Thursday, February 26, 2015

Tales to Tell

There are distant shores still unreached.
New friendships yet to be realized.
And brave stories still to be lived.
So go find them.
Take the long way.
Cross oceans.
Cross continents.
And make it epic.
For regret feeds on the weak.
Bones heal. Sunburns fade. Money is spent.
And miles are left behind.
But having a tale to tell is something you can never lose.
Odysseys Await.
Seen at the Sperry store, Charleston, SC.

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Trips With Dad - 2015 #1

At the end of 2014, I found myself slightly disappointed in my abilities as a father for that year. I decided to be a little more intentional with time with my immediate family members, culminating in a decision to take each one of my kids [and my wife] on a trip, just the two of us, in 2015. This was the first of these.

Deanna and I escaped the snow for a few days to Charleston, SC. Her sister had gone to college here so we had spent a good amount of time here when we were dating and have always loved the city. Warm, coastal, and southern - what is not to love.

+ Boone Hall plantation, just outside of Charleston, is a fun visit to check out plantation life. The best thing here was a live presentation about Gullah culture, the slave culture that migrated from West Africa. Super great presentation. You can save yourself a couple bucks if you get tickets for the plantation at the Charleston Visitor Center in the city.
+ We stayed in Charleston one night and then a few nights on Isle of Palms, your perfect little beach town. Our hotel was walking distance to the beach, little local restaurants and the VFW.
+ We also spent one afternoon at Tybee Island, outside of Savannah, visiting with my brother in law, sister in law and my niece and nephew.
+ I got my I Love Small Waves shirt at Half Moon Outfitters, a Charleston institution.

I deem this one a success.

Friday, February 20, 2015

Happy birthday Deanna

More so now than ever before, she embodies the pioneer spirit. Whether it is travelling, like we are now, raising our girls to engage the world, catalyzing the next generation of global leaders, or dealing with diabetes, her mindset is "with Jesus, let's find a way or make a way."

Happy birthday. Love.

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

2015 Missions Baseline Questions

Ember uses a generic application for all our ProtoGuides and summer teams. Included in this application is a section called "Missions Baseline" which is used to gauge an applicant's knowledge on some basic missions concepts. We've used this for a number of years and, of course, keep refining our application. The application is not a simple, fill out your name, address, your salvation story and why you want to go on a summer team. Instead, it is designed to require some significant effort.

Here are the questions from our baseline section this year. The ideal is that we compare what they know before and after their experience. And our hope is that they get some real life understanding of these ideas.
Describe what a person of peace is.
Describe what an indigenous leader is. Why are these leaders so important?
Describe the tension between social justice and evangelism.
What is cultural distance and provide an example.
Describe an example of contextualization.
Name a modern day example of a movement.
The name of a person that you are discipling.
The name of a person that is discipling you.
Describe something you have helped catalyze.
Describe a unique, important, modern day global phenomenon.

Students are fully capable of understanding each and every one of these ideas. In fact, teach them these ideas well enough and you might have a global catalyst on your hands. [If you steal them, and you are more than welcome to, just let me know how you use them.]

Monday, February 16, 2015

Thank You, Board of Director, Dale Swinburne

In February of 2007, I met Dale Swinburne at a gathering in Florida hosted by Alex McManus. I had connected with Dale a few months before that on social media and heard great things about him. Meeting him face to face validated those things - he was an expert at the StrengthsFinder psychometric, he was passionate about building teams and leaders and he had a view of the world that clicked with mine. Although Dale lived about 20 minutes from me, it took going to Florida to actually meet him face to face.

