Martin Price, PhD, Agriculturalist
- PhD in Biochemistry, University of Indiana
- Teacher of clinical chemistry, Dominican Republic
- Professor of Organic and Biochemical Studies, Geneva College, PA
- Researcher on Biofuels for the US Department of Energy, Ohio
- Researcher on Sorghum, Purdue University
- Began a Christian bookstore
- Established the ECHO ministry in southwest Florida for international agriculture and development
“How can you use science to help the poor?” It was a question that had caused me to make some drastic career moves and was leading to an even bolder career move. Consider this life journey as a case study in trying to learn how and where one fits into Christ’s Kingdom
As a sophomore in high school, I decided to become a biochemistry professor. Certain later influences caused me to think it possible or likely that God had prepared specific good works for me. If so, did that alter the earlier decision? I had not been looking to Christ in high school, so the decision was based only on my will. I now wanted to rethink careers from the perspective of a Christian disciple. I went from “cultural Christian” to genuine believer as an Ohio University undergrad. Divine circumstances arranged an InterVarsity Christian Fellowship group of godly peers for me at OU. And so, I began a serious quest to seek God’s will. Scriptural guidance is always pertinent and desirable. It provided guidelines but not clear answers on my particular search.
I simplistically prayed to follow God wherever He sent me, as soon as He made it clear! Was that a wise exercise? I made two lists contrasting the pros and cons of biochemistry grad school versus seminary. That seemed a logical way to determine God’s will, while also corresponding with grad programs and a seminary. However, each option seemed equally as convincing.
I then went on to see what others have suggested to guide important decisions. One “system” for guidance is likened to a ship captain who follows a safe, deep channel by observing some lights on shore. When these lights appeared to be aligned he knew to turn at that spot. I realized that in my case there were several lights:
1. IS THE CHOICE CONSISTENT WITH SCRIPTURE
2. IS IT WISE? I.e. is it generally well thought out and rational, not relying only on some supernatural proposition or emotion.)
3. WHAT IS THE COUNSEL OF PEOPLE WHOM I RESPECT? (We can gain wise input from good sources. As if deciding on a major-medical procedure, get multiple, trusted opinions. Faulty rationalizations will likely be caught by these counselors. We must also beware of placing too heavy a reliance on others.)
4. IS IT A GOOD MATCH FOR MY ABILITIES? (Do we know our strengths and weaknesses? Our weaknesses are used by God, but has He made us talented in some areas for a reason. Notice, this isn’t just asking what we enjoy, although that is part of it.)
5. DO CIRCUMSTANCES ALLOW IT? (God can change circumstances. Apparently “closed doors” may just be tests of our determination. But normally wisdom would suggest that we pay special attention to those “doors” that may be open.)
6. IS THERE AN INWARD SENSE OF LEADING? (This may be strong or not present at all. It is easy to deceive ourselves, but it may indeed be from God. The Holy Spirit, our great Counselor, is working to help us in the journey. Prayerful trust, along with the other lights, will seek to honor that active presence of God in us.)
In my case, this nice system didn’t seem to be God’s way to choose. A wise friend (#3 above) encouraged me that God would guide, but that demanding clarity is not realistic. Note: Proverbs 16:9, “A man’s mind plans his way, but the Lord directs his steps”.Faith requires that trust without constantly knowing beyond our first step.
I received my PhD in Biochemistry from Indiana University in 1969. But I continued to ponder the future of my vocation. My research interests moved in the “applied” direction of seeking to solve problems related to immediate Kingdom issues rather than “basic research”. (Of course, basic research is essential and may lead to practical applications also.)
I became an assistant professor of organic and biochemistry at Geneva College in Pennsylvania. My thinking was that it would be a step to perhaps teaching overseas and mentoring Christian students as I had been mentored.Students at this hypothetical “third world” college might find that research oriented toward problems of poverty and hunger would be especially rewarding. But one does not just decide to "do research that would help the poor in developing countries." First it was necessary to gain enough understanding that I could identify specific problems that needed solutions. Biochemistry is a good background for agricultural research. In fact, there might be more opportunities for me to make a difference in agriculture since few PhD biochemists in those days tended to select agriculture as their specialty.
