Saturday, December 31, 2016

2016 in Cities

Lordy, what a year.
01 - Philadelphia, PA, USA.
02 - Queen Creek, AZ, USA.
03 - Fairfax, VA, USA.
04 - Fairfield, CT, USA.
05 - New York, NY, USA.
06 - Deadham, MA, USA.
07 - San Francisco, CA, USA.
08 - Newcastle, NSW, Australia,
09 - Coffs Harbour, NSW, Australia.
10 - Ballina, NSW, Australia.
11 - Surfers Paradise, QLD, Australia.
12 - Hervey Bay, QLD, Australia.
13 - Sydney, NSW, Australia.
14 - C*a, Italy.
15 - R*a, Italy.
16 - Saadiyat Island, Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates.

[2015, 2014, 2013, 2012, 2011, 2010, 2009, 2008, 2007, 2006 in cities]

Friday, December 30, 2016

2016 in Posts

Some highlight posts from this past year... I know 2016 was not easy for a lot of people. For me personally, as a family, for The Ember Cast and for my career [tell you later], it was an incredible year, even better than 2015, which I would have never imagined. Thanks to you all that support The Ember Cast and give to us Shengs your time and attention and friendship.

Summer Travel 2016 - epic travel this summer.
Leaving Your Kid 7000 Miles Away
The Med - part of Ember Italy 2016
Australia Travel Notes
Fridays Plane - one of Ember's leadership sends.
Announcing 2016 ProtoGuide - our Ember capstone internship experience.
Ember 2016 Philly Leadership - a first time leadership overnight that Ember customized.

Friday, December 23, 2016

Happy 19th!

Dear Katie --

Most every year for your birthday or Christmas, we've given both you girls gifts that represent being on the move - maps, globes, flashlights, headlamps, etc. Our hope is that these gifts would spur bravery in you, that they would catalyze enough courage for you to chart your way into the unknown. Adventure, which requires courage and bravery, is inherent in a life of faith.

You've certainly had a year of adventure alright. And we've been inspired by all of it - going to school 7000 miles away, applying yourself to new learning, building deep friendships with people from far cultures, seeing new people in new cities. It has been hard to imagine, as your parents, being more thrilled at what you are doing - the Lord has placed you in the perfect place. But of course, as your parents, adventure sometimes worries us. So maybe we need some of those maps and globes for ourselves.

But the world is not moved by the ordinary. It is moved by the passionate, the brave, the courageous, the ones willing to take steps into the unknown. In that sense, a faith and adventure filled life is not just for you. It might be also for those that don't understand passion or beauty or sacrifice or courage.

So we will continue to worry a little. But we also could not wish for anything more than for you to adventure on. Happy 19th!

Love DAD

Monday, December 19, 2016


Hervey Bay, QLD, Australia.

One of the best recent decisions we made as parents was to spend 3 weeks together as a family this past summer before Katie headed off to school in the Fall, a great adventure on the east coast of Australia. Emily had a lot to do with planning this. It was an incredible three weeks.

It meant some sacrifices and depending on your perspective, these were either large or small. There are some things around the house that need some attention - maybe this coming year. We skipped seeing some extended family. Because of some other travel commitments, by the end of the summer, I ended up taking about six weeks off from work, including some leave without pay.

It was all worth it. There are lots of people that can do just about all of the things you do - at your job, in your hobbies, where you serve others. But only you can be Dad.

Friday, December 16, 2016

Friday Burn

::: Photos - Aleppo Then and Now
Unbelievable. Some of you might like an interesting observation about Syria from our older daughter Katie, who is going to school in the Middle East. This was written at the end of August this year.

::: A Chinese Garment Factory is Helping Rwanda Wean Itself from Western Hand Me Downs

::: What Keeps Students From Engaging in Missions
Fantastic article and right on. I would add one more relating to busyness and the idol of achievement.

::: Missionary activity is not so much the work of the church as simply the Church at work. - David Bosch

Photo: driving, Australia.

Thursday, December 15, 2016

Don't Play the Busy Card

What could possibly be more important than your kid? Please don't play the busy card. If you spend 2 hours a day without an electronic device, looking your kid in the eye, talking to them and solving interesting problems, you will raise a different kid than someone who doesn't do that. That's one of the reasons why I cook dinner every night. Because what a wonderful, semi-distracted environment in which the kid can tell you the truth. For you to have low-stakes but superimportant conversations with someone who's important to you?
- Seth Godin on parenting, from Tools of the Titans [Link is for Amazon's Smile foundation, which contributes a percentage to The Ember Cast.]

