Where does my help come from?

A few months ago, Psalm 121 started running through my head on a regular basis. It begins:

I lift up my eyes to the mountains—
where does my help come from?

Psalm 121:1, NIV

Back when I was working in Dallas, a coworker (and former seminary professor) pointed out that, in the composer’s day, the mountains would have been sites for shrines and altars to other gods. They weren’t effective sources of help.

What does this have to do with technology in the sphere of Bible translation? Well, though the admission may burst a bubble of hope for the masses who seek my assistance in matters of gizmotech, I have to concede that I need help sometimes, too.

Where does my help come from?

Some of the products we employ at Wycliffe Germany make use of online forums for their first-line support. In the past year, one of these forums has become a regular haunt for me. The haunting experience inspires the question that forms the title of today’s missive.

Issues with the equipment that runs our network have forced me to be more cautious about installing the updates that are issued to fix bugs and enable new functions. Part of my daily routine now includes checking the vendor’s “community” forums to see what people are saying about the latest corrections to the software.

The other people in this particular “community” are having problems, too. Most are looking for simple help and find it in answers from kind responders. Some are pointedly unhappy or angry, and they don’t hide that fact in their words. You’ve probably seen similar things yourself and know how it can be. Faced with a barrage of criticism and occasional malice, this vendor’s staff have become sparing and cautious with their replies.

Where is my help coming from, anyway?

Yes, the phrase began popping up in my head. In time, it reinforced my awareness that my ultimate help comes not from raw, flawed human beings, but from the Lord my God. When that knowledge is present in my mind, I can calm down and be patient even when reading harsh words. I can remember that the people writing these words (likely) belong to this world and not to the kingdom of God—and this is simply how humans really operate.

For plenty of the other systems under my care, I can send an email, complete an online form, or make a phone call (ick!) to get direct help from support staff. Most of the time, after a short wait, I get a reply from a knowledgable person, and the issue gets resolved. I don’t always need to sift through online vitriol.

Where does my help come from?

On the surface, my help appears to come from acquired knowledge and training, support articles, forums, technical support staff, coworkers, and other tangible sources. The reality is different:

My help comes from the Lord,
    who made heaven and earth!

Psalm 121:2, NIV

Without the Lord’s help, I could not exhibit patience and kindness online—or offline. Absent his guidance, I wouldn’t always know where to look. If I didn’t have encouragement from him, I wouldn’t have the humility to acknowledge that I need to seek others’ help.

The Lord keeps watch over you as you come and go,
    both now and forever.

Psalm 121:8, NIV

A critical part of the help that comes from the Lord to us—that is, to Katherine and me, serving together—uses you as the conduit. When you pray for us, when you support our ministry financially, you become part of a genuine community that enables us to serve the kingdom of God with Wycliffe. With gratitude, we say: may the Lord our God keep watch over you as you come and go!

P.S. This entry took me a long time to formulate in my head and to write. It reflects those times when the Christian life and perspective runs smack into that of the world around us. It simply wasn’t an easy thing to describe accurately and graciously. If you find yourself wondering what I’m up to currently, please don’t hesitate to get in touch.

Workaround, workaround … I work around!

You know, half of my job exists because people have problems. Most people don’t come to me unless they have one. Sometimes the problems are small and easy, and sometimes the problems are—well, not.

A crane hoists a wall into its new position on the upper floor.
A crane hoists a wall into its new position on the upper floor.

Back in March, I heard that there had been a little incident on the construction site at Wycliffe Germany, where they are busy expanding their lodging and meeting facilities. In the initial excavation phase, a machine had severed some of the phone cables that traverse the center. Oops. Most of the lines in two buildings lost their connections, and several others were reduced to poor quality or instability.

Later that month, I was approached by their business manager about the possibility of installing a VoIP-based phone system to restore the lost phone lines. (The network cables had been untouched.) Such a system is what I installed in our own office in 2013. One difference was that this new system would have to work for a while with what remained of the old one. It was destined to become the only system, but it would be just a workaround in the meantime so that some important calls could get through.