In 2010, I asked Dale to join my team on the Board of Directors for The Ember Cast, a new student missions organization I was launching. We had spent some time together since 2007 and I was always impressed by his integrity and his deep longing for the Church to be an unstoppable force. His time on the Board has been a huge investment in our students, various teams and especially me. Some of his contributions have included:
- Multiple deep StrengthsFinder learning sessions with individuals and teams. He is the best I know at this and his expertise has consistently erupted better performance from each Ember team he has worked with.
- In discussions about various core competencies of Ember, Dale liked to ask, 'Are we giving them what they think they want or what we think they need?' This key question has always reminded me to consider the obscure alternatives when we try to meet our clients needs right now and in the future.
- Two of his daughters, Emily and Gwen, were a part of Ember's 2010 AZ experience. It was an integral summer for us as an organization because it was the first Ember summer team ever. Emily also served as a fantastic guide for us in 2012. Dale and his wife Jen have always embraced Ember with their family.
- I will always remember the story of him meeting with one of the spiritual mentors in both of our lives and that mentor asking, 'How many people at your church are coming to know Jesus per second?' That is the kind of view about Church that Dale and I share.

As of last week, Dale's time on the board of directors has come to an end and I'm immensely grateful. His time on the board and his investment in me as a leader and a friend have been invaluable. Thank you Dale - you have impacted the future in more ways than you know.

Photo: SF session, Dale, JTimmons, ARotolo. 2010.

Friday, February 13, 2015

Friday Burn

::: A Counter Cultural Approach to Poverty Alleviation
In reality, the evidence suggests that the vast majority of the reductions in poverty have been due to the spread of one of America’s greatest inventions: rapid economic growth based on the expansion of capitalism. Indeed, economists and policy makers believe that further reductions in global poverty will require poor countries to continue to adopt the policies and institutions that have enabled the United States to sustain high rates of economic growth and material prosperity. In essence, the goal is to turn Bangladesh into America.

And this should give Christians serious pause.
Fantastic read.
Link


::: Charity: Water and Google Work on Remote Sensor Technology
And then they make the software and hardware plans available to anyone. If you've been here for a while you know how I love Charity: Water. And you should know that the nonprofit sector is ripe for technologists.
Link


::: Map - If the Size of Countries Reflected their Populations
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::: An African-American youth worker told me that when he meets with donors, he speaks "Caucasian." He shaves, wears khakis, and says "AWESOME!" - @DavidLivermore

Photo - Teal Rapp, director of recruiting for Christian Associates. Les Baux, France. July 2014.

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Announcing Ember Prague 2015

Today, I am thrilled to announce The Ember Cast's first 2015 summer project. We are putting together a team to travel to Prague this summer to work with Christian Associates. The specific project is to run their middle/high school program during their annual worldwide staff conference. Christian Associates is an organization we love - they have a deep creative and entrepreneurial ethos and they embody the concept of missional imagination. If you've been around here long, you know that we served with student teams at these conferences in 2007 and 2008 and CA was a partner with us for the last two summers in Aix-en-Provence, France.

Camp Juice is the name of their middle/high school program and we will be hanging with a very unique blend of teenager - think a set of third culture kids whose parents are involved in the non mainstream activity of starting new faith communities or some kind of nonprofit or social enterprise. We have a few ideas that we think are pretty non mainstream as well, which should be interesting. I'll be the first to admit that this whole project is a pretty big stretch for me - I've never done anything like this before. It's a good reach though and I'm excited as our team comes together for the dreaming, planning and execution of this.

Not only do we hope our students dream big in executing Camp Juice, there is a pretty unique bigger context at work as well. We will have a team of students who are already mostly interested in the many facets of global missions, world cultures, nonprofit and social good and Gospel centered leadership. And they'll be gathered with a few hundred adults who are already doing these kinds of things in environments all over the globe. Although this shapes up to be quite a catalytic experience, our hope is of course that through this experience, Jesus continues to lead and guide their lives.

Thanks in advance for your support for this project.

Monday, February 09, 2015

Upcoming Ember Engagements

Here are some upcoming Ember events that some of you might be interested in. If you have ever wondered about what we do, why we do it, if we are any good at our core competencies, or what does it take to run student service/mission/leadership projects, these might be a good opportunity to come and learn. We don't usually open up availability for people to join us in this manner, but get in touch for more specifics if you are interested.

