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.


The four basic needs

I wrote a few months ago about being asked by Wycliffe Germany to upgrade their wireless network. As I discussed the project with their current director, Angelika Marsch, I mentioned that I have observed that people aren’t content anymore with the traditional needs of food, clothing, and shelter. We (yeah, me, too) have added a fourth: Internet access.

When conference or meeting attendees arrive at the venue, they ask three questions, and not necessarily in this order:

  1. Where is my room?
  2. When (and where) is the next meal?
  3. How do I get on the Internet?

Most people have brought their clothing with them. (Well, those are the only kind I provide support for, anyway.)

Crazy access point setupSo my goal at the Wycliffe center was to give guests (and staff) a great experience with Internet access. Whether folks are inside or outside – it is, after all, a beautiful setting with cool weather – their devices should be able to connect quickly. The new equipment we ordered arrived over several days, and I set to work right away as each piece arrived and prepared it for installation. Some things, like the wireless access points you see in the picture, could be set up en masse.

No little green men in these "UFOs"Once I installed some core equipment around the center that would provide both data and power to the new wireless system – and at faster speeds than before – the rest of the installation went very smoothly. The center manager and I went from one spot to another, securing mounting plates and plugging the little “UFOs” into the network. Gradually, the new wireless network took shape and became active.

During the meetings that inspired the upgrade, we received nothing but compliments from the attendees. Since then, many people – whether guests or everyday staff – have commented on the improvement. There are areas in which I know I can make some improvements, but this experience has been very satisfying, and the sight of people happily and comfortably doing email or connecting with family back home is all the reward I need.

There’s always room for improvement

It’s good that my latest projects specific to the Europe Area office have reached the point where I don’t have to put so much intense time into them. I was recently approached by Wycliffe Germany about a major undertaking on their part.

The center is about to host meetings of the international boards of Wycliffe and its partner organization, SIL. With members coming from many different countries, the boards like to vary the places where they gather, to share the burden of long-distance travel. It’s also important that no one be denied entry because of visa restrictions. Such locations aren’t always easy to find, so this event represents a great opportunity for Wycliffe Germany.

As you might imagine, Internet access has become critical to people who usually work at long distances from one another. Everything they write and share is stored digitally somewhere on this big globe of ours. When they do meet together, the time spent face-to-face is precious. It shouldn’t be wasted by spotty networks and slow connections. I’m sure that you’ve felt the temptation to lose patience while waiting for a web page to load. That feeling gets real awkward when you’re making a live presentation.

Wycliffe Germany celebrated its golden anniversary last year. And while the center’s network isn’t 50 years old, it’s not new enough to be ready for today’s speeds and loads. As with many small campuses and businesses, the equipment “grew” and “creeped” over time. Now we need to prune the growth and graft in branches that will produce good fruit from a root that is still pretty decent.

Diagram of the proposed network devices and layout.
The eagerly anticipated “after” diagram.

I worked some long hours this week to create a plan for upgrading the network. The center manager and I went through each building to root out every device and cable so that we know where we can put new network switches and wireless access points.

I made diagrams of what the network looks like now and what it could look like after the upgrade. The options are now in the hands of the decision makers. Hopefully, while we’re on vacation this next week, one of the options will be approved. There’ll be just enough time to order the devices, install them, and test the new system before the meetings begin at the end of April. Yee-haw!

Sometimes it feels wrong to enjoy work this much, but I’m getting the opportunity to work with devices that do interesting, even amazing, things. I have the chance to transform a complicated, unsatisfactory situation — one where technology is actually burdening my brothers and sisters in Christ. We’re going to put tech in its place. We’ll put it into the background, keep it there, and free our guests to interact with one another and serve the Lord unhindered by the wacky world of computers.

So praise God with me for the progress made so far, and pray for a successful upgrade!

As for our vacation, I’m sure you’ll hear from us again soon …

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