Tuesday, December 13, 2016

Random Student Mission Ideas for DecEmber

1. Renew your passport if you have less than 9 months on them. Rule of thumb is to have at least 6 months of validity left on yours - next summer will be too close.
2. If you are a nonprofit and you don't have insurance for your board of directors, investigate and price this out, with the intention to purchase it come January 1.
3. Get your financial systems ready. For me, this means the right Accounts, Categories and correct Customer info in Quickbooks. [I'm paying an accountant to help me do this right.]
4. Start planning how you will train your teams. What content will you use, who will help you, what will this look like? Remember there is a direct correlation between how you train your teams, what you want them to learn and what you think is important.
5. Who is in your leadership pipeline and what dreams do you have for them?
6. Jot down what your teams will and will not do for raising support. Will you allow them to create Go Fund me pages? Will you be okay with them posting about their support raising to socials once a month? Once a week? Once a day? Once an hour?

Friday, December 09, 2016

Friday Burn

::: 99 Reasons Why 2016 Has Been a Great Year for Humanity
This from one of the authors of FutureCrunch, which is a great newsletter.

::: The Role of the Local Church in Assessing Missionary Candidates

::: Innovation in the Middle East: Designing a New Bank in Dubai

::: "If you think adventure is dangerous, try routine - it's lethal." - Paulo Coelho

Photo: First view of Mt Etna.

Wednesday, December 07, 2016

On the Biz

This DecEmber, I'm working 'on the business,' instead of 'in the business.' This means engaging an accountant to get some of our financial systems done the right way and tying up end of the year finances. If you are reading this, you are probably getting one of these end of the year receipts. Thank you for your support for The Ember Cast.

[My dad taught at a small private college his whole career - lots of faculty were considered family friends. This summer one of my college professors, and a good friend of my dad's, sent a check in, out of the blue, to support Ember Italy.]

Most nonprofits send their receipts in January. Not us - come January, we've got emerging global student leaders to catalyze.

Tuesday, December 06, 2016

Notes - The State of Youth Ministry, The Barna Group

This is a great little booklet that contains the findings of three nationwide studies among youth pastors, senior pastors and parents of teens through research commissioned by Youth Specialties and YouthWorks, both pillars of student ministry through the ages. Lots of good stuff in here, although the report is a little pricey. If you are a youth pastor or a senior pastor, you should get a copy. If you are local, and in full time student ministry, come borrow mine.
Discipleship is not as important to youth ministers in urban churches as it is to those in small towns or the suburbs. [Additionally, the report talks about the idea that the term discipleship may not mean the same thing to everyone, which is also an issue. But at the core, we are to be making disciples...]

White and high-income parents are more likely than others to say "talking about sexuality and dating" is a major expectation, while lower income parents are inclined to say they expect youth pastors to help their teen navigate family relationships and warn them about drugs and alcohol.

When youth pastors consider major challenges to the effectiveness of their programs, three-quarters agree that teen's busyness tops the list. No other potential obstacle comes close. Yet parents do not agree. Only one out of nine US Parents say their child is "way too busy." About six in 10 say the balance of activities "is good" and three in 10 say their teen "needs more to do."

The typical youth group:
12 adult volunteers, 5 of whom are parents of teens in the youth group
60 teens
1.4 paid youth ministry staff

62% of parents would at least consider moving to a new church for a good youth program

According to their parents, a majority of teens (65%) are fairly active when it comes to volunteering at least once every few months [the lazy teen is a myth that needs to be broken.]

Primary ways teens engage in service through their church:
55% days of service at their church
49% days of service in their town
44% a service commitment on a regular basis
35% service at a destination that could be reached in a day's drive
19% service at a destination in the US that is farther than a day's drive
10% a mission trip outside the US
[PS - Ember exists to help with all of this.]

