Friday, August 21, 2015

See You in SeptEmber

For the past three years, I have taken a full stop break in the Fall from The Ember Cast - a sabbatical that lasts about 6 weeks. It is one of the healthiest things I do - it gives me some breathing room to rest and relax, it slows the pace so our kids get a good start to the school year and helps me recover and re-energize. The only Ember related thing I will do in the next 6 weeks is have dinner with the Ember Prague team as part a follow up after our 30 days post trip. Other than that, I'll try to be a regular person that works a single full time job and has evenings and weekends off. Weird.

Over the past few years, as a family, we have come to embrace the bivocational model of ministry more and more. But keep it in perspective, Ember is not a faith community or a church plant and I'm not a pastor - those would be much, much more challenging. There are lots of you though that have set up your lives in the same way. You may not call yourself bivocational, but you spend a lot of your free time, money and energy serving and leading others, whether through a local nonprofit or a church ministry or a community development organization. If you spend more than an average of 10 hours a week doing this all year long, I cannot implore you enough to think about a consistent, intentional season of rest every year.

My sabbatical starts this weekend. See you in late SeptEmber.

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

The 10 Spot

In 2005, 10 years ago this summer, I got on a plane with a team of students and traveled to Brasil for 10 days. Little did I know what this trip would begin, a season where we dedicated an enormous amount of time, money and energy to developing student mission leaders. [Although some of this started in 2004, 2005 was an international team.] Except for 2009, I have done this every summer since. It has been an huge task and has required a good amount of sacrifice but the benefits have been incredible - these experiences have done more for my soul than almost anything else in my life. In many ways, I feel like I was made for this.

Here are some big picture metrics - back of the napkin style:
9 teams, 114 people, average team size of 12.
13 countries. I have never led an adult team, by the way.
Collectively raised around $245,000.
71 team prep meetings and 5 team prep overnighters [Mission Advance]. 350 hours of team preparation.
94 days on the field. 8904 hours of serving.

As best as I can gather, 85% of these students are still engaged in Christian missional leadership. I'm not saying there is cause and effect here - just because a student goes on one of these doesn't mean that they will grow in their leadership. But we do track that statistic and if any of these numbers matter, it is that one.

From SPACE to The Ember Cast, thank you to the many, many friends, co-conspirators and student missions patrons that have journeyed with us. If you've sent an encouraging email, prayed for a student or a team, donated money, liked or read a post, retweeted or made a favorite, showed up at a bake sale or made a meal or encouraged a team or student, etc, the list could go on and on - we are forever grateful and none of this would be possible without you. You have marked the course of human history and the future is indebted to you.

Monday, August 17, 2015

Prague Random

Random stuff posted mostly for me - last post about Prague for a while.

+ Prague is cheap - London is expensive, almost exact opposites. For the second summer in a row, I've used the Chase Sapphire card for anything I can because there are no foreign transaction fees. I did, however, have to pay about $50 in foreign ATM fees. Even though Prague is cheap, not everyone takes credit cards unlike other parts of Europe that I have been to. So you have to be prepared with a good amount of cash on hand. Especially when buying lunch for a ton of students.

+ The night we spent with Andrew and Debbie Jones was also the night we met the owner of Sir Toby's hostel, who also happens to run a series of hostels in Prague and one in Accra, Ghana. He is a serial entrepreneur and uses revenue from his businesses to help fund missional stuff all over the globe. He left that night for Accra to spend some time looking into a public sanitation initiative.

+ The students we hung with use Snapchat, Instagram, and Facebook. Snapchat continues to be a messaging platform for a lot of kids. I don't know why. I actually used Facebook Messenger while away because it was easier to use than anything else to connect with people overseas. Three of our team, including me, had overseas data plans for our phones.

+ The Charles Bridge and the Old Town Square are packed with tourists. I never felt unsafe in any of those parts of the city.

+ The Prague metro is super easy to use.

+ Security at Heathrow was a hot mess. I had my whole carry on bag inspected which I don't normally get bent out of shape about. But it took forever. While I was getting that done, our team was together outside a store when some random guy dropped a suitcase next to them and walked away. They got security right away.

