During a long career at Texas A&M University, Dr. Bradley had applied his expertise to improving consumer products for companies like 3M, Dow, and Dupont. Now he addresses global poverty by developing appropriate technology for third world countries.
“Rather than helping to make the most comfortable billion people in the world a little more comfortable,” he explains, “God wants me to help the poorest two billion people—who live on less than two dollars per day—have a better shot at survival.”
Toward that end, Dr. Bradley and his team at Baylor looked for an abundant renewable resource that grows exclusively in poor parts of the world and is owned by the poor people of those countries. A former doctoral student—the first person from Papua New Guinea to earn an engineering degree—suggested they take a look at coconuts.
A typical coconut farmer lives in places like Indonesia, Liberia and Sri Lanka. The worldwide demand for his crop dropped 75% in one year during the 1990’s. Now his five acres produce an income of only $500 per year. On this he ekes out a subsistence-level living for his family of nine.
“Please God, let there be something useful and interesting about coconuts,” Dr. Bradley prayed.
And there was. The coconut’s constituent parts of husk, pith, oil and shell all have properties with numerous possible consumer applications in the gardening, packaging, and building materials industries.
But the application that captured the attention of Motor Trend magazine, MSNBC, and the Discovery Channel is in car parts—specifically trunk liners and door panels—made by blending 50% coconut fibers with polypropylene.
“People are looking for green choices today,” Dr. Bradley notes. “Replacing polyester with coconut fiber is cheaper, greener, and has better mechanical properties. We could possibly triple the income of poor coconut farmers!”
Dr. Bradley’s group aims to work through churches and mission agencies to help poor farmers own the coconut processing facilities, for which his group then becomes a primary customer. Developing technology with patents allows them to maintain a significant price for the coconut and pay farmers a far better price than they get today.
Things are looking up for the 11 million coconut farmers of the world. All because a Christian professor asked God to show him a holistic way to help them—meeting both their spiritual and economic needs.
As a dedicated Christian, he cares that students know about Christ, but admits that the topic of faith doesn’t come up very often in the courses he teaches, and doesn’t feel it appropriate to use class time for those discussions.
Still, he has found a way to “go to the students.” He explains:
“I have found that evangelism is like fishing – going to where the fish are, and seeing whether they are biting. For me, that meant going to where students are: they are online.
“I created a website for students to learn about me and interact with me. I make it clear that this is my personal website, and not an official UCSB one.
The site includes:
• My Christian worldview – the nature of God, man, and truth
• My perspective on work and career – from a talk I presented at our Christian Faculty/Staff Fellowship
• Pictures from my vacations, and my grandchildren.”
(For a complete story of my testimony, please refer to my book chapter: “From Agnostic to Evangelical: How an Unlikely Conversion Birthed a Unique Convergence,” In R. Ashton and D. Denton (Eds.), Spirituality, Ethnography and Teaching: Stories from Within. Peter Lang Publishers. 2006.)
To begin at the beginning: I was adopted as a baby in 1966, and raised as an only-child, in a nice, middle-class Catholic home. I knew Jesus as a child and received the sacraments of baptism, first communion, and confirmation in the Catholic church.
As a teen, I went through a typical rebellion, which (among other things!) included eschewing my parents’ faith for what I thought were more `cool’ beliefs. Basically, I would believe anything as long as it wasn’t related to Catholicism! But, I was especially drawn to the mystical & metaphysical, and topics like reincarnation, astrology, tarot cards, etc. When I was an undergrad I found a home of like-minded people at the Unity Church. However, graduate school succeeded in turning me into an even more skeptical postmodernist. By the time I landed my first faculty position at the University of Tulsa in 1995, I was sitting “in the seat of scoffers” (Psalm 1:1) and was a self-confessed agnostic.
Before long I joined the local Unitarian-Universalist congregation (along with most of the other University faculty). BUT…there is where things got interesting…and I LOVE telling people that I was “saved” in the Unitarian Church!
After a series of life-events, including a near-death experience after giving birth to my twin daughters (which precipitated a bout with terrifying panic attacks), I found myself seated in a pew at the Unitarian Church listening to a memorial service for a young colleague who had lost a short battle with cancer. I became panicked as the minister read my colleague’s vita and never once mentioned God, an afterlife, heaven (or, even reincarnation, for that matter!).
I left the church that cold, rainy day resolved that I did NOT want to be remembered like that. I went home, dusted off my Bible, and randomly opened to the Book of Ecclesiastes where 12:11b-12 jumped out at me: “…like nails firmly fixed are the collected sayings that are given by one Shepherd. Of anything beyond this, my child, beware. Of making many books there is no end and much study is a weariness of the flesh.”