Barna's future youth ministry challenges:
1. Rising Bible skepticism
2. Increasing loneliness
3. Pervasive pornography
4. Confusion regarding human sexuality
5. Me-first morality
6. Pressurized Christian identity
7. An era defined by achievement [I'm glad they identified this one]
8. Conversation-challenged disciples

Friday, December 02, 2016

Friday Burn

::: Youth Employment Incubator

::: Not Just a Pastor, but a Neighbor
With hundreds of refugees around him, So somehow seems to keep tabs in his head on all of them. The Well, the nondenominational evangelical church in Silver Spring where he is one of three pastors on staff, decided his mission work at Parkview Gardens was important enough that he should spend half his work time there and half in Silver Spring.
Great read about one of the staffers at The Well in Silver Spring, one of the churches we love tracking with. Link

::: New Data Disproves the Myth that Affordable Housing Lowers the Value of Your Home

::: One should never underestimate the significance of architecture in Christianity. - Diarmaid MacCulloch via Justin Long

Photo: Perspectives, Nov 2016, Newark DE.

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

9 Years and Counting

Vienna airport on the left, Philadelphia on the right. 9 seems long when watching your children and short when watching human history.

Monday, November 28, 2016

Ember 2016 Thanksgiving

My new tradition that I started last Thanksgiving weekend [2015] - go over the year end financials for Ember. There is no better way for me to practice the discipline of thinking thankful than to look at all the names that have supported Ember in the past year. You are probably on this list too. I'm so grateful for you.

There were around 228 donations for just under $30K. Most of our money was spent on Ember Italy, which was just over $25K. We also invested around $2100 in funding Ember extended leadership, which this year included Guides involved in: a leadership conference in Portugal, a 3 day intensive lecture series about comparative religions, 6 weeks in Central Asia building relationships with college students and 2 weeks in South Africa. This leadership fund also paid a stipend and costs for one of our ProtoGuides.

This budget reflects our priorities which reflects our heartbeat for why Ember exists. None of it could happen without our supporters and I love this Thanksgiving habit more and more ever year.

Monday, November 21, 2016

The Half or Full Story of Redemption

Because worldview is holistic, we answer the most elemental questions of life radically differently depending on whether we are living out of half the story or the full story of God’s redemption. If we are living out of half the story, we miss that sin entered the world through Satan’s temptation of humankind; we were not born sinful. Under half the story, the aim of missions is to convert strangers into Christians so we see them in heaven when we are all dead. Not surprisingly, such a missional vision has not captured the heart of a generation. The Bible begins on earth and ends on earth, but if we are living out of half the story, we spend an inordinate amount of time focused on getting off the planet.
- Jon Tyson, A Creative Minority: Influencing Culture Through Redemptive Participation

Friday, November 18, 2016

Friday Burn

::: Building Mission into Your Church Plants DNA
Great read by Dan Hyun, who was the host for last weekend's Ethnos conference in Baltimore.

::: Hard to Learn Skills that Pay Off for the Rest of Your Life

::: The Community Chlorine Maker

::: Success is never owned, only rented. And the rent is due everyday. - @BishopBronner

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

Maturity in Your Mission Teams Processes

Some of you might be freaking out already because it's NovEmber and the church down the street already has all their summer missions experiences planned out. You have no idea what you are doing next summer much less next month and lots of people are already asking so they can do their 'proper' planning.

The churches and organizations that are able to announce summer plans in NovEmber are good examples of maturity. Just like the definition, it means that their planning process has grown up and they have spent some time growing it up. By and large, they have found ways to repeat these things:
1 - A tested application process for both students and leaders.
2 - They keep in touch with their overseas partners year round and more than just about summer teams. They are probably true sending churches that have great interaction with their people on the field.
3 - A leadership pipeline that has a good amount of people primed and ready to commit to lead a summer team.

Don't worry though - it is only NovEmber. You have some time, but you should probably get on it. As you get things in order for this summer, concentrate on making those items above repeatable and you'll be able to get things moving faster for next year.

Here are three great churches who have 2017 set - 1, 2, 3.

Monday, November 14, 2016

#Ethnos2016 - Race and the Church

At the last minute, Deanna and I decided to join Ember Guide Amy in attending Ethnos 2016, which was a conference hosted by Freedom Church in Baltimore. The theme of the conference was "Race and the Church" and it seemed like it could not have been more appropriately timed although the gathering had been months in the planning. I loved the posture of the gathering - everyone was there to learn deeply, to listen to those different from themselves and the Gospel was present - we are not perfect but in our imperfection, God has saved us and joins us to work on messy things like race.