+ Our hotel in London was in East London, right next to a large Mosque. Budget cost, teeny rooms but more than adequate. Easy walk to Tower Bridge and a great ethnically diverse neighborhood. This is what global cities look like.

+ Lots of our kids had a little insecurity about being the same age as the kids they were 'leading.' In actuality, teams like this have a certain 'gravity' that attracts others. Roles don't matter but this gravity does.

+ The emerging generation wants 'programming' that is organic.

+ In December, when we got the invite to help run Camp Juice, Emily said, "Wow, The Ember Cast will be a real missions organization after this!" Fake it until you make it, Ember spawn.

Friday, August 14, 2015

Friday Burn

::: The Myth of Calling

::: America more Post-Christian than 2 Years Ago

::: The Challenge of Planting a Church in NYC

::: A mind that is stretched to a new idea never returns to its original dimension - Oliver Wendell Holmes via Alan Hirsch

Photo: Prague Castle.

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

Ember's 30 Day Rule

Most stories you hear about how long term missionaries and calling have something to do with a short term trip. There is nothing inherently bad about that - that is part of why we run these summer experiences. We do think, though, that sometimes the emotion of returning can reduce clarity for direction and calling. And that is why we have the 30 day rule. Put simply, it says that you don't make any harsh decisions within 30 days of returning from your experience.

My kids keep helping me add to this rule every year. Last year, it was to spend some significant purposeful time praying about what you learned in these 30 days. This year, they said if you are doing cocaine, it is okay to stop that right now. Thanks guys. In terms of our Prague team, it would be easy to come home and tell your parents that you are packing up all your stuff to go live with the Jones' on their truck. Or that you are going to skip college to go be a church planter with Christian Associates. Or that working at a hostel in Europe is more missional than high school. None of those things are bad. But there can be a certain amount of emotion wrapped in those decisions. A decision is not good if it is based on pure emotion.

Wait 30 days and let the emotion die down. If it is a true calling from the Lord, it will burn in your soul with even more urgency after the 30 days are up. The statistics do not lie - we need more missionaries. But we need them making good, clear decisions.

Monday, August 10, 2015

Ember Prague Wrap

What an experience. The Lord really provided because it could have been a huge train wreck but instead was an amazing time with a whole group of amazing students. Here's some highlights - this is a long post.

::: The Jones
Loved our time being able to see Andrew and Debbie again - they have both had a huge impact on my perspective of missions, leadership and the emerging generation. Being able to have them share with a group of Camp Juice kids was so great. Love their family. Our students talked about a lot of this for the rest of the week.

::: Cultural scavenger hunt and Bless Day
Two really useful tools in Ember's tool set - the cultural scavenger hunt and Bless Day. The big lesson with the cultural scavenger hunt is how you apply it - what are the observations you made about the culture and how would you interpret those if you were to try to plant the Gospel in that culture? The big lesson with Bless Day, at least for this one, is the idea of missional imagination - what can you imagine you could do with the resources that you have that might move people to the Kingdom?

I alluded to this story in an earlier post too, but on Bless Day, one of the teams ran into a homeless man and asked him if they could buy him lunch. They went to a Czech restaurant and sat down to eat. In the middle of their meal, as they were getting acquainted even with the language barrier, he pulled out his identification card and it turned out to be his birthday. They sang him happy birthday [in English in a Czech restaurant in Prague...] and then later took him out to get his favorite gelato. Beautiful story.

::: The Camp Juice kids
Loved all of these kids really. They were all really good friends before we arrived but they wholeheartedly embraced and loved our team - funny that I had met some of them in 2007 and 2008. In the end, everyone became a community - an interesting mix but a community that loved each other and had some great experiences contributing to something larger than just themselves. Alex McManus is right - cause creates community.

There is something special and unique about this group too - their families are directly involved in the missionary endeavor, most of them leading church plants in cross cultural contexts. They've lived unconventional lives and they show it. They are third culture kids with a pedigree of leadership, risk and adventure. I think Camp Juice has made a turn in ethos and I'm excited to see where that leads this community.