So, in my desperate weariness, I called my good friend back home in Florida who I had always chided for being a Bible-believing Christian–and I told her I wanted to become a Christian! At my friend’s suggestion, I enrolled in Bible Study Fellowship (BSF International ) where I began to delve deeply into God’s Word.
Now, eleven years later, I am still in BSF and have held several leadership positions therein; my three children all attend with me. Perhaps the most wonderful display of God’s grace is that I was saved in time to raise my children in a Christian home. My husband, kids, and I all received believer’s baptism and are members of a wonderful local church.
Although I did not return to the Catholic faith of my childhood, I DO work at a Catholic University–where I am constantly reminded of my upbringing and grateful that the Jesus I knew as a child never left my side, even when I turned my back on Him.
I love my job as faculty member in the Communication Department, where I teach courses in Interpersonal Communication, Family Communication, Nonverbal Communication, Mothers & Daughters, Intro. to Women’s Studies, and Research Methods. My students say I am approachable, friendly, and good at relating complex theoretical ideas to everyday lived experiences. Finally, I am very thankful that I took the advice of one of my old professors who assured me that being an academic is a “nice life”. Indeed!
I spent my earliest years playing with Barbie dolls and enjoying art projects. Maybe not what you’d expect from a future chemical engineering professor.
I found I liked math and chemistry, but in the 1970s being the smartest girl in class at my high school was not a road to popularity. This situation caused a lot of hurt and pain. I was lucky to have a mentor to help me through.
My English teacher at my Catholic high school was a wonderful nun who really helped me. In my journal assignments, I shared details of my struggles. As we dialogued, she helped me understand my need for a deeper relationship with Christ and that God had a plan for my life.
Once I trusted that God had a plan, a lot fell into place. I loved chemistry and math, and a former neighbor, an engineering professor, convinced me to be a chemical engineer instead of a chemist. It was right for me.
As a woman in a field populated mostly by men, the journey has not always been easy, but it has made me appreciate the skills and drive that make up my life experiences and who I am.
As a professor, I pray that each student I interact with realizes they have a purpose, that there’s an awesome plan for their lives, and that their uniqueness is what makes them extraordinary. That’s what makes my job so great and so important – every student is different, every need is different!
“My view of the world in grad school was pretty narrow and self-consumed, so it’s not surprising that coming to believe there was a God would up-end my apple cart. CS Lewis, an Oxford academic, related much the same shock and upheaval in his own faith experience, titled Surprised by Joy.
“I had just defended my dissertation. Being ‘done’ was a high point, but I had a gnawing sense of deflation. There had to be more, so I thought getting married and having a family might do it. I determined that marrying the girl I was seeing was the missing part of what a ‘fulfilled life’ was; and began to make plans, only to see it all crumble when an early morning phone call to San Francisco found otherwise.
Crying Out To A Silent God
“I can only say I was crushed to the point where I fell on my knees in my little apartment and cried out to a ‘silent’ God. Some writers call it a dark night of the soul. For me it was an end-of-the-road prayer of desperate disappointment, I’d tried but couldn’t get things to work. Being disappointed was one thing but the words that followed out of my mouth were even more surprising, ‘God take my life, use it. I’m sick of it.’
“I was still wounded when the weekend came. A university colleague had invited me to a small church, so I went and sat in the back row. I didn’t know anyone as my friend was missing, but I drew surprising comfort from listening to everyone sing. They really were quite enthusiastic.
“The message began but was interrupted by a woman bringing a note forward to the pastor. He related that someone had received a ‘word’ from the Lord, and then asked the woman forward to speak into the microphone. ‘There’s a young man here who’s just broken up with his girlfriend. The Lord wants you to know that Yes, He would use you.’
“It’s still hard to explain, but at that point a glimmer of belief began. I can remember the thought ‘My God, it’s all true!!’ rocking my world. It is not that I had it all worked out, it was only my first encounter/data point.
God Had Found Me
“Much to the amazement of my Australian and South African friends on campus, I was baptized a month later. ‘Pritchard had found religion’ was one humorous anecdote. But really it was quite the reverse. Religion, God, had found me.
“There was little doubt that I could not acknowledge things were different. I remember relating the account of it all some time ago to a medical doctor on one of my flights to a conference in Virginia. His wife was a believer and he a skeptic. I still recall him noting that if more details had been added to that ‘word’ then he too might have believed.
“It seems we all tend to place different requirements on what God must do before we will believe. Jesus captured the situation when he said our generation ‘plays the flute, sings a dirge’ and wonders why God does not dance to our tune. But if there is a God then aren’t we subject to Him revealing Himself? If you haven’t tested God before on this I would recommend giving Him the chance to reveal Himself. Bend your knee and talk to him.”