The stove project

After losing his job, Wayne found it necessary to live more simply, which enabled him to cook up new ways to serve others

By Wayne Ridgeway

I had been in the mechanical engineering field for 40 years when the company I worked for went under. Being in my late fifties, I found that jobs of any kind were few and far between, so I turned my hobby of refinishing furniture into a business. 2008 was a banner year, good enough for me to quit my part-time job. Then, in 2009, we encountered difficulties. The business started to feel the effects of the recession, I had a heart attack, and I lost sight in my right eye.

It was in the midst of these challenges, in 2009, that I was setting my goals for the next 12 months and I felt compelled to add “go on a mission trip” to the list. This was surprising to me. I’d been involved in missions for a number of years but never had the desire to go on a trip. Knowing this and our financial situation, I really didn’t feel this would actually come about.

A short time later, my wife shared my desire with a close friend, who immediately responded, “I will sponsor Wayne.” I was almost embarrassed to accept his offer, yet I knew there was something greater than all of us behind what was happening. A few months later, I signed up for our church’s annual mission trip to the Dominican Republic. I knew when and where I would be going; I just didn’t know why.

Discovering my purpose

In April 2010, our mission team boarded a plane headed for the Dominican Republic. For the past five years, my church has been sending groups to the D.R., to partner with Dominican Crossroads, a Christian organization founded
to serve Haitian refugees living there.

Lured by promises of a better life, Haitians were smuggled into the Dominican in the 1970s to labor in the sugar cane fields. The sugar cane companies took the Haitians’ identification to keep them from running away. But later, when the cane fields shut down, the workers’ documents were nowhere to be found. Unable to return to Haiti without identification or to find employment because of their low social status in the D.R., the Haitians became refugees. The conditions of their newfound lives were now equal to those they had experienced in Haiti, if not worse.

On the first day of our trip, we toured Ascension, the first village built by Crossroads for Haitian families. We were invited into one of the homes, and the first thing that caught my eye was a charcoal stove in the corner. I questioned our guide about this, and she explained that the women, to economize their use of the charcoal, cook inside, away from any air movement. She also added a lot of women have lung problems from the charcoal’s fumes and young children are constantly being hurt by walking into the hot stoves.

I now knew why I was on the trip: to redesign the stoves for safer, efficient use by Haitian families.

New designs

After returning home from the trip, I began researching charcoal stoves on the internet but didn’t find anything new; most posed the same problems as the ones I’d seen in the D.R. Then I noticed a candleholder my wife had on the coffee table. It had exactly the shape I was looking for! Using the holder as my inspiration, I was able to design a new charcoal stove that would be affordable, safe, and efficient for outdoor use.

While unsuccessful in some ways, my time researching did bring to light initiatives around the world regarding the use of organic fuels, which decrease deforestation caused by charcoal production and create a use for common “waste” products like paper, grass, and sawdust. My investigations also revealed a blueprint for a concrete block stove, which, though expensive to construct, utilizes organic fuels, offers greater safety, and can be installed with a venting system for use inside the home.

With my background in project management, it was easy to set up a testing area for each new design in my backyard. And with that, the stove project officially began! The question that came to my mind next was how this was all going to get back to the Dominican.

Getting back

We were still not financially able for me to make another trip, yet God had the answer again, indicating that I should raise my own support.

This was something that was well outside my comfort zone. With the help of others, however, a letter outlining the program and why I needed the money was written. Three months later, over $6,000 had been raised. This past February, I returned to the D.R., with another team for a week. During the time, I built two presses for making organic fuel briquettes and hired a refugee to make the new charcoal stove.

This coming June, I will be returning again, along with my daughter Christa, for a month to introduce the new charcoal stoves, to research and test organic fuel materials, and to build a number of concrete block stoves in Haitian homes.

Looking back, I see just how involved God was in making this stove project possible. What I might have once counted as loss—loss of work, income, and health—God has taught me to count as gain, not only for myself, but also for my Haitian brothers and sisters in the Dominican.

This article originally appeared in the summer 2011 issue of In Part magazine.

Wayne Ridgeway and his wife, Debra, live in Collingwood, ON, where they are part of New Life BIC Church. Follow the project at thestoveproject.blogspot.com.

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