::: The Last Day
Our last day was spent hanging at the hotel and then going to dinner at KFC. After that, the Ember team presented paper plate awards to everyone. If you've been around various camps, you know paper plate awards are kind of goofy and ...campy. The comments back to us about the paper plate awards that we gave out were that they were so thoughtful and fit each person really well and really encouraged the person getting the award. Part of being a catalyst is erupting the good out of the people you know.

Later that night, we had a worship time and took communion together. Our main worship leader was Olivia Rapp, who is a phenomenal worship leader. During Summit, we didn't have a guitar so her and Madi used a ukulele and it was great. For the last worship time, Olivia teamed up with Jacob and Molly and they seriously led us. Communion together was beautiful.

My team was originally going to end the week with paper plate awards but I implored them about what we have seen this community do and become. It was no longer a gathering of missionary kids to have fun - it was now kids who could see a bigger picture about serving their world and closing our time together the right way could be significant. I'm glad we decided to do this - a sense of vision can be catalytic.

::: Financials
Our overall budget was right at $26,000, which was for a team of 9 for 13 days. Most of the expenses were in Prague, and we built in 2 days on the way home being spent in London for debriefing. I almost always build in time for decompression because it is that important. I'm still closing the financials but we will be a bit over in expenses. I'm not worried though - Ember started the summer with a good amount of reserves in our savings and we were prepared to go over a bit. I probably wouldn't do London again in the future - it's a glorious global city but super expensive.

Make no mistake, $26K is a ton of money. We all should be asking ourselves every single summer whether spending this bulk of money in 13 days is the right thing to do. My only other guidance is that we take the long view of answering this question - was it the right thing to do if you ask this 15 years in the future?

::: The Ember team
Loved this team - one of the best teams I've been with. Each person was a ton of fun and went out of their way to care for each other and become a team. When it came to the Camp Juice kids, they engaged them, did their best to become friends [which wasn't hard] and helped grow this gathering into a tribe. I miss each one of them and could have spent one more week with them. Maybe.

I have also added each one of them to an Ember Staff list that I update weekly. On most teams, you have one or two kids that can operate at a Staff level. I'm proud to say that everyone one of these students could be an Ember Guide.

Thanks to many of you for your support for this project and this team.

Photos here.

Friday, August 07, 2015

Friday Burn

::: What We Are Learning About the Teenage Brain
That's because adolescents are literally biologically programmed to push against the status quo that adults have created and imagine a world that could be, and not just learn the world as it is. That’s why we need to see adolescents as the hope for the future.

::: Taylor Swift's On Stage Guests and Increased Hype

::: Jon Stewart - Superboss
Excellent read from Dan
Superbosses are exceptionally adept at developing talent because they share particular character traits and adopt a set of common practices that, taken together, are both rare and extraordinarily effective. They are unusually intense and passionate—eating, sleeping, and breathing their businesses and inspiring others to do the same. They create impossibly high work standards that push protégés to their limits. They are geniuses at motivation, inspiring people to do more than they ever thought possible. Remarkably, they can be intimately involved in the detailed work their people are doing, while at the same time lavish responsibility on inexperienced protégés, taking risks with them that seem foolish to outsiders. They encourage the creation of strong, emotional bonds and loyalties between protégés as well as between protégés and themselves.

::: When filtering good criticism from bad, ask how much it cost the person to give you feedback. @JonAcuff via Dawn

Photo: London, Ember Prague team, July 2015.

Thursday, August 06, 2015

Worship at Camp Juice

Worship at Camp Juice - our last gathering at midnight the last night. Three students architected the worship set and when I say architected, I mean they designed the environment to be a powerful gathering with their old and new friends worshipping something bigger than themselves. If you have students that can do this, you should let them.

Candles and glow sticks - we took communion together as a symbol that Jesus wants to change the world in us and with us.

Wednesday, August 05, 2015

The Best Decompression Exercise

One of the best exercises we make teams work through when decompressing is the exercise to write down a 20 second, 2 minute and 20 minute response to the question, "How was your trip?" [The 20 minute response is just an outline.] People coming home get this question all the time - from friends, family, supporters, leaders. Unfortunately, most people that ask this question only have the attention span for the 20 second answer.

[Also, this was not my original idea. I stole it from a mentor that I had in college.]