March 7 - Baltimore, MD
We are hosting two sets of college students to serve with a community development org in Curtis Bay. The most interesting thing about this experience is that Wendy, who we have worked with lots and who also runs a few after school programs in Salisbury, is bringing some of the kids that she serves so that those kids can be involved in serving someone else.

April 14 - Location - TBD
We are helping facilitate an overnight service and culture experience with a small group of high school students. This will involve some real time cultural observation and engagement and a service project in an urban environment.

May 29 and 30 - Columbia, MD
We are helping run a series of student missions leader and team preparation sessions for a local church. Their student missions experiences will comprise 4 teams and over 50 students and leaders.

Contact - tonytsheng AT theembercast.org if interested.

Friday, February 06, 2015

Friday Burn

::: The Crisis Text Line
Fantastic read about teenagers, texting and how it all comes together in The Crisis Text Line, the first and only national, 24/7 crisis-intervention hotline to conduct its conversations exclusively by text message. Must read if you work with students.
Link


::: East Asia's Massive Urban Growth
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::: 8 Ted Talks to Watch Before You Speak
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::: Diagnosing HIV with a smartphone
Link

::: If you blow it at home, you’ve blown it as a leader. >> Leadership begins at home - @ToddAdkins

Photo: Paris, 2013.

Wednesday, February 04, 2015

Welcome Home JT

Loved catching up with JTimmons, who you might remember helped with Ember 14X as the first leg of his 5 leg journey around the world. His jaunts also included Greece, Turkey, Nepal, and China and we loved being a small part of his quest as he sought how the Lord might use him in another culture. John's spirit of adventure will continue to inspire all of us.

Watch this guy and I don't know either about my hair.

Monday, February 02, 2015

3 Tips for Communications for Mission Team Leaders

The fastest, most effective way to derail your upcoming missions project is to ignore all responsibilities for communication. I have seen this time and time again and it is unfortunate, irresponsible and easily fixed. Here are our better practices for communications when it comes to student mission teams.

1 - Be committed to over communicate.
I have, unfortunately, run into situations where communication with potential partners is almost nonexistent. Think like 2-3 months of nothing, even after we have agreed to work together, even when you try to reach them repeatedly. Sure I know they are in another time zone, they are busy with the day to day stuff, their personality lends themselves to being less structured, and blah blah blah. All of that is a bad excuse. I've pointed teams away from hosts that will not communicate with teams regularly.

In contrast, the very best partners we have worked with over communicate. Their interactions are timely - we interact when needed, sometimes multiple times a week. They use various mediums when needed - we jump on Skype, we text, we email. They are fully engaged and in the loop. Both sides do everything they can to make sure plans are clear.

Over communicating is not rocket science and I'm convinced that communicating well is more an act of the will than anything else. Having a habit or system to help you do this is good but at the core, it takes a commitment.

2 - Partners
For our partners, the best thing we do, I think, is send a letter of intent at the kickoff of a project. We send this letter to our partners/hosts at the outset of any large project - typically projects that are overseas, that are more than just a few people and that require significant travel and related logistics.

In this letter, we include:
+ Language that states that serving and working on this project is our intent, barring serious disaster or circumstance.
+ Rough dates for our travel for our teams.
+ What our major milestones are, such as support, team preps, and finalizing logistics.
+ Who the point of contact is.
+ What to expect in terms of communication moving forward.

For Ember, this letter serves as an internal kickoff for the project, making it official to our team. Hopefully it also serves as some kind of milestone for our partners and hosts too.

3 - Communicating with Your Team
Regular, consistent communication will do wonders for your team. When we are months away from departure, I typically send an email once a week. These include support levels, upcoming meetings and any developments about our project or hosts. I put together a travel packet about 3 weeks before departure that contains all travel details. In the week before we depart, daily emails are a habit. You might think it too much but you could never say that the information was not communicated.

If you are responsible to get a team of high school kids from one country to another and maybe one more, spending tens of thousands of dollars to do this and the vision of having students change the trajectory of their lives to serve a bigger cause through this experience, you should be committed to communicating clearly and consistently. Communication is one of the most easily neglected leadership habits of mission team leaders and when it isn't done well, most of the time, people have lots of excuses but no good reasons.

