ICCM-EU – Geeks for God

Have you ever been some place and just felt at home. It’s not the place but usually it’s the people that make you fell that way and it’s usually with people who share similar passions. That’s way I feel every time I get to go to ICCM Europe. This is a place where computer geeks from all over the world come together. While we all like talking about the latest gadgets, discussing whether Apple or Google is going to produce the next “it” thing that people are going to “just have to have” or challenging each other to program using a new programming language, however the true passion of everyone there is for everyone in the world to have an intimate relationship with God through Jesus Christ.

We just finished our fourth annual conference for ICCM Europe (International Conference on Computing & Mission) in the Netherlands. 62 technology enthusiasts came from many different mission agencies (and some are those who just want to be a part of it but are in the professional world volunteering their time & knowledge to further missions). Many walked away with new skills and new ideas but most importantly, they built relationships with others that have the same passions. Wow, what a rush to know you are not alone. Until next year!

Happy 5th Anniversary

5 Years ago today, we arrived in Germany to begin a new phase in our journey on God’s path.  As you can see, we were bleary eyed from the all night flight but adrenaline was flowing through our veins in anticipation of what was ahead.  We really didn’t know what was going to happen or what God was going to do – we just knew we where God wanted us to be.  Some of the more prominent memories I have of the past 5 years are:

  • Meeting & hanging out with  Yoyot from Indonesia and so many other fascinating people from all over the world in our language school
  • Krista & I doing “rock, paper, scissors” to take care of a bill which we didn’t understand what it was about (of course, it all had to be done in German)
  • First day after language school – working in the office with the eDOT team and the excitement I felt in using my computer skills for developing frontline mission solutions to expand God’s Kingdom
  • Alex’s first day of 1st Grade at Black Forest Academy where he was interviewed by the principal and had the whole school laughing hysterically and him innocently not knowing why
  • Traveling to so many places, not to see the sights, but getting to meet the people where they are, where they live.  Hearing their hearts, getting to speak words of encouragements and bringing them ideas & technology solutions that bring them closer to their Creator
  • Sleeping in a church’s closet with Bob (construction supervisor) on a work project only to realize later he was always up so early because of my snoring – not his desire to get the day going
  • Getting rushed into a Ukrainian church 3 minutes before the service was starting and being asked if I wanted the 1st, 2nd or 3rd sermon slot (it was assumed I would give at least one of them)
  • Having the first time I worked with Windows Vista be in Russian as we configured a Mobile Outreach Center in Ukraine
  • Getting to work on an Internet Cafe in Moldova in a town where there was only one paved (barely) street, horse drawn wagons, and out-houses and then hearing about the life-changing effects that Internet Cafe had on people’s lives
  • The countless number of plates set before me where I couldn’t identify what was on it but ate it all (and usually wanted seconds)
  • Surprising my son when my sister showed up “unexpectedly” for his birthday
  • Getting to work with men & women who pour their lives into other people in grace filled ways so that they can know what life in Christ is like
  • Hearing 1st hand stories of imprisonment & persecution because of their faith and realizing that we can help minimize that through technology security techniques
  • Seeing the joy in my wife’s eyes as she came home after a couple weeks of teaching a women’s Bible Study and knowing that she had found her place
  • Continuously getting to seek out how God wants technology to be used to expand His Kingdom in ever innovative ways

Those are just some of my highlights for the last 5 years.  There’s so many more things I could share but I think I would go on forever.  Thank you to everyone who partners with us in both prayer and finances to allow us to be in this place.  We are truly blessed.

Names have meaning

Yesterday, I was trying to order something through a Dutch company.  Their website was completely in Dutch (not a language I know well).  When I do these types of things, I usually make sure I’m using Google’s browser Chrome.  Why?  Because of a neat little feature of when you are on a website that is in a different language, it will ask you “Would you like to translate it?” and when you say “Translate” – Chrome translates the whole page for you.  In my ordering yesterday however I didn’t hit the translate button until I was about half way through the order form as I could understand most of it.  When I finally did hit “Translate”, I noticed something different – my name was now “Courtney Intoxication”.  I knew my last name was Dutch but I didn’t know it had meaning let alone this meaning.  I looked it up and sure enough in Dutch, Roes = Intoxication; drunkenness; whirl; fuddle; lust; and well this last one is a word my wife doesn’t like used and not appropriate for this website.  I’m not sure what to make of my ancestry right now.

When our son was born, we wanted his name to mean something so we named him “Alexander” which means “helper of mankind”.  We didn’t want to place too big of a burden on him but we wanted him growing up knowing that he had a purpose in life and that it was more than seeing what he could get for himself.  In the Bible, we see people all the time having their name changed to reflect the person that they are or the person they are to become.  Barnabas wasn’t always named that but when people saw that he was an encourager, they named him “son of encouragement”.  Peter the disciple wasn’t always Peter – he was Simon but then Jesus saw in him something more than anyone else and renamed him “Rock” and on this “rock”, Jesus was to build his church.

Today, we don’t formalize these names as much – mostly we use them as nicknames.  But if someone were to come up to you and give you a nickname that reflects how you are or how they see you will be, what would those names be?  Would it be something that you would want your children and your children’s children to inherit?

