begin with, but somehow they survived unscathed.  We could tell them that there was no immediate danger of it falling, but given another earthquake with greater shaking, it could easily fall just like those we had seen in other areas.  We could give some recommendations for strengthening the structure against future earthquakes, which could give them some level of peace but wouldn’t guarantee that it would survive another shake due to the many other structural weaknesses.  At the same time, we couldn’t recommend that they do massive upgrades or rebuilds because honestly there is not enough money available through the relief efforts or otherwise for them to replace every non-earthquake resistant structure.

Rock and mud mortar building in Ghorka with relatively no damage

Rock and mud mortar building in Ghorka with relatively no damage

Reconciling the collision of God’s sovereignty and grace can often be difficult for the limited capacity of our understanding.  It can be exceptionally challenging in the context of natural disasters which are largely indiscriminate in who they affect.

It is much easier to resolve such a thing in our minds when we can see God’s grace clearly surrounding only those who put their faith in Him, much like the Israelites who were passed over because they had the blood of the lamb over their doorposts.  While I am certain God’s grace is not absent in disasters, being a Christ follower doesn’t seem to delineate a clear line of safety. Further, it seems almost arrogant and insensitive to claim the grace of God for the unaffected, when others who were greatly affected are no less valuable as human beings.  Some are even committed followers of Christ.

…BUT God’s grace is certainly at work, even in a disaster or in suffering, and should be given due credit despite our understanding. After all, His grace is sufficient and His power is made perfect in our weakness (2 Corinthians 12:9).

As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts. (Isaiah 55:9)

As a testimony to God’s grace and sovereignty in concerted work through this disaster, the initial earthquake took place at mid-day on a Saturday.  This could not have happened at a better time in terms of preventing loss of life.  Saturday is the one day of the week in Nepal that kids do not go to school and in the middle of the day, most people are out of their homes.  I can tell you from the many schools that our team evaluated that the loss of life would have been tremendously greater if schools would have been in session when the earthquake occurred. This doesn’t lessen the value of the lives that were lost, but it should increase our faith in the all sufficient grace of God.

Praise God that these children’s lives were spared!

We know that in ALL things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been calledaccording to his purpose. (Romans 8:28)

Partially collapsed school in Ghorka

Partially collapsed school in Ghorka

Fully collapsed school in Sindhupalchok

Fully collapsed school in Sindhupalchok

Children playing on the rubble that fell into a school in Sindhupalchok. The steel structure survived, but if school had been in session then the children would have been crushed by the rock infill walls that collapsed.

Children playing on the rubble that fell into a school in Sindhupalchok. The steel structure survived, but if school had been in session then the children would have been crushed by the rock infill walls that collapsed.

My prayer for the people of Nepal is that they will come to know peace through the love and hope of Christ and that they will put their trust in the One who saves.

God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble. Therefore we will not fear, though the earth give way and the mountains fall into the heart of the sea, though its waters roar and foam and the mountains quake with their surging…He says, “Be still, and know that I am God; I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth.” (Psalm 46:1-3, 10)



EMI Responds to Typhoon Haiyan


On November 8, 2013, one of the strongest storms in recorded world history, Typhoon Haiyan—a Category 5 tropical cyclone locally known as Yolanda—made landfall on the Philippines’ east coast and ripped over the archipelago with 190 mph winds and torrential rains causing flash floods and landslides.  Typhoon Haiyan devastated island communities across nine regions, affecting 11.3 million people. Over 670,000 displaced Filipinos lack access to pure drinking water, basic sanitation, and safe shelter.  Extensive damages to local infrastructure, notably roads and the airport, continue to hamper international humanitarian efforts.  Access remains a major challenge.Working with the Filipino Church, International Christian relief and development agencies are assessing priority needs for food, water, sanitation, hygiene, shelter, health, camp management and logistics.

Photo of damaged homes in Bantayan by eMi's ministry partner Samaritan's Purse

Photo of damaged homes in Bantayan by eMi’s ministry partner Samaritan’s Purse

Since 1983, Engineering Ministries International (eMi) has been mobilizing Disaster Response (DR) teams for major international disasters like Typhoon Haiyan.  Motivated out of God’s love, we serve survivors who are vulnerable to exploitation.  More than technical experts, we seek to be Christ-like by bringing clean water and the hope of Living Water.  On December 1, eMi will send our first teams of water and sanitation experts to come alongside Samaritan’s Purse in Tacloban and Bantayan.  As our other partners—the Filipino Church and local & international relief agencies—identify specific relief and recovery needs, we will send additional DR assessment and design teams to meet those needs.


Go – Experienced design professionals can volunteer

If you are interested in volunteering, contact eMi’s Disaster Response Ministry Program Director at Disasters@emiworld.org to apply. At the end of this message there is a list of specific technical services that we will be prepared to provide to our ministry partners.

Give – If you can’t go, you can give to support those who can.

As the Water, Sanitation and Hygiene (WASH) Ministry Program Coordinator at eMi, I will be part of a WASH team mobilization to the Philippines and will be closely involved with the work of each WASH team that is sent in the coming months.  Our family would not be able to be a part of this ministry if it were not for those who are generously partnering with us in this work.  We would be honored if you would consider partnering with us by making an end-of-year donation or becoming part of our 2014 monthly support team. Donations can be made directly to our support account at http://www.emiusa.org/donate.php by choosing the Staff category and then selecting my name (Chandler, Jason – 2126).


You can also donate specifically to help mobilize disaster response assessment and design teams by donating to eMi’s Philippines Relief.  By meeting a survivor’s immediate physical need in their desperate hour, we demonstrate Jesus Christ’s love in a practical way and open a door to share His Good News, meeting their deepest spiritual need.

Photo of damages in Tacloban by Erik de Castro/Reuters

Photo of damages in Tacloban by Erik de Castro/Reuters

And if you give yourself to the hungry And satisfy the desire of the afflicted, Then your light will rise in darkness And your gloom will become like midday. (Isaiah 58:10 NASB)


   Water/Wastewater Engineers:
  • Design and implement clean water distribution systems
  • Design and establish hygienic wastewater disposal solutions
  • Design solutions for flood water risk mitigation
   Structural Engineers and Architects:
  • Assess damaged buildings for safe reoccupation, retrofit or repair
  • Design retrofits and repairs to damaged buildings
  • Design structurally sound and culturally appropriate transitional shelters
  • Master plan temporary housing communities
   Transportation Engineers:
  • Design retrofits and repairs to damaged roads and bridges
   Geotechnical Engineers:
  • Assess slope stability and soil erosion
   Construction Managers: 
  • Oversee teams for construction of buildings and infrastructure
Please feel free to share this blog with anyone that you think might be interested in volunteering or supporting eMi’s response to serve the church in the Philippines.  Updates from eMi’s response efforts can also be found at http://emiworld.org/dr_philippines.php
Video from eMi’s ministry partner Samaritan’s Purse