Lydia Penner: A Surveyor Donates Her Skills to an African Orphanage.
by Kelly Givens
Lydia Penner is a 26-year-old Canadian whose volunteer work with Engineering Ministries International (EMI) is a perfect example of how we can donate our vocational skills in ministry.
Penner received her technical certificate in geomatic surveying from a technical college in Canada, and is currently working on an advanced degree in the same field at the University of News Brunswick. She also works for the company Ollerhead and Assoc. Ltd, doing digital sketches for predevelopment projects, as well as various survey projects like elevation plans for an airstrip. The work is stuff that Penner loves, yet she has wrestled with how her faith interweaves with her work, especially work that is as wrought with controversy as the oil industry.
“I had a lot of reservations about surveying….I thought, ‘This really doesn’t matter. All I’m doing is enabling global warming.’ But I loved the work! I thought it was awesome, but there was no eternal value [in it]. So I kind of struggled with that… just in knowing whether it was a worthwhile profession to pursue. [Eventually] I realized that the world needs oil… we need that resource at this time, so I am helping with that general function in the world.”
As she began to grasp the meaningfulness of her work, Penner sought to use her surveying skills in ways that were not solely confined to the oil industry. That is when an article on EMI caught her eye. It was an opportunity to travel to Ethiopia to work on a topographical survey of land that would eventually be developed into a major orphanage campus with several different buildings. Penner was elated for the opportunity to use her gifts in such a meaningful way. “…I felt very privileged that it was me that got to do it… I was definitely glad to be able to use my skills; glad that it was something…tangible that I was doing.”
Growing up in the church and throughout her time in college, Penner heard little about how her work was connected to her faith. She even began to despair that her work might be counterproductive to her faith. However, through donating her vocational gifts to EMI, Penner was able to get a clearer vision for how God might use her gifting and love for surveying to advance the common good.