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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Living and working in the cloud

There are many days of the year, especially in autumn and spring, in which one can wake in this valley of the Wetterbach and find that the village of Holzhausen has been uploaded to the cloud. Or has the cloud downloaded itself to Holzhausen? Fog Computing just doesn’t have the same ring to it …

A foggy morning at the Wycliffe center.

Before we returned to Germany last year, I knew that one of my major projects would be to introduce Wycliffe Germany to Office 365, the suite of cloud services from Microsoft. Yes … that cloud. So … mysterious. No, it’s not. In a nutshell, it’s just taking stuff that lives on a server that you own and putting it on a whole pile of servers that somebody else owns.

The chief advantages to cloud services are little to no downtime, no physical maintenance, better security, and access from anywhere with an internet connection. Wycliffe Germany was increasingly in need of each of those features.

On my return, I began planning to move their email system from a single aging server in the basement to shiny new servers at Office 365 data centers throughout Europe. (I don’t really know if they’re shiny.) In February and March of this year, I executed my carefully tested plan, and I was very pleased with the results. So were my colleagues … whew!

The new arrangement is easier than ever to manage, and I have more information at my fingertips that helps me to keep Wycliffe’s email safe. There are many other products in Office 365 that we’re slowly beginning to use to our advantage. Please pray for me to be patient and wise as I make the introductions; neither you nor our Lord want me to try dragging my colleagues into the digital age. May He encourage me to heed the advice of the Teacher in Ecclesiastes 3:1.

And now for a personal interlude: during the last full week of the boys’ summer break, we had the pleasure of vacationing with Katherine’s parents in Wasserburg on Lake Constance. What a lovely place it is, even with … clouds!

Vacation is over and we’re all back in the saddle again. J is in his final year at Gymnasium, and C has two years left. Please pray for each to have the academic prowess to put this year away with great success.

Katherine will be spending more time in the library now and less at the Wycliffe reception desk. Nevertheless, her time at reception is precious to the administration, because she has proven skillful in organizing several predecessors’ work. Pray for her to act wisely as she tends to the resources in both places on which many people depend.

There’s another cloud that I want to mention in closing. You. This cloud is comprised of you who take an interest in our ministry, who pray for us—regularly or irregularly, who give so that we can pay our bills, and who provide for us directly—in big ways and small—when there’s a need. Just as a believer’s faith draws in great part on the “cloud of witnesses” referred by Hebrews 12:1, so does our faith in serving draw on you. We’ve been using cloud services for decades now. Thank you!

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Several weeks ago, I had to deal with a problem with the audio system in one of the five conference rooms we have at Karimu. When one of the cordless microphones was in use, a wretched static noise would obscure the speaker’s voice. That’s not how it’s supposed to work. It posed a distraction that interfered with communication.

The other two handheld mics were fine. Two headset mics produced even more noise. Nothing that my colleague or I did had any effect. We called in our local audio consultant. He was equally befuddled, frequently muttering to himself, Seltsam!. He double-checked the antennas; he reexamined the frequencies. Eventually, he packed up the works so that he could test it all in his own shop. Later, he sent everything to the manufacturer for diagnosis.

These details are somewhat beside the point. (But remember, I work now to the side of the point.) These rooms and their audio systems help people who have come from all over the world to meet together. A person does not travel great distances only to be stymied by static and noise.

At Wycliffe, we and our partners do go to great lengths to eliminate such interference. We visit nooks and crannies on this earth to listen to people we didn’t know speak languages that have never been written down. We spend years, even decades, working with those same people to decide how to write their language and to discover those who have a talent for reading and for teaching others. We painstakingly and lovingly work with them to transmit the good news of God’s kingdom in words and speech that bring the message clearly to their eyes and ears for the first time.

A fellow by the name of Jesus once put interference this way as he described the results of a farmer’s sowing seed: “Other seed fell among thorns that grew up and choked out the tender plants so they produced no grain.” (Mark 4:7, NLT) Later, he explained: “The seed that fell among the thorns represents others who hear God’s word, but all too quickly the message is crowded out by the worries of this life, the lure of wealth, and the desire for other things, so no fruit is produced.” (Mark 4:18-19, NLT) It looks like some things don’t change, even after 2,000 years.

For our poor microphones, the interference came from two places: internal settings in the receivers, and a device installed in the same cabinet that has little connection to the audio system. For people without God’s message in their own language—or at least in one they know very, very well—interference comes from an unclear understanding of other languages. Even when we do receive God’s word, other things in our environment compete for and interfere with our attention and devotion. At least, that’s according to that Jesus fellow, if you can believe him.

Our victim of interference. The main culprit? That whatsit in the middle with the bright button.

The next time you hear static from loudspeakers or sense that something is getting in the way of your WiFi, I want you to remember the people who suffer from language getting in the way of their hearing and understanding God’s message. While you’re waiting for a good, strong signal to return, will you please pray for such people to receive that message clearly?

(This is the part where you say, “Roger Wilco.” Thank you!)

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