LINEVILLE, Ala. | In a rural nook of east Alabama where there aren’t enough bright lights to blot out the stars at night, missionaries and community leaders from foreign lands are learning to save lives in the Third World, not just with Bibles, but with mud, sand and leaves.
Located off a winding highway, an organization called Servants in Faith and Technology has offered training for three decades on how to use common items to improve and extend lives in underdeveloped nations.
On a recent day in October, 19 trainees from 10 countries learned how to make efficient, clean-burning cook stoves from mud bricks. The small, boxy structures replace open fires that the World Health Organization blames for 1.6 million deaths annually in the world’s poorest countries.
On other days, they’ll learn how used tires can become the foundation for gardening systems that use only a little water. They’ll find out how sand can be used as a filter to rid drinking water of dangerous parasites. They’ll see how the ground-up leaves of some tropical plants contain enough nutrients to save the life of a malnourished child.
Raphael Ogbole, 42, says low-tech solutions like the mud-brick stoves, which cut back noxious smoke, can have an enormous impact in his native Nigeria, where he works as a Christian missionary on the Mambilla Plateau in the northeastern part of the country.
“My mother cooked on a three-stone stove, and every time she came out of the kitchen, she had tears in her eyes” from the smoke, he said.
Jean-Else Denis said simple water-purification systems can save lives back home in Haiti, where an estimated 250,000 people died in an earthquake in January and more than 1 million still live in tents or other temporary shelters. Millions lack access to clean water, particularly outside the capital of Port-au-Prince.
“People who live in the city can go buy water, but people who live in the country don’t have the ability to do that,” he said.
Hundreds of people from about 85 countries have come to rural Alabama for training in the 31 years since the opening of Servants of Faith and Technology.
It was founded by Ken and Sarah Corson, a missionary couple who moved to Bolivia in 1976 and were inspired to come up with a way to improve life for residents of the world’s poorest areas. They returned to America three years later and founded Servants of Faith and Technology in east Alabama near Lineville for a simple reason: Sarah was from nearby Wedowee, and they got a good deal on the land.
Today, their group operates on a 186-acre campus that includes classrooms, gardens for research and demonstration, outdoor training labs and a “global village” area, where American visitors can visit and stay in mud huts and open-air houses like those that are common in much of the world.
The group is Christian, but anyone is welcome, and people of other faiths have been trained. While it’s not part of a denomination, the organization has ties to the United Methodist Church.
Many U.S. denominations and schools have training programs for missionaries that commonly teach Americans to go overseas and perform tasks like starting churches. Servants of Faith and Technology’s training program is different because it brings international missionaries to America and provides them skills for serving in their own countries.
Its focus is more practical than evangelical.
A vital part of the operation is the 10-week training sessions, where people come to America to learn how to use appropriate technologies to improve living conditions. Back home, they can spread the knowledge as teachers or even help set up small businesses to provide both jobs and needed items, like stoves.