An end to waiting, and guarding against nothing

Once upon a time, we lived in a world in which we could make the desires of our hearts entries in our budget appear before us almost instantly. Then strange things happened in this world, and we were made to wait: resource scarcity, supply chain problems, and sickness conspired to delay nearly everything.

An end to waiting

In January, I finally received equipment that I had ordered more than a year previously. Surely my sigh of relief was heard from one end of the valley to the other. For your amazement and delight, I present to you the before and after photos:

BEFORE: one powerless, noisy switch
AFTER: two powerful, quiet switches

The marvel of it all has surely rendered you speechless, so I invite you to pause in your reading to recover.

Truly, these switches and their capabilities are far less important to you, to me, and to Wycliffe Germany than are the people they serve. These devices connect some dear people who play a vital role in Bible translation:

  • Our prayer coordinator stays in touch with the missionaries of Wycliffe Germany so that we (staff, retirees, and friends) can pray in specific ways for our brothers and sisters out yonder. She also prepares material that is published more broadly in the quarterly magazine.
  • Our public relations staff are responsible for that magazine, the website, and more. They visit churches, they design and staff exhibits for missions and youth conferences, and they create material that describes the work of Wycliffe and the milestones of success in Bible translation.
  • Our personnel staff become the point of contact for people who express an interest in serving with Wycliffe, be it as a short-term helper or a long-term member. They are in regular contact with the men and women who are in that stage between being accepted as a candidate and being sent out to the place where they will serve. The individuals and families in service are also under their care.

The work that these people do involves a veritable flood of communication and collaboration: email messages, phone calls, chats, databases, and a gazillion files. All of that flows through one electronic medium or another. The switches reliably direct those flows of data. When I do my job right, all of it happens in the background, hopefully unnoticed.

Guarding against nothing

I expect that each of us locks the doors and windows in the hope that no one will even try to enter—or that, having examined the window or door, an ill-intentioned person will conclude that it is not worth the effort. Some of my activities over the past few months have focused on the elements of security that we hope never get put to the test:

  • A backup server allows me to restore data if it has been lost. Data can be lost for reasons such as accidental deletion, disk failure, or data corruption. One of the latest threats of loss comes from ransomware, which locks away the data through encryption.
    • With the potential threat of ransomware in mind, I have been fine-tuning our backup scheme to provide the best chance of protection and recovery.
    • The server has aged, and I am researching a new one that will be able to serve Wycliffe for the next several years.
  • Within the next month or two, we will be replacing the traditional locks in our administration building with electronic ones, which simplify access for the right people and confound access for the wrong people.
    • The electronic locks and keys are managed through a system that I organize and oversee. It’s secured on a regular basis by the backup server I just mentioned.
  • Our email system relegates suspicious messages to the spam folder and obviously malevolent ones to quarantine. The idea is, of course, that the recipient will not react inappropriately to the garbage contained in such messages and inadvertently breach the security of their account—or worse.
    • Among the most despicable messages I see languishing (properly) in quarantine are those in which the sender rambles on and on about being “in complete control” of all of the recipient’s accounts and devices. The sender knows all about the recipient’s wicked internet habits. There’s just no hope for them but to pay the (anonymous) sender some amount of cryptocurrency. Otherwise, terrible things will happen. Why, they might even lower the temperature of the freezer and allow the ice cream to melt. It’s nothing personal, of course; the sender needs to make a living like everyone else.
    • Ugh. These messages are designed to instill panic and to provoke a hasty, costly reaction. They are full of nothing but hot air. You know who’s not full of hot air and empty promises? Jesus. I’m not trying to draw an analogy here, but I’m reminded of the encounter described in Matthew 9:1-8, Mark 2:1-12, and Luke 5:17-26. (Pick your favorite account.) Jesus showed those present that his words were not empty. Personally, I find his words encouraging in my work.