Our good friend Jeremy Del Rio was also one of the speakers and he's been a huge fan of our student missions efforts over 15 years now [1, 2, 3] - always good to see Jeremy.

There were around maybe 300-400 people there, mostly church and faith based nonprofit leaders. Lots of ethnic diversity which was awesome - this is one of the capstone defining demographics of the DC/Balt area. Lots of exciting church planting activity in Baltimore which is super interesting too.

Some selected notes - all paraphrased:
Lower East NYC - immigrant core, front line of gentrification, there is a factor of 38 in economic difference - low salary $10K, top salary $380K in the same community.
Luke 4 - proclaim good news to the poor, freedom to the prisoner, sight to the blind
Help me be an answer to someone's prayer today
Kind of prayers we can be answers to - lament, healing, repentance, prophetic
Jeremy Del Rio

Justice is the character of God reflected in His creation especially His people whereby they do what is right and fair and good in all relationships.
The problem of evil works itself out inside the character of God.
No way to get justice right until we get God right.
God is not just because He has to be.
A contracted understanding of God will lead to a contracted understanding of justice.
Real Jesus followers love conviction - they embrace the discipline of the Lord.
South Africa - had a truth and reconciliation committee for post apartheid communities to really heal.
Justice is part of repentance.
Evidence of a repentant heart turns to the poor.
When was the last time you talked about church discipline in the context of justice.
Escapist gospel - disengages the world.
Thabiti Anyabwile
[He spoke at two sessions and his talks were both a huge survey-wide run through the Scriptures on the idea of justice. Really well done.]

Being 'color blind' is a different level of engagement as really seeing ethnic differences. If you don't see what race a person is, you might not really being seeing them.
As an Asian American, I am constantly on the outside, but no one thinks that about Asians.
Race is a social construct.
Stranger danger has caused our children to grow up with a lack of relationships with anyone that is different than us. Deals with healthy versus unhealthy fears.
The Church needs to be back in the public square - one example is influence in public policy.
The US has systematized racism - not random, unpredictable but there are systems and structures to it.
Jenny Yang
[Jenny had a ton of valuable insights - highly recommend attending her stuff in the future. These were all from a panel discussion on race]

We have not recognized that our churches have discipled people into racism.
Relinquish your passive approach to friendship.
[From the panel discussion too but I don't remember who said these statements]

Baltimore has a ton of issues right now and most of the nation is not looking to emulate us. What if the Lord worked something together in this city to show the rest of the world how to truly get along as Christ followers unified in our diversity and really impact our city. - Ethnos Host Dan Hyun
I am a huge fan of cities - global urban migration is one of the most unique things happening in human history right now and missiologically speaking, cities are a big deal. But I've never been a huge fan of Baltimore for various reasons. But what Dan said in that closing statement, man, I could get behind that.

Friday, November 11, 2016

Friday Burn

::: Why are Immigrants More Entrepreneurial

::: Self Driving Mercedes Cars Will be Programmed to Save the Driver

::: Man in Dubai Pays $9M for a license plate
We were witness to this - plates are a big deal.

::: ‏The future belongs to a different kind of person w a different kind of mind: artists, inventors & storytellers. - Daniel Pink via @STORYgathering

Photo: Ember guides - Trevin and Wendy.

Wednesday, November 09, 2016

Book Notes - Designing Your Life

From time to time, I'm asked to meet with various young, competent, high capacity leaders who are in the midst of some kind of transition dealing with their calling, vocation and talent. These meetings are almost always with people I know pretty well and I've already got a lot of respect for them - their character, competencies and accomplishments are already super impressive to me. So I love these meetings but go into them usually feeling inadequate, not super sure on how I can actually help them.

This book, Designing Your Life, is exactly what I needed for this kind of thing. Now, if you ask to meet with me, I'll just give you a copy. Kidding. Trust me, if you want to design your life, and you should, the stuff in the book is gold. For these kinds of meetings in the future, we'll go through some of this together and I guarantee, these people will get a ton of insight into what energizes them, what they are passionate about and how to design a life that erupts all of their talent.
Dysfunctional Belief - If you are successful, you will be happy.
Reframe - True happiness comes from designing a life that works for you.

DB - It's too late.
Reframe - It's never too late to design a life you love.

Reframing is one of the most important mind-sets of a designer. Many great innovations get started in a reframe. In design thinking we always say, "Don't start with the problem, start with the people, start with empathy."

