LINEVILLE — When passing through Lineville, a visitor might expect to see 175 acres of farmland. But what about 175 acres of land used for ministry? That’s quite a bit bigger than a typical church property, but the campus of Servants in Faith and Technology, otherwise known as SIFAT, is used to minister through training.
“Jesus is all about meeting people where they are and helping them reach their needs,” said Tom Corson, executive director of SIFAT. “Our motto is 'sharing God’s love in practical ways.'”
This year, SIFAT marks 40 years of operation. The organization was started in 1979 by Tom’s parents, Ken and Sarah Corson. The Corsons were lifelong missionaries and, after spending a few years in Bolivia, realized there was a significant need for more than just preaching. The people of Sapecho, Bolivia, had no access to medical care or clean water.
“Out of that experience grew the concept of coming back here and setting up a training center that could teach people to meet their basic human needs,” Tom Corson said. “We went down as missionaries to plant churches, and we were seeing the physical needs that were so tremendous that people are just saying, ‘Lord, help us.’”
When the Corsons arrived back in the United States, they brainstormed in the basement of a Methodist church in Wedowee and began creating SIFAT.
“The main focus of what SIFAT was created for was to teach people how to meet their basic human needs, and that’s food, water, shelter and clothing,” Tom Corson said. “We want to teach appropriate technologies that can be sustainable and reproducible. If you’re out in the bush, there is no Walmart, no Home Depot, but you can figure out how to do whatever it is you need to do.”
In the 40 years that SIFAT has been operating, people from more than 93 countries have participated in eight-week training programs in hopes of taking their newfound knowledge back to their home countries and implementing it in their communities. They have learned skills ranging from how to build a water pump that doesn’t need electricity to how to make vitamin powder from sweet potatoes.
“We need to be able to share the love of Jesus in practical ways that are tangible to whoever we are serving, so that’s the concept of why SIFAT is different and what motivates us to come to work every day and to help,” Corson said.
While SIFAT focuses primarily on training students how to find, create and implement appropriate technology in their home countries, the non-profit organization also encourages hands-on projects for missionaries across the globe and volunteer work in the local community.
“The biggest development is developing the campus here and our outreach to North Americans and educating and equipping them to be of service,” Corson said.
The tennis-ball water pump
Luke North, one of the trainers at ADAPTech on SIFAT’s campus, gave Star reporters a brief tour of some of the most successful pieces of technology created at SIFAT. One was a water pump created for irrigation made from tennis balls and rope.
“This is a simple way to move a lot of water fast,” North said. “We can pump gallons and gallons of water into an irrigation ditch without any electricity. There are many, many, many different ways to power it.”
Not only does this type of technology make life easier for people in developing countries, it also creates an additional source of income.
Corson said the presence of a water pump can help a farmer produce three times as many crops, which could mean three times the income if the crops make it.
Other items in the ADAPTech facility included a truck that runs on charcoal, a chicken plucker, a brick press, various water pumps and two types of water filtering systems: solar disinfection and a bio-sand filter.
Turning leaves into vitamins
SIFAT also teaches an inexpensive vitamin program called Leaf for Life, in which students learn to use the nutrients in native plants to enhance the limited diet of those in developing countries.
“Half of the world lives on less than $1,700 per year; a third of the world lives on less than $2 per day,” said Anna Ponder-Twarty, a Farm to Table intern working at SIFAT. “That doesn’t leave a lot of room for people to have a diverse and nutritious food supply.”
Ponder-Twarty said that most people in developing countries survive on rice and beans. Because of this, many people’s diets lack necessary vitamins and nutrients needed to survive.
“The most common cause of death in children 1 to 5 in developing nations is vitamin A deficiency, because they are dying from diarrhea and can’t replenish their bodies with enough vitamins to beat it,” Ponder-Twarty said.
In Leaf for Life, students are taught to dehydrate spinach, kale and the leaves of sweet potatoes, then grind them into a powder. In this powdered form, the nutrients can be sprinkled on top of meals.
“You’re getting a very concentrated source of vitamin A and iron, which are the two most significant micronutrient deficiencies in the world,” said Ponder-Twarty. “Essentially, you are getting a lot more vitamins in one little serving than you could possibly eat in a day.”
Ponder-Twarty said the mild-tasting powder can also be used in more fun recipes … like cookie dough.
“You can take any recipe that involves flour and replace 20 percent of the flour with green leaf powder, so we teach students how to fortify food with green leaf powder.”
Experiencing poverty first-hand
SIFAT also uses its campus to train people closer to home. In the Learn and Serve program, youth groups from across the country come to Lineville to experience life in a world without easy access to basic needs.
SIFAT has a global village representing nine different countries across the world and an urban poverty experience. Each of the simulated villages was constructed with help from natives of those countries, so the students get an accurate experience.
During their time in the global village, students have to live as the locals do: filtering their water, making their own food with whatever is available in that country, and sleeping in replica huts.
“They get a taste of what life is like for people in the developing world,” said campus director Sam Taylor Gochey. “As well as having an eye-opening experience to a different form of poverty, they see that people live beautiful lives. They live differently than we do, but there is still goodness and still joy in these areas that we have deemed to be so horrible.”
While many of the students leave Learn and Serve inspired to make a change in the world, the opportunities to serve aren’t limited to international trips. Corson said the mission of SIFAT is to recognize the global problems and then use them to make an immediate impact in a local community.
“You come here and learn about what you can do globally, and then you act locally,” Corson said. “That’s part of the mindset of giving back. You think globally, but the mission field is in your backyard.”