The disassembled assembly

Last month, Wycliffe Germany held its annual Mitgliederversammlung (a.k.a. MV), or “member conference”, which is open to the members who find themselves in Germany at the time. The word Versammlung also means “assembly”. Under the present circumstances, most people around the world are stretching their minds to assimilate the ways in which “assembling” now occurs. This year’s MV was no exception; it was the first time in which the members assembled virtually.

Just as “one does not simply walk into Mordor”, one does not simply hold a video conference with dozens of people. A small group of us began planning and testing the technical aspects of the conference a few weeks in advance. We chose to use the Zoom platform—a little ditty that may be familiar to you now. Roles for the meeting were assigned, and we defined the process for approving motions.

My role was to manage the Zoom meeting itself. To prepare, I conducted meetings with myself and my various devices, practicing every step and function. I even objected to some of my own motions. The week before the MV, I hosted practice sessions for members who were unfamiliar with Zoom or who simply wanted to be certain that their device would work well.

On the day of the MV, we started the meeting early to allow time for everyone to join and work out any bugs. The only people in the conference room were the meeting crew, the leadership team, and the members of the executive and advisory boards. Everyone else took part from other conference rooms, apartments on the center, and private homes throughout Germany. For taking the roll and recording votes, I had help from my own lovely assistant, from whom I did not need to keep my distance:

Katherine and I often worked frantically to stay on top of things during the MV.
Photo courtesy of Kai Günther, my boss, who seems to think he can take pictures of his underlings whenever he wants. 😉

The other folks who crewed with us are also lovely people, I might add. In fact, Wycliffe Germany’s full assembly of members, staff, boards, and supporters is an altogether lovely group. We’re especially impressed by the way in which they conduct themselves during these gatherings.

In all, I think we had 106 people attend the conference. As each person or couple connected, the existing participants took note of the newcomers, greeted them, and began chatting. A Zoom full of laughter, smiles, and happy voices was a clear sign that the challenges of the pandemic would not bring this group down.

Most of you reading this didn’t take part in that meeting—or did you? When you pray for us, when you support our ministry financially—you take part in everything that we do. You help us to help them to do what they do—and what they do enables the Gospel and the Kingdom of God to spread and to deepen. Thank you! There’s no virus on earth, now or ever, that’s going to prevent that. May the Lord our God keep you and yours healthy!

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“Prepared in mind and resources”

Animis opibusque parati” So reads the inscription around the shield on one side of the Great Seal of the State of South Carolina. This phrase came to my mind lately as I thought about my responsibilities and activities during the changes that have come to the way we live and work.

The phrase is familiar to me because much of the state’s seal appears on the class rings of graduates of The Citadel, the Military College of South Carolina, which I attended. I can call up the information quickly because I possess one of these rings and was required as a so-called “knob” to memorize the features and symbolism of The Ring to their finest details. But that’s not important right now.

Even as proposals were made to restrict the movement and interaction of people in the hopes of curtailing the spread of the nasty little bug, I began running through a mental checklist to gauge our preparedness for the increase in remote work and communication. If you look back at some of what I have written, you will see that a several topics have to do with resources necessary for working in this fashion:

  • VPN services: a Virtual Private Network (VPN) connection creates a secure tunnel through the internet from where you are to the network where you want to be. In Fall 2018, I moved Wycliffe Germany to a new VPN system that is stable and easy to use. When more of our staff began working from home, all we needed to do was purchase additional licenses.
  • Cloud services: instead of resources being concentrated on one or a few servers inside the business network, they are distributed securely on multiple servers on the internet. Early last year, I changed the email for @wycliff.de and @karimu.de from a local server to Microsoft Office 365. Accessing email from anywhere is not a problem for my colleagues.
  • Meetings: we can’t gather in large groups, and even small numbers of people need to be cautious. Part of the Microsoft 365 system includes the chat and collaboration capabilities offered by Microsoft Teams. You can think of Teams as Skype on steroids. More of our folks are using Teams than before the restrictions; even Microsoft has commented officially on increased worldwide usage.
  • Communications: not long after we arrived for our second term in Germany, I upgraded the phone system. Once of the features of this system is the ability to use one’s business extension from an app installed on a smartphone or computer. No one needs to use their private landline or mobile number when working outside of the office.
Top: old router. Middle: new router, with 3 internet connections, each with happy, green lights. Bottom: phone system.

With the reduced number of people physically present in the office, and with the Karimu conference center closed for the time being, I have been able to make changes and upgrades sooner than I had anticipated. Remember the failures I wrote about in March to integrate our phone lines into a new router? Well, the slowdown in work on the center allowed me the freedom to concentrate on the problem and make a breakthrough. Just in time for increased usage, our phone system is operating exactly as it should be!

With all these resources in place, I was able to put together instructions for using each of them and send people off with their own laptops or borrowed ones. I continue to go to the office each day to monitor the systems and to be ready to help folks no matter where they are. Our next big challenge will be conducting the annual member meeting next month, but I think we’ll be ready.

Bottom left: “Brunwella”, our Meeting Owl with 360° camera. She enables a few occupationally-distanced colleagues to meet onsite with remote others.

So as I look at how the present situation has affected my work, I am thankful to the God we serve that he has prepared me for this time and has given me success in areas that make a difference to my colleagues and, in turn, to those still waiting to have God’s Word in their language. Not one of us is thankful for the virus, but the faithful can be thankful to the God who changes us and who prepares us to bear difficult events and circumstances in this life. We have an advantage, you know, because we know how the story ends.