The reframe for the question, "What do you want to be when you grow up?" is this: "Who or what do you want to grow into?"

Designers don't think their way forward. Designers build their way forward.

...So we're not very passionate about finding your passion. We believe that people actually need to take time to develop a passion. And the research shows that, for most people, passion comes after they try something, discover they like it, and develop mastery - not before. To put it more succinctly: passion is the result of a good life design, not the cause.

Deciding which problems to work on may be one of the most important decisions you make, because people can lose years (or a lifetime) working on the wrong problem.

The gravity problem - not real problems. In life design, if it's not actionable, it's not a problem. It's a situation, a circumstance, a fact of life. It may be a drag (so to speak), but, like gravity, it's not a problem that can be solved.

DB - I'm stuck.
Reframe - I'm never stuck, because I can always generate a lot of ideas.

DB - I have to find the one right idea.
Reframe - I need a lot of ideas so that I can explore any number of possibilities for my future.

The truth is that all of us have more than one life in us. When we aks our students, "How many lifetimes' worth of living are there in you?" the average answer is 3-4. And if you accept this idea - that there are multiple great designs for your life though you'll still only get to live one - it is rather liberating. There is no one idea for your life.
Designers learn to have lots of wild ideas because they know that the number one enemy of creativity is judgement.

You choose better when you have lots of good ideas to choose from.
You never choose your first solution to any problem.

DB - I need to figure out my best possible life, make a plan and then execute it.
Reframe - There are multiple great lives (and plans) within me and I get to choose which one to build my way forward to next.

Building is thinking.

The standard model [of getting a job] fails so much of the time because it is a model based on the mistaken idea that your perfect job is out there waiting for you.

DB - You should focus on your need to find a job
Reframe - You should focus on the hiring manager's need to find the right person.

DB - My dream job is out there waiting.
Reframe - You design your dream job through a process of actively seeking and co-creating it.

Network is more noun than verb. The point is not to "do" network-ing, the goal is to participate in the network.

...the most important reframe when you are designing your career is this: you are never looking for a job, you are looking for an offer.

Monday, November 07, 2016

Compasses and Maps

Many thanks for those attending my workshop yesterday at Maryland Orphan Sunday. I had a blast sharing some of what we have learned about helping young people change the world. Also loved being able to have two of our Ember guides to share a bit of their story too. Here's the summary outline with additional resources, which I forgot to show, at the bottom.

Maps, Compasses and Other Paradigms for Young People to Mark Human History
A workshop discussing paradigms of thinking and acting for young people interested in global service, changing the world and marking human history.

+ Compass v Map
+ Risk v Safety
+ Intention v Random
+ Something is not always better than nothing [this is false, stop doing things because you think this is true...]
+ Trevin and Wendy
+ Addl Resources
Dream Year by Ben Arment
Born for This by Chris Guillebeau
Designing Your Life, Burnett and Evans

Friday, November 04, 2016

Friday Burn

::: Neocities and Neodistricts
A framework for building cities of the future. Fascinating read.

::: AuthaGraph
The world mapped in substantially proper sizes

::: Languages of NYC
Most Frequently Spoken Language at Home, Excluding English and Spanish, by 2014 Census Tract

::: Most leaders are trying to figure out the right strategy. The best leaders are obsessed with empowering the right people. - ‏@craiggroeschel

Thursday, November 03, 2016

The Ember Pitch

+ PreEmber
2003-2008 - SPACE
Internship, Cultural Distance, Progression

+ Why Does Ember Exist
Emerging global student leaders
Parents, pastors, coaches

+ What Do We Do
Team training
Summer experiences - world class global leaders and innovators.
Learning service experiences
Coaching, Consulting, Speaking

+ How Do We Do It
Guides - project centric based engagements
World class innovators
Core curriculum
Toxic Charity
Creative Revenue/Bi-vocational

+ Financial Model
$1500/year in business costs - $1000 insurance, $500 global security intelligence
Summer projects - usually self sustaining
3 monthly donors
Other revenue - speaking, coaching, event based fees for team training and service learning
Financially resource Ember tribe - Guide Grants, Extended Leadership

Monday, October 31, 2016

The Receptivity of Partners

Receptivity is one of the key things that we look for when deciding who our summer teams work with. A host or partner that is receptive is one that is available, has capacity and is interested in both our teams having a great experience as well as furthering on their project. Good hosts are also receptive to their community - they usually have a deep understanding for what is going on in their context and are well connected and well respected. They see and imagine with a catalysts perspective. They don't subscribe to the faulty theology of 'these teams are bringing God here.'