Guy’s take-aways from Steve Jobs

Steve Jobs unveils the iPhone
Steve Jobs unveils the iPhone

There are a lot of articles and blog posts going around about Steve Jobs and rightfully so.  He was a man who influenced the world in many different ways – good and bad depending on where you come from.  Many of these articles come from people who didn’t know Steve Jobs but admired him from a far.  I skipped most of those however I did read a good article by Guy Kawasaki – someone who really had a connection with Steve as Apple’s chief evangelist.  His article “What I learned from Steve Jobs“, has 12 good points – each of which can relate to what it is we do in the non-profit, ministry sector just as well as the business world.

His points, my comments:

  • Experts are clueless – This hit home for me.  I’m considered an “expert” a lot of times and I do know a lot of stuff.  But sometimes experts say things like “that can’t be done” or that because they’re “experts”, then they know where things are going.  The reality is that predicting where technology is going is like forecasting the weather – you can kinda get the idea of what might happen but it’s rarely fully accurate.  I think the key take-away is that Steve Jobs decided to drive where technology was going by developing technology changing devices and ideas instead of waiting for the experts to dictate what he should do.  In the case of our ministry, it means that we don’t wait on church culture to say it’s something to be done but keep our eyes on the who we’re trying to reach & if they use the technology – then let’s use that technology to reach them.
  • Customers can not tell you what they need – Most non-profits when they find out I work in a technology based ministry say, “I need help creating a website”. (yes, many non-profits are still without a basic, 1990’s static website)  Most of the time my first question is “Why do you need a website?”.  You see they think they need a website because everyone else has a website but the reality is they really need to look at what God has called them to do, be strategic in how they are going to accomplish that and then we can consult with them about different ways technology can help them do just that – sometimes its a website, sometimes its a Facebook page, sometimes it’s an interactive website with smartphone apps and an SMS Gateway.
  • Jump to the next curve – Sometimes we get stuck in the “just make the existing things better & more efficient”.  How many times have churches redone how they do Wednesday Night services only to finally figure out that they didn’t need to be doing Wednesday Night services but instead needed to develop a series of small groups that met throughout the week?  There are times to work on existing things and improve them but there are other times when we just need to let something go and say, “What can we do in today’s culture and lifestyles that fulfills this particular need?”  It usually looks very different than what was done before.
  • The biggest challenges beget best work – I think we sometimes think small because we’re afraid.  We, as non-profit ministries, are afraid because most of the time we’re underfunded and understaffed.  This is a hard situation to be in.  How do you take $60 and 2 people and create an interactive campaign to reach 1000’s?  This is when creativity and “there is no box” thinking comes into play.  Notice it’s not “outside the box” thinking as that still places restrictions on you. For us, we leverage a lot of open-source software that allows us to maximize older, donated equipment and get’s the job done well.  Some of the projects I’m most proud of are ones where the challenge was great and the obstacles were huge – I may have grown more grey hair during those times but seeing what God does is awesome!!!
  • Design Counts – Honestly, the stuff I put together is not pretty.  I think sometimes in ministry we do things “good enough for missions work” (an old saying I used to hear that just makes me cringe as it says that missions work doesn’t have to be great, just working).  This is like saying you brought a new person on your team because they’re breathing and still warm but have no clue as how to do anything.  It really doesn’t help you.  I am so thankful for our sister ministry, GEMStone Media, who has some great creative graphic designers that I can work with to make sure things have a great look and feel on many of our projects.
  • You can’t go wrong with big graphics and big fonts – Ok, there’s not a lot here but the concept of simple and to the point is accurate.  When we actually do work on a website for someone, many times I ask who the audience is for the site – i.e. people you’re trying to reach, supporters of the ministry, internal communications, etc.  So many times I get the answer of “Yes – all of them”.  When doing things these days, do one thing and do it well!!!! Same rule applies for almost all technology projects.
  • Changing your mind is a sign of intelligence – My boss just reminded me of this one the other day.  Why are we so set sometimes in ministry that “this is the way we’ve always done it so we must continue”? Or worse – “we said to people we’re going to do it so we’re going to do it even though it is pretty much going fail”.  Be real here  in your ministries.  Note: Supporters of ministries – allow the ministries to have some failures because then it means they’re moving forward and not too scared to move.
  • “Value” is different from “price” – While non-profits like us don’t have a “product” and we don’t compete by “lowering our prices”, this still pertains to us.  I was talking with some Jehovah Witness missionaries one time and they kept asking me about my thoughts and fears of life after death and what the Earth was going to be like then.  My response was that that wasn’t something I thought about as life was hard enough- my focus was on God and me in the here & now.  Sometimes I think we miss the point in who we’re trying to help and/or reach.
  • A players hire A+ players – This is so true.  Right now I’m really trying to recruit more people to join us in eDOT. I don’t want just anybody.  I want people better than me.  I want people who, with God’s leading, will take it further and have way more knowledge than I do.  If I report to them someday, fine by me.  If I can pass on what I know to someone who is going to take it and surpass me – then my job was done correctly.  Anyone? Anyone out there?
  • Real CEOs demo – I have worked for so many people who didn’t have an idea of what it is I do and what it is I work with.  They’ve been able to manage me and get me to do things but didn’t have a clue about the solutions I made to solve some problem within the organization.  Leaders in a non-profit need to understand the different areas of the ministry.  While they don’t have to be able to do everything, they should at least understand what is the function of each area and be able to explain each area to an outsider.
  • Real CEOs ship – We can daydream and spend time preparing things and give out ideas, but if we as a ministry don’t actually produce anything – then what are we about?  I think too many times our ministry are just about “raising awareness” but effective ministries do something and when they do, awareness is raised.
  • Marketing boils down to providing unique value – Being a part of a Christian ministry, for me this one is – how are we different than any other religious or secular non-profit out there?  Why are we unique and having value?  Non-profits are about influencing and how are we influencing in a positive, unique way of great value? – that value being helping people see and understand what it means to have an intimate relationship to God through Jesus.

