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Using Engineering to further God’s Kingdom

How the Lord can use your unique abilities to help others

How often is it that the Lord is able to use our abilities to help others around us?  As students, some of us wonder whether what we have to offer will even be useful to ourselves, let alone to anyone else. So to say that each of us can use our gifts to move God’s kingdom forward is hard to comprehend sometimes.

We understand that we can travel to Mexico and use our bodies to paint houses and distribute food, but can we use a degree in English or Mathematics to show love to our neighbors?  Recently, Professor Donald Pratt, of Messiah’s Engineering department, demonstrated that God can use our unique abilities—right where we are—to help others.

Pratt with Heckman Family
Janet Heckman and family joined
by Professor Pratt

Janet Heckman’s only means of transportation, her wheel chair, had broken down. The problem was the mechanism she used to maneuver which was controlled by her chin movement. The manufacturer of the chair told her they couldn’t fix it.  So she had to purchase a new one. Unfortunately, Janet found that the new chair was too cumbersome; she couldn’t maneuver it around her house, and it wouldn’t fit in her car. She wouldn’t be able to attend her upcoming class reunion because she simply couldn’t get there.  Thinking there was no one else to turn to, Janet despaired in having her mobility taken away.

Pratt, through his time spent advising The Flying Club and the Genesis Solar Racing Team, working on the set of PBS’ “Design Squad”, and… oh yeah… teaching, has gained extensive experience with vehicles that help people get around. When he learned of Janet’s plight through a mutual friend, Professor Pratt visited her home and left with the old chair, bringing it back to Messiah College where he could work on it.  In his lab, he configured some new electronic equipment for the old chair’s movement system and was able to get the chair in working condition so Janet could use it again.

Imagine Janet’s elation and surprise when she finds out that she will be mobile once again. That the chair the manufacturer told her couldn’t be fixed is now in working order once again. Janet could get to her reunion and back to her life.  Professor Pratt showed real-world love to another by using his expertise in engineering.

While not everyone at Messiah has the ability to fix just about anything with a motor, we are all being trained to be the best in our field of work. Upon graduation we will all have the ability to do great things with our expertise. And part of the work will be helping others. We can use our refined skills to show real love to those in need.

Design Squad set
Professor Pratt on the set
of Design Squad

Do not be discouraged by the path you have chosen because you don’t see that you’re doing extraordinary things for God on a daily basis.  Whatever field you are in or profession you choose God can use you to further his kingdom if you just answer the call.  “It takes a lot of work to become an engineer,” Pratt says. “But then it opens up all these really fun things you can do. Unfortunately, a lot of kids get away from science and math early on, thinking, ‘Oh, that’s hard,’ and it shuts a door.”  God NEEDS well educated people willing to use their expertise to further his kingdom.

Professor Pratt is living proof that we don’t all start out knowing how we’ll use our gifts to serve. As a younger man Pratt finished schooling with an engineering degree and then proceeded toward a promising career at IBM. However, Pratt felt that he was being called to ministry. So he left IBM to to pursue this calling. He taught at a Christian high school for several years, but God came calling again. Don was led to study civil and electrical engineering at Cornell University, where he saw clearly that God wanted him to use his abilities in engineering to serve others.

Pratt helped encourage a helicopter visit
from JAARS
as advisor for the Flying Club

God used Pratt’s gifts to further his kingdom in many different ways but eventually back around to ministry through engineering. Pratt says that he understands the questions students face; he’s asked himself the same ones. But no matter how much we question God always has an answer. Pratt responds, “How can I use engineering for ministry? A dozen ways.”

So the next time you wonder how your degree might help you love your neighbor, just remember how Professor Pratt helped Janet Heckman to have a very moving experience!

“People will see the attitude at Messiah— how our students use gifts to benefit others—there aren’t a lot of programs that do that; it’s great that we can get that message across” – Professor Pratt

Article and sidebar written by: Alexander DeHart, ’10

To learn more:
The Flying Club

Engineering Department

Design Squad

Wheelchair Rugby

They call it Murderball

Murderball wheelchair

Professor Pratt helps out on Design Squad
Photograph by Donald Pratt
Murderball, if you haven’t heard of the sport or seen the movie, is not your typical Special Olympics event. Murderball pits teams of 12 against each other in an all out war on wheelchairs. Murderball, officially known as Wheelchair Rugby, is assuredly a contact sport where physical contact between wheelchairs is an integral part of the game.

On an episode of Design Squad, airing now on PBS, Pratt designed a way for one Special Olympian to train without needing human training partners. Since there are a limited number of Murderball players, a way to practice on her own gives her a definite advantage over her competition.

The Design Squad team constructed a homing beacon mounted on the contestant’s chair and then created two electronically controlled robotic wheelchairs which hone in on her signal to attack and slam into her wheelchair. But not to worry, this contestant is a professional athlete with experience in the slamming department. She’s prepared to take a hit and even get rolled in her chair while ducking her head.

Murderball is not for the faint of heart. Even the chairs look like chariots gladiators would ride into battle on. But Dr. Pratt wasn’t afraid to get into the mix helping kids to understand how the science behind the machines work, so they could create these artificial training partners.

Pratt’s work on Design Squad shows his understanding of wheelchairs. That sometimes there’s more to them than just wheels and a seat. His work also again shows how we can use our talents to help others, proving that it’s really who’s in the seat that matters.

“If I can use a gift to fulfill a need, it doesn’t get any better than that” – Professor Pratt