Ask yourself: Am I getting timely responses to my questions? Do they seem to have the capacity and availability for us or are they too busy? Can they imagine how this will be good for their momentum as well as our team? Do they have a solid strategy for follow on relationships after my team leaves? Are they well connected? What is their reputation like?

Trust me and do yourself a favor - only send teams to work with hosts that are receptive. If they don't have time or availability for you now, they also won't after you get there. You are hoping that it will be better but it won't.

Friday, October 28, 2016

Friday Burn

::: How to Survive in Aleppo

::: The Isobar - invented by a 22 year old
Will Broadway's "Isobar" has been designed to keep vaccines at the ideal temperature while in transit in developing countries.

::: The Power of Distant Social Connections

::: If we're going to reach the nations we have to move from churches that build ministries to ones that equip ministers. @jeffvanderstelt

Photo: Hervey Bay, QLD, Australia. On the 4th of July. 2016.

Thursday, October 27, 2016

Perspectives Discussion Sample

Always fun teaching at Perspectives. Even though some people think it might only have 10 years of life left [old bald white men, no succession plan, what does learning look like in 2016], it is still one of the best mediums to expose people to a big world.

Some interesting and intruiging questions from the class last night:

+ Going to another culture means being a gracious guest, but sometimes, we get really sick for days. What do we do about that?
+ Are there unreached people groups in Europe?
+ Where is the line between understanding a culture and making sometimes wrong assumptions about that culture and how do we be smarter about this?
+ What do we do about young people who say they are interested in Jesus but not interested in church and how does that relate to a post Christian culture?

Lots of classes will be held in Merryland in the Spring, registration is now open. Of course, I'm a big fan.

Monday, October 24, 2016

Ember Board of Director Notes - October 2016

Rough high level notes from the October 2016 Board of Directors meeting for The Ember Cast. I will never tire of saying how grateful I am to this group of people for their experience, guidance and encouragement for what we do with students.

+ Financials
Goal of meeting with a CPA before 1 January. The short term goal is to set up QuickBook accounts to make sense instead of how it is done now. Long term goal would be a solid financial system in place.

+ Disaster planning for summer experiences
The Board and I spent a lot of time interacting this spring over a 'global security plan' for the Italy team. The process of putting together this plan was extremely valuable and this will be a standard document for all future summer experiences. We will also encourage this type of planning when coaching other student mission leaders. Hopefully, it never gets executed.

+ Board members meeting with ProtoGuides
Starting with our last ProtoGuide, setting meetings between the ProtoGuide and members of the Board is a good thing. They get to pick their brain, potentially hear and see about the life and ministry of a Board member and the Board member gets to know them and hear how Ember is helping them.

+ Intentional Staff get togethers
We need some kind of name for this but even with a weekly Staff email [I wrote about this here], and even though our Staff is project centric, it would be good for everyone to understand who is who and what are they doing. This idea came from Matt, who got it here.

Friday, October 21, 2016

Friday Burn

::: Redefining Global Cities

::: Move Over, Millennials.
Here comes Gen Z.

::: The Passing of Thailand's King

::: Disciples are much cheaper to develop than consumer Christians. A little more time is needed but much less money. @HughHalter

Photo: side view, Forcey Christian School's chapel service earlier this week.

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Out and About - Fall 2016

I have the following speaking engagements coming up and would love to connect with you if you are at any of these:

+ Tuesday March 25, Perspectives, Lesson 10, Forcey Bible Church, Silver Spring, MD.
+ Sunday November 6, Maryland Orphan Sunday, Grace Comm Church, Fulton, MD.
+ Sunday November 20, Perspectives, Lesson 12, Univ of DE, Newark, DE.

Friday, October 14, 2016

Friday Burn

::: Billions of people buying tickets and investing countless hours on something of absolutely no significance.
Seth on spectator sports. I would email this post to everyone all over the world, especially during football season, if I could.

::: Thank God for innovation. Thank God for creativity ... Spontaneity is our friend in the church. - Brian Houston
You may be shocked to hear we don't sing 'Shout to the Lord' anymore at Hillsong Church. It's not 1993. If you come all the way to Australia and you hope to hear 'Shout to the Lord,' your chances are slight. We don't even sing 'Oceans' much anymore.