“I have told you all this so that you may have peace in me. Here on earth you will have many trials and sorrows. But take heart, because I have overcome the world.”

Jesus, to his disciples, as recorded in John 16:33, NLT

The other side of South Carolina’s seal bears another inscription: “Dum spiro spero”. It means, “While I breathe, I hope.” Below this phrase appears the word for hope itself, Spes. Such a saying is not a bad thing to keep in mind during the present trial.

In other aspects of life, Katherine, Jonathan, Caleb, and I are experiencing and enduring much of the same things you are. The effects are perhaps less, since we live in a fairly rural area and there is a lower infection rate. What has not lessened, but rather increased, is our thankfulness for the faithfulness of the people who continue to pray for us and give to our ministry with Wycliffe. Nothing has stopped the spread of the Good News in the past, and this virus will not do so now. Thank you for helping Wycliffe keep spreading the good news of hope in Jesus!

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Not the right man for the job

Don’t let yourself get carried away by the title; I am still the man in the job. As I describe some of my activities over the past few months, you’ll begin to see what I mean.

Have you ever had projects at work or at home that were intertwined? That is, at some point in the course of planning one project, you notice that it is somehow dependent on another—or perhaps on two. What’s worse, the tasks involved are a wee bit outside your knowledge or skill set. You’d love to hand the whole thing to someone else, but even that is tricky.

I am in the middle of a few such situations. Last year, Wycliffe Germany’s phone provider switched all the business lines in the country to internet-based calling. At the time, I thought this would be an easy move, but it’s not. The short story is that we needed to get a new router, one that is equipped to handle our main internet connection and those for our two sets of phone lines. With our campus being so busy—which is a good thing—it’s been hard for me to find time to make the final changes. Surely there is someone who can do this better than I can.

From the top: the old router, the new one, and the phone system.

The new router has made me realize how spoiled I was by the old one. The former device was powerful and had broad capabilities, yet I found it easy to understand how to program and manage it. The new one is not like that. I find this change to be like learning a new culture, and I ask myself similar questions: “How do these people think?”, “How do they categorize things?”, “What terms do they use for this and that?”, and so on. Surely there is someone who can do this better than I can.

Let’s go back now to that phone system. There’s an important piece inside that I suspect is slowly failing. It’s what connects the system to the phone lines, but it also uses an older method. I could replace that part, but if I can get the updated lines to work well with that new router, then I don’t need the part at all. In fact, I can eliminate the need for the device altogether if I virtualize it—make it a computer within a computer. If only I was prepared to do so!

In the fall, I installed a pair of identical, powerful servers that work together to host more than a dozen virtual servers that perform specialized tasks or host particular programs. If one fails, then the other takes over almost instantaneously. These servers are replacing another pair that are reaching the end of their serviceable life. In the course of setting up the new ones, I’ve made a few mistakes from which I could recover only with patience, determination, and the prayers of my brothers and sisters. Surely there is someone who can do this better than I can.

The new pair of servers. Each of those vertical elements is a hard drive bay.

Yes, surely there is. Yet that person isn’t here at the moment. There are firms who gladly sell the time and expertise of their staff for such matters, but to rely on them would take precious resources away from Wycliffe Germany’s raison d’être. It is often necessary to turn to such agencies for some of the complex applications we use—and my eyes widen when each bill comes across my desk for verification. Looking beyond the cost, I can also see that my mere presence and availability is a comfort and encouragement to my colleagues in their daily work.

It is still true that I am not the right man for the job. Knowing this helps me remain aware of my limitations and maintain some semblance of humility. And perhaps, in the eyes of God I serve, the qualifications of the right man are different:

  • “Then I heard the Lord asking, ‘Whom should I send as a messenger to this people? Who will go for us?'” (Isaiah 6:8, NLT)
  • “Then the Lord turned to [Gideon] and said, ‘Go with the strength you have, and rescue Israel from the Midianites. I am sending you!'” (Judges 6:14, NLT)
  • “Then the Lord asked Moses, ‘Who makes a person’s mouth? Who decides whether people speak or do not speak, hear or do not hear, see or do not see? Is it not I, the Lord? Now go! I will be with you as you speak, and I will instruct you in what to say.'” (Exodus 4:11-12, NLT)
  • “Do not despise these small beginnings, for the Lord rejoices to see the work begin, to see the plumb line in Zerubbabel’s hand.” (Zechariah 4:10, NLT)
  • “‘And does the master thank the servant for doing what he was told to do? Of course not. In the same way, when you obey me you should say, “We are unworthy servants who have simply done our duty.”‘” (Luke 17:9-10, NLT)
  • “Remember, dear brothers and sisters, that few of you were wise in the world’s eyes or powerful or wealthy when God called you. Instead, God chose things the world considers foolish in order to shame those who think they are wise. And he chose things that are powerless to shame those who are powerful.” (1 Corinthians 1:26-27, NLT)

I could go on with these examples, you know. They encourage me. Readiness, willingness, trust, reliance, humility, courage, and many other traits make a person right for God’s use as a conduit, vessel, servant, steward, ambassador, and so on.

These characteristics are also found in those who pray and give so that people like Katherine and I can go. Our God is probably not concerned about the rightness of the words that are prayed or of the account from which the support is given. He knows what is meant, and he knows what is needed. So, once again, we thank you for praying, and we thank you for giving to our ministry with Wycliffe—even when you don’t think you’re the right one for the job.

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