To make a long story short(er)—remember, this happened back in March—my colleague and  I installed the new system and the first of the phones. (That was a really long workday.) Later, we tested and recommended some cordless units to put to work in the tricky areas where corded desk phones just won’t work. Slowly, we are going to plan and install our way from the initial workaround to the final replacement system.

The excavator and its companion in front of our building (on right).
The excavator and its companion in front of our building (on right).

It seems that we’ll be needing some kind of workaround at home, too. The road through our village is being repaved and the sewer system renovated, and the sewer work is right in front of our apartment now. On Friday, the excavator stumbled upon an undocumented pipe—our building’s drain pipe, from all appearances. If the window’s open, and we run a little water, then within minutes we hear a trickling outside. Fun, huh?

Earlier, I didn’t mention that one of the phones I replaced is the one used by my wife. If I can wrangle a picture or two out of her at work this week, I’ll write about what Katherine is up to these days over at Wycliffe Germany.


A different kind of post

There are many people who don’t like to read the first section of the Christian Bible that’s called the Old Testament. I’m not one of them; I rather like it. It helps me feel connected to the long flow of humanity who are God’s people.

Whether you’ve read the OT or not, there’s a good change that you’ve heard of the Levites. I’m not going to give you their full history here, but instead point out just a few things:

  • They served God full-time and received their living from Israel’s other tribes.
  • Their duties were divided among the three clans of the tribe.

One of these clans was called the Merarites. These are the folks I identify with the most. Read this from Numbers 3:

The descendants of Merari were composed of the clans descended from Mahli and Mushi. There were 6,200 males one month old or older among these Merarite clans. They were assigned the area north of the Tabernacle for their camp. The leader of the Merarite clans was Zuriel son of Abihail. These two clans were responsible for the care of the frames supporting the Tabernacle, the crossbars, the pillars, the bases, and all the equipment related to their use. They were also responsible for the posts of the courtyard and all their bases, pegs, and ropes.

(Numbers 3:33-37, New Living Translation)

Full-time. Frames, posts, ropes, and stuff. Zuriel, I am totally with you, brother.

I just wish that the infrastructure that I take care of with my fellow Technites wasNetwork spaghetti as simple as Zuriel’s.

The Tabernacle was at the center of the Israelite camp. One thing that is close to the center of Wycliffe’s existence – and, for that matter, the center of many organizations, companies, and, oh, human relationships – is communication.

For 138 years, the telephone has served humanity as an efficient means of communication. Over that time, the basic concept hasn’t changed, but things sure look different under the hood now. If Bell and Marconi could see us now!

Last fall, our office purchased a new phone system to replace an aging one that was causing occasional problems. “Last fall?” you ask, “Why are you telling us now?”

BlinkenlichtenThe answer has to do with the timing of fiscal years and, uh, my complete inexperience with phone systems, whether modern or ancient. Progress in configuring our new-fangled contraption went slowly as I learned and experimented. Eventually, I was ready for us to order the new phones that would go with the thing. Thankfully, it’s a small office, and I was able to put the system and the phones into service this spring.

There are a few chief benefits to this phone system. First, it provides voice mail and email notifications to our well-traveled staff. Second, our staff members can connect their computers to the phone system over the Internet and use it to make calls at much better rates. And thirdly, we can eventually integrate interested offices in other parts of Europe so that it’s easier and cheaper to stay in touch. We are, after all, here to ensure their success in peopling and financing the Bible translation effort.

2014-07-02_10-15-44_50pctSo here I sit in my office, a more comfortable little command center than Zuriel ever enjoyed. Behind me is one screen that lets me tell the network how to move data to the phones and power them. The other helps me to easily manage the phone system and the phones themselves. (Black phone new, white phone old.)

I don’t have to haul physical posts and stands from one campsite to the next. The infrastructure I handle is different in this age. Instead, it’s a pile of plastic, metal, and wire that I set up to make sure that the fundamental need for telecommunications in place. Thanks to the new system, the people I serve can move campsites and – so long as they have an Internet connection – still stay in touch.