If you are a part of a ministry, non-profit group or a church – do these things challenge you?  Agree or disagree with any of them?

Innovative Technology

Innovative Technology – it’s a term we use for a lot of the work we do at eDOT.  There’s some misunderstanding as people think that “Innovative Technology” has to be the latest and greatest – with all the flash and glitter.  The reality is that true innovative technology isn’t about the technology but about how it is used.  Paper is a great piece of technology – no doubt about it.  When those that used scrolls and animal skins to jot down their shopping lists saw modern day paper, whew, they must have been excited.  However was it truly innovative as a technology?  I think it became truly innovative when that first person started taking pieces of paper, folding them into different angles until finally, he/she was able to make it sail across through room soaring through the air.  The day of the first paper airplane was the day paper became innovative technology.  Innovative technology isn’t necessarily about the technology – it’s about how the technology is applied.

Seeing all the possibilities of technology is the innovative part.  Looking at what the Internet is doing is one thing – looking at what it CAN do is another.  For us in eDOT, exploring the possibilities of what technology can do to help ministries do what God has called them to do more effectively is what innovative technology is all about.  You see, every project starts out with trying to figure out a problem – like how does a small body of believers engage their local community?  Then we have to look at the cultural cues.  Then we can look at what the outcome is.  Then we look at the technology  and when there’s not technology that does what we want – we look at technology that has potential to do what we want.  A lot of times, it’s taking several pieces of technology and meshing them together – each with their particular strengths – to get a product that does what we want.  None of them were designed for this but that’s what being innovative is about.

So back to our problem, how does a small body of believers engage their local community (using technology to help them)? It’s dependent on the culture but here’s some ways we’ve seen:

  • Using a set of laptops to teach basic computer training where computer skills are becoming more and more a requirement for a job
  • Making a stencil out of a QR Code to a church’s website geared for college students and then using chalk to place the QR code all around campus (sidewalks, buildings, etc) right before the school year begins
  • Distributing MP3s, PDFs, Videos, and other media at group events straight to oberserver’s mobile phones using a Bluetooth or Wifi push server.
  • Interacting via SMS/Text messaging with people who requested some information on a particular subject that they have questions about. They found that they could ask these questions because they had seen a billboard with a QR code and a number with an SMS service that encouraged them to contact them.  All being managed through a free SMS management software on a computer and some commercially available CRM (Customer Relationship Management) software.

Now one of the greatest lines I am totally moved by in the video above is the very end where he says “Information is powerful but it is how we use it that will define us.”  For eDOT, it is that technology is powerful but it is how we use it that will define us.  This is what we do.

Beyond the Mobile Web

Mobile Web is a fascinating for me.  The thought of so many people now having a personal, simple (relatively speaking) device that they can use to connect with people around the world boggles me sometimes.   More people are carrying around with them a device that has more computing power than 1969’s NASA (source) than ever in the history of the world.  They’re using these devices to not just do business (or send people to the moon) but are using them as extensions in their everyday lives.  Connecting to the Internet is not an event that one does as in the day of the desktop computer but its a part of life and basic daily communication.  As in the show “Star Trek” which showed a tri-corder which could do almost anything, so today our mobile devices do all sorts of things.  People are using the mobile phones as MP3 players, cameras, schedule keepers, games, sound mixers, instruments, audio recorder, information gather, shopping assistant, etc. The feature I use the least on my mobile phone is calling someone.

Case in point – when Alex, my 10 year old son, was talking about what one of the kids in his class did that was funny, I asked him if he got a picture of it.  His response, “Dad, I didn’t have a cell phone with me.”  In his mind, cameras are a part of mobile/cell phones.  I haven’t even talked with him that originally cameras used film and that you actually had to wait to see what the picture looked like.

Now I’m not going to go into whether or not it’s good for society to be tied to technology over straight human contact (the same argument has been discussed with every major advancement of communication – the telegraph, radio, TV, etc), however the reality is that the world is moving in this direction.  Mobile devices are going to be just a part of our daily interactions with people.

So my question is – how do we as the church incorporate mobile devices into our lives so that we can share the Gospel in relavent, contextual ways?  What ways have you come up with?