Thanks for reading to the end. I hope that you can see how the work that I do supports and facilitates Bible translation in the places where members of Wycliffe Germany serve. Many of them work in challenging places, which is why I rarely give details. My work has its challenges, too. You face your own challenges in life. If you support our ministry financially, I don’t doubt that you’ve felt challenged on that point as well. Take encouragement in the knowledge that we serve a God who does not issue empty promises—and he has promised to always take care of his people. Katherine and I are thankful to you for generously taking care of us!

And now, I will sign off with something more amazing and delightful than a pair of switches:

As seen from our house on March 17, 2022

“Scotty, I need more power!”

This phrase has been familiar to many for decades now. In my work, I don’t need quite that much power, but power runs through everything that I manage. Over the past several months, several of the challenges facing me center on power. Or the lack of it.

When a device needs consistent, reliable power, it often gets connected to an uninterruptible power supply, or UPS. Servers and core network equipment like routers and switches fall in this category. Last year, the UPS connected to our main servers developed a fault and quit. Its failure didn’t do any lasting harm, but it was not a happy situation. This year, I acquired and installed the replacement.

The new UPS servicing the main server room.

As life would have it, at just about the time I had this UPS running, the one connected to our backup server and the internet connections also failed. It, too, needed to be replaced. After each failure, I was thankful that we have very few power outages here in this part of Germany and that I didn’t have to worry too much about not having immediate replacements. The second unit’s delivery was delayed a few weeks by the global supply chain problems.

Around the Wycliffe and Karimu campus, one can see the discus-shaped Wi-Fi access points that I installed for staff and guests. As I mentioned in the linked post, the devices get both data and power from the switches to which they’re connected. Our desk phones work the same way. Well, most of them do. Some of them are connected to a switch that I haven’t been able to replace and which can’t provide power.

The green cables connect to a power adapter for the nearby Wi-Fi device.

The phones wind up having two cables—one for data, and one for power. The Wi-Fi device needs an adapter between it and the switch that adds power to the line. The situation leads to inefficiencies in power and management. Inefficiency … gross.

In something of a reversal, several Wi-Fi access points have lost their ability to detect that power is being provided to them by the switch. The chip doing that job has failed, I suppose, but the rest of the device still works. As a result, I’ve needed to add adapters to their lines and “force feed” them.

Again, this is an inefficient situation, but at least I can work around the deficiencies. I ordered replacement equipment back in January, but it took months for much of it to arrive. The very last devices in the order should come this week. Once again, the shortage is to blame.

The last mention for power takes us outside. With increasing frequency, we have guests coming to the conference center with electric cars. To our mutual benefit, we have installed a charging station in the parking lot.

Fill ‘er up!

As with almost everything these days, the station needs an internet connection in order to communicate with whatever system is managing access and billing. That’s why I’m involved. You know, I never thought that I might work at a filling station one day. 😉 Have I mentioned the global supply chain problems? Yes, they affect this project, too: the charging station in the photo is an interim model delivering juice until the model we ordered is back in stock.

These situations made me think of Jesus’ words in John 15:1-8. Among those are these:

“Yes, I am the vine; you are the branches. Those who remain in me, and I in them, will produce much fruit. For apart from me you can do nothing.

John 15:5, NLT

Without clean, constant power from the UPS, the servers turn off. Without the right switch or adapter, the Wi-Fi drops out. Without a charging station, the electric car will just sit in the parking lot.

Jesus is the source of power for the one who believes—and who stays connected. His power is pure, his power is eternal, and his power is always provided in the right manner and measure. He has no supply problems. You simply cannot go wrong by connecting to him.

Our service to Wycliffe is powered in part by people whom God has empowered to give and to pray. Are you one of those people? Katherine and I are grateful to you for being a part of our power grid! I’ll sign off now with an excerpt of the blessing given in Hebrews 13:20-21:

May he produce in you,
    through the power of Jesus Christ,
every good thing that is pleasing to him.

Hebrews 13:21, NLT

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.

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