“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!

I think I can breathe now

We have been here in Germany for more than a year and a half, and I have still to write and publish a classic newsletter. You know, the kind that arrives in the mail, even on Saturday. For now.

Before we left the U.S., I was in the habit of taking every Tuesday afternoon off and working solely on activities related to keeping people informed about our ministry and to building up that group of people who give generously so that we can serve. Guess what habit didn’t get packed in the pile of luggage we brought with us? I could blame TSA, but that would make this excuse go from bad to worse.

Last year, I started planning a number of projects at the request of my colleague, Martijn. (Or is he my supervisor? My superior? I do report to him, but we’re quite casual with hierarchies here.) As my plans developed, I realized that one project might lead to another, and also that all of them would, in the end, overlap and benefit each other. (Now let’s pause while fans of The A-Team say, “I love it when a plan comes together.”)

The first one that I started on involved extending the capabilities of the office’s firewall to allow people outside the office to use a VPN connection to access information and services inside the office network. Most people are using it to access a financial records system that we were able to centralize because of the VPN. These co-workers of ours are in 12 different countries, and the finance system helps them to keep funds flowing to their Wycliffe members “in the field” and to the translation projects they support.

Now, to keep you from getting bored with details, here are summaries of some of the other things I was working on a bit at a time, throughout the last year:

  • Planning and setting up a fixed address for our Internet connection. This would help our VPN to be more stable.
  • Setting up a new domain (eu.wycliffe.net) for the services we offer to people outside the office and for our office network. This move would simplify the names we use for servers and services.
  • Building a new, virtualized domain controller to handle the servers, computers, and user accounts for the office. Since accounts managed by this server can be used with some of the other services offer (or will offer), it simplifies logging in. The VPN benefits from this development.
  • Installing and configuring a server that can act as an electronic repository for all of the files that the office generates, accumulates, and needs to keep. With our staff spread out these days, the software on this server will help us share information and collaborate on new work.
  • Create a virtualized server to run software that enables people to securely share and synchronize files. Within Europe and just outside it, there are many people who work in difficult areas and who don’t need folks peeping at the data on their computers. By keeping their source files with someone they trust, they feel safer.
  • Constructing a small “cluster” of virtual server hosts, as something of an experiment. Such a cluster can ensure that, if one of the hosts has a problem, the virtual computers run on it can be swiftly and automatically moved to another host. As we provide more services, we may need to ensure a higher degree of reliability. Two business-grade desktops may not seem like much of a cluster, but they work!
  • Updating our existing server. This one device hosts seven virtualized computers. Each of those has a distinct function, and separating them on different servers keeps their services from running into one another. That would make my job much more difficult. Because we only have one host server, this effort benefited from the cluster I built, as I was able to move each virtualized server to the cluster in order to keep its service(s) running. Once the cluster was running all of the virtual machines, I could shut down the main one and take my time in updating its hardware and software.

David's new office
My workspace

Hopefully you have spotted at least some of the ways in which these projects influence one another. Not all of them are done yet, and I still feel like this “flash mob” of projects has yet to gather fully in the room and begin to sing. But the more important pieces are in place, including the last item.

Mentally, it has been a challenge to keep track of the path of each project and evaluate how progress in one will affect my efforts in one or more of the others. I’m the kind of person who likes to have everything in place and ready before introducing it (them?) to others. The thought of describing this work in one or more updates, before it took some recognizable form, made me uncomfortable. So I didn’t write. That was really quite wrong of me, and I do ask you to forgive me.

Finishing the main server upgrade felt like a worthy accomplishment. It’s a fully complete task, and it eases my work on the projects that are still in progress. That’s where the title of this update comes in.

Of course, there are many other ways in which I’ve managed to be helpful to my brothers and sisters who are actively getting the message of our God to various peoples and languages around the world. With much of the mental burden of these projects lifted, I hope that my fingers will write more freely about those experiences. When you pray for me, please pray for clear thinking and planning, and for a good understanding of the different pieces of the puzzle I am assembling.