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. Jonathan is in his final year at Gymnasium, and Caleb 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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“What do you have to show …?”

The full question is “What do you have to show for yourself?” Four months after our return to Germany, I sometimes ask myself this question. If you follow or support our ministry with Wycliffe, you might ask or think the same question.

So far as basic living goes, there are two quick things I would highlight. The first is that we’re still living in a flat on the Wycliffe center. There have been delays in the construction of our future landlords’ new home, so our move into their current one will be delayed until February. It’s not always easy or enjoyable to live without much of our own things, but we’ll be OK. The second is that the boys have settled back into the German education system, with just a few bumps and turns. Ask us sometime about the differences.

At the office, which is a mere 100 meters away, there’s a mix of results and progress. The anticipated switch to VoIP phone service hasn’t happened yet, but I think I’m ready to handle it. The most critical element in my budget request, the replacement of our physical servers, was approved. And I’m making progress preparing myself and our systems for moving our email service to Microsoft Office 365. The new year holds a lot of promise in my ‘realm’!

The area in which I have struggled, both in the results and my emotions about them, is the backup system. To make a long story short and understated, I found that it wasn’t doing what everyone thought it was doing. In rectifying the situation, I had to be patient in waiting between scheduled backups and diligent in pursuing the causes of errors. After weeks of work, I rejoiced at the sight of this summary:

Ah … the thrill of victory!

Perhaps you’ve heard this phrase before: “Enjoy it while it lasts.” Indeed. Software makers have many ways to throw one or more monkey wrenches into the works. One of those ways is to update their software. After updates to both the backup software and Microsoft Windows, here’s what stared me in the face:

Ugh … the agony of defeat.

Perhaps the backup system perceived the approach of Christmas and felt that it needed to reflect the colors of the season. Yes, let’s think of it that way, shall we?

A better vision of red, green, and gold.

Or perhaps it was looking to inspire me. It is often part of my job, I feel, to remind my clients that we live in a broken world. I point out that we work with gizmos that were conceived, designed, and manufactured by broken beings, using materials that are subject to a related brokenness. Sometimes, I have to take doses of my own medicine.

Christmas is behind us now. Or wait—is it before us? Perhaps—just maybe—it remains all around us. The only reason December 25th is at all special is that we are broken beings living in a broken world. We can’t fix ourselves, and we can’t fix the world. The only fix is the transforming power of Jesus of Nazareth … and Bethlehem.

Katherine and I work with Wycliffe to help make that fix available to every language spoken around this broken world. As you and we slide into the new year—as the Germans put it—may we run our lives year-round on the new version of life that Jesus made available. Oh, and don’t keep a backup of the old version. It’s obsolete, not to mention buggy.

Thank you for praying for us! Katherine, Jonathan, Caleb, and I wish you a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!

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