Friday, January 30, 2015

Friday Burn

::: Six Mistakes in Leading High Performers
British explorer and Mount Everest climber George Mallory identified three core characteristics of any high performer:
+ Inborn Initiative - They are drawn to complete things, to "win."
+ Positive Perseverance - They are not easily swayed, distracted, or stymied.
+ Superb Skill - They have exceptional abilities in at least one area, and can handle complex tasks and learn quickly.
Link


::: Making a Career from Adventure
Or turning a hobby into a job.
Link via kottke


::: A Path Appears - Part 1
Nick Kristof writes about Magdelene, a two year residential program in Nashville for victims of human trafficking, and the subsequent business called Thistle Farms. This article is some great background to part 1 of the PBS special called A Path Appears, focused on domestic human trafficking, that was on earlier this week. Fantastic show - part 2 is on next week and the conclusion is on the following week. Highly recommended.
Link


::: Can You Guess the Language Being Spoken
Link

Photo: moving violation, Yonkers, NY. Jan 2013.

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

2015 Dream Session #5

This is Trevin - long time readers will remember that he was Ember's first guide. Trevin traveled with us pre-Ember and is now on staff at Bay Area Community Church where one of his responsibilities is coordinating their local community service projects.

Bay Area also has about 17 overseas short term teams this coming year and Trevin will be leading one of them. Because we both believe that team training is just as important as what you do on the field, we might be scheming to do some of that Mission Advancing together.

You might or might not have a team or destination yet. But a good part of dreaming is thinking about how to prepare them well.

Monday, January 26, 2015

2015 Dream Session #4

In the spring of 2013, after having served in the global missions arena at my church for over 10 years, I was released from all responsibilities. This was after five years with student teams, two years with a team to redefine the vision and three years as an advisor to the director of global missions. In what might be content for another post, I know I'm not the best team player - I can be highly cynical, sarcastic when I think I'm being funny and sometimes like to do things my way. The release was because I didn't quite share 100% enthusiasm for the vision and strategy, which was and is accurate.

In a suburban, affluent, faith community of over 2000 people that was seeking to better engage the world, my experience, talents and gifts were irrelevant? It was in pondering that question that I noticed an undercurrent of bitterness that started to affect my emotions as I thought about church world and missions and leadership. It was not healthy and I thought about therapy more than a few times.

About a year later, our high school pastor asked me if I would be willing to help some student mission teams again. There were some tactical needs - help with team training and investing in some leaders. I was delighted and it was where I could help without getting into issues about vision and strategy. Two weeks later, for completely unrelated reasons, our director of global missions was terminated.

Second from the right is Kristen. She is one of our guides and we've worked on a few projects together including 2012Belgium and I'm proud to tell you that this year, she is the point leader for Grace's student mission teams. She is a fantastic leader and I'm thrilled about Ember working on retainer with her and her teams.

In the economy of the Kingdom, sometimes things have to die to be reborn. Seeds die before they grow. Winter is cold and dark so that Spring can bloom. The Gospel means that sometimes, life comes from death.

Friday, January 23, 2015

Friday Burn

::: The Biggest Barrier to College Students Going to the Mission Field
This is a fantastic read that should be required for global missions pastors and people that work with students. Hint - it is not debt.
Link via Julianna


::: 2015 Bible Minded Cities
If you are looking to start something from scratch related to missional imagination, you should seriously consider the column of cities on the right.
Link


::: Are You as Passport Expert?
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::: 3 Simple Forcing Functions That Will Multiply Your Productivity
These are super good.
Link


::: Can You Name These Cities By their Subway Maps?
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::: 8 Reasons Full Time Pastors go Bivocational
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::: A Teenager's View on Social Media - 2015
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::: Good leaders get decisions. Great leaders get committments. @RobJacobs_

Photo: JTimmons, Bandol, France. July 2014.