“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!

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.