In my first summer between terms , I learned and served by teaching clinical chemistry to the young staff at two clinics in impoverished communities in the Dominican Republic. This was followed by two great summer research opportunities in the school of agriculture at Cornell University. All along, inspiration for agricultural outreach grew as a strong guidepost.
The time of calling at Geneva College came to an involuntary end as finances led to significant layoffs. But I had expected Geneva to be a temporary step on the way to something else. Some friends and I pooled money and started a Christian bookstore in the same town. I managed the store for three years. That wasn’t biochemistry and it sure wasn’t agricultural missions. Those three years were in no way a closed door, in that I learned many skills that were to be useful later on.
I did not sense that this was a long-term calling and I needed to turn it over to my assistant, whom I had been training with that end in mind. I did so, and moved back with my parents on their Appalachian farm in Ohio for another season of uncertainty and waiting. Had I ruined my career?
It was only two weeks before I received a totally unexpected offer of a post-doctoral research assignment at Purdue University. This opportunity led to three very satisfying years of interdisciplinary research on biochemical studies related to bird damage in grain sorghum on small farms in the tropics and related issues that caused bird-resistant sorghum to have inferior nutritional quality.
During this time, I grew deeper into a relationship with a godly woman whom I had met at Geneva College. We were married in 1977 with an understanding that our life together belonged to a discipleship of service.
My next vocational move was to work for a Department of Energy funded program with Battelle Institute in Ohio, to convert vegetation into fuel. The plant of interest was again sorghum, which was a focus of the Purdue research for another purpose. Although this new position was well paid and interesting, it seemed to force me away from the sense of calling so much a part of me. Was this the end of my vision to apply scientific service for the needs of the poor?
In a much more complete accounting of my journey, this case study, (see www.echonet.org), I begin with reference to my “final” vocational step, becoming the founding CEO of a Christian mission, ECHO International, in southwest Florida. Connecting with a Christian business man was a crucial moment in this grand journey. While at Battelle, I became aware of Dick Dugger through someone else who knew my passion. Dick had begun slowly in building ECHO as a charitable outreach that involved student trips to Haiti and included agricultural among other active ministry projects.In many ways, I became more interested in helping this small organization in Florida than I was in my job as a research manager.
I had told my boss at Battelle that I would be leaving within a couple months to find a way to become involved in agriculture in developing countries. I had little idea what that would be. But in discussion with Dick we began developing the concept of a global agricultural ministry. Bonnie and I moved to a 5-acre “farm” where I had to learn how to raise money, operate and manage a non-profit organization, set up an office, implement the services we envisioned, locate seed for very hard-to-find plants with promising traits for difficult growing situations, learn how to do year-round gardening, make connections with missionaries, Peace Corps volunteers, scientists here and overseas, and begin developing a network of people who had a felt need for what ECHO was now offering.
In every position I had been in until ECHO I felt that I was being prepared for something else. From the hour we arrived at ECHO until now I have had a firm conviction that I was at the place God wanted me to be. And so, I arrived at a ministry with full-time staff of me, Bonnie as a volunteer and one intern. That ministry today has paid staff of around 80 employees globally and hundreds of volunteers. It helps thousands of the rural and urban poor by providing technical assistance in agriculture and gardening through people who work with the poor. It connects missionaries, the national church, development workers, scientists and any one or group helping the poor globally. Our network involves people in over 160 countries, with regional impact centers in E. Africa, W. Africa, SE Asia and more to come. I’ve been retired for 10 years, but both Bonnie and I continue as active volunteers.
Addendum: Some young career readers may be interested in ECHO’s paid14-month post-degree internships in subtropical Florida. Others may benefit from our extensive, multi-lingual websites. Check out our website for this country, www.echonet.org, or for technical information related to tropical agriculture and community development at www.echocommunity.org.