Every once in a while, someone will listen for 2 minutes. And once in a blue moon, a leader, foundation, missions org or church missions committee will want to hear the 20 minute response. Walking teams through this exercise sets the expectation that most people only hear the 20 second response and that future missions leaders need to be able to articulate their experience clearly.

If you lead teams, this is highly recommended. If you are involved in missions mobilization, you probably meet with people when they come home. The best thing you can do is to let them talk. For 20, 40, 60, 90 minutes. If you help support student missions, try to pay attention for 2 minutes instead of 20 seconds.

Here's my 20 second answer:
We helped run a little gathering for some students in the city of Prague. Most of these students
are from families that have chosen to live cross culturally intentionally so it is a pretty unique community of kids that know and love each other. We got to do some pretty interesting things with regard to culture and serving in the city of Prague and it went super well. Will be fun to see what happens with this community of students in the future.

Monday, August 03, 2015

Monday Guest

To my right is Nicole Barnes and her husband John. Nicole helped me lead a team in 2006 to Cameroon, which was a fantastic experience, and also helped cultivate a passion for medicine in her. 9 years later, she is living in London with her husband. She shared a bit of her journey with our team tonight as the final evening of our time here in this great city.

Decompression has gone well. Flying home tomorrow.

Sunday, August 02, 2015


Debriefing and decompression in London because we do it in a neutral location and because this process in your students missions experience is a non-negotiable. If you skip this, you should find another line of work.

We are down a few in this picture - KatieV flew all the way home today to catch a flight for her family vacation. KatieS was resting after being up most of the night for our last night of Camp Juice.

Saturday, August 01, 2015


Camp Juice takes over the local KFC. Easier to get to than metro in the city again with around 30 people. KFC is huge in Europe so it's a cultural experience.

Paper plate awards to start closing down Camp Juice.

Our new friend Brigitte shares on the main stage in front of the whole conference about Bless Day for Camp Juice. Brigitte is 12 years old.

Worship and communion tonight at 11:30pm. We have tried to be on adolescent-brain time all week.

It has been a fantastic week. Our time departs Prague first thing tomorrow am for debriefing and decompression in London.

Thursday Guest

To my right is Richard Wallace, who is the lead pastor of Mountainview International Church in a suburb of Madrid. Richard is English and his wife is Dutch and they now serve in Spain. This is the kind of person you run into at this kind of gathering. Some of you might remember that Richard and Mountainview hosted Katie and Olivia last year.

Richard's advice for young emerging global student leaders:
+ You should go.
+ You should start.
+ Serving, sharing your faith, and being the kind of person right now where you are that you envision you will be later if you were to move to another location.

Cultural Scavenger Hunt

The checklist for our cultural scavenger hunt. Some of these are specific to Prague - many are not. At a surface level, this is a fabulous tool to help kids have fun and observe specific things about a city or context. Dig deeper by talking about observations of a culture from these tasks and making interpretation about the culture. Go even deeper by talking about what relevance those interpretations have when it comes to the Gospel.

What is the oldest thing you can find
Go up to someone and ask them what the story is about the clock tower
Find the most interesting statue to your group
Recreate the most interesting statue with your group
Find the church that has the thiefs arm
Find a place where there is no cement - all nature
Who can learn the funniest phrase from a Czech person
Who can find the most Trudlo stands - take a picture of each one
Take a group picture with a street performer
Dance with a street performer
Find something from where you live
Find something that you cannot get where you live
Biggest group of pigeons you can find
How many selfies sticks can you count
Take a video of ringing of the clock
Take a picture of everyone's feet around something of cultural significance
Who can find a person that speaks the most languages
See how many group pictures you can take for other people
Find something you can only get in Prague that you can't get anywhere else - non food
See if you can find a free bathroom
Find a flag from a country where no one in your group lives in or is from
Take a picture on the street where all the luxury stores are
Get a menu from a Italian restaurant
Take a picture with a random family - you have to ask not just photobomb it
Get the front page from a Czech newspaper without buying or stealing it
Find the biggest billboard
Take a picture of the most interesting graffiti
Take a picture with a tourist who has the most interesting outfit or facial hair