::: Wifi airport passwords around the world on one map.

::: We are kept from our true goal not by obstacles but by a clear line to a lesser goal - @willmancini

Photo: Hillsong Conference Sydney 2016. We definitely did not sing 'Shout to the Lord.'

Thursday, October 13, 2016

Book Notes - Growing Young

Growing Young: Six Essential Strategies to Help Young People Discover and Love Your Church by Kara Powell, Jake Mulder, and Brad Griffin.
Great read if you are in any kind of church or faith based nonprofit leadership including pastoral staff, campus staff, elder teams, or board of directors.
Almost weekly, someone at Fuller Theological Seminary quotes this powerful axiom from beloved senior trustee Max De Pree: "The first job of a leader is to define reality." The unfortunate reality is that most churches are not growing, and they aren't getting any younger.

All around the country, these hundreds of "bright spot" congregations are effectively loving and serving young people. Some of them quietly, and without flash. Others with great magnetism and fanfare. We call these churches that grow young because
1. They are engaging young people ages 15 to 29;
2. They are growing - spiritually, emotionally, missionally, and sometimes also numerically.

By keychain leaders, we mean pastoral and congregational leaders who are
* acutely aware of the keys on their keychain; and
* intentional about entrusting and empowering all generations, including teenagers and emerging adults, with their own set of keys.
[Keychain leaders - great illustration.]

The 'priesthood of all believers' doesn't mean leaders are absent.

If we are going to empathize with today's young people, we have to explore these questions. They are often what keeps today's teenagers and emerging adults awake at night.
Who am I?
Where do I fit?
What difference do I make?

As today's young people seek a more coherent sense of identity, the stress that formerly hit them in college, or even after college, now begins in middle school (or younger).
[Profoundly true. If you don't believe it, offer to housesit a high school junior or senior for a few days during the school year.]

Moralistic therapeutic deism still threatens to distract young people from Jesus.
Moralistic - equtate faith with being a good, moral person.
Therapeutic - faith becomes a means of feeling better about themselves.
Deistic - God exists, but this God is not involved in human affairs with any regularity.

Warm is the new cool.
* The chapter entitled "Fuel a Warm Community" is totally worth the price of the book.
See this article

Create both on-ramps and road trips. [Metaphors for increasing levels of commitment to community.]

Churches growing young prioritze young people not just for the sake of making young people happy but because the whole church benefits. One pastor of over 40 years put it like this: "Everybody rises when you focus on children and teens." Adults in another church reflected, "Young people are like salt. When they're included, they make everything taste better."

Myth: Good leaders and programs automatically lead to priority.
[Written about making young people a priority, but this could be said about a lot of other things too.]

Wise neighbors help young people discover their calling.
Churches that grow young people provide this vocational guidance by helping teenagers and emerging adults locate themselves and their work in light of a grand narrative.

Experiment on the margins.

Monday, October 10, 2016

Being a Curator

The mindset that makes your missions experience great or just average is the mindset of being a curator. This is infinitely more than just a 'leader' or a 'tour guide' or a 'chaperone' although you can use those titles, except for the last one. Instead, you become an anthropologist, a futurist and a talk show host all at once.

You help your students understand the past and present - why does this group of people function like it does, what are the predominant values of this city, what elements of the past inform why people act this way in the present.

You envision a path for the future - what do my students learn from this and how does that affect their behavior 5 or 50 years from now, what latent dreams and passions are erupted out of this experience, you say to them, "You know, you could do this too."

You ask a lot of pointed, intentional questions that form a bridge between where your students are, where they could be and how hosts, co-workers and people with the same calling help your students get there. You've done a lot of research on the people you are working with before you landed in-country, so that you can have an intelligent discussion with them about what they actually do. You interject, stop here and there to chat about this or that, keep a running list of notes in your pocket for discussion later.

Most mission experiences are good - people get there and back, they serve somebody and the students are exposed to another culture. Being a curator takes this experience and turns it into a time when your students learned to peel back elements of a culture and deduce significance, they envisioned a future that was bigger than themselves, and they heard deep stories of calling from people they worked side by side with.

Curation is catalytic leadership at its best. You know, you could do this too.

Friday, October 07, 2016

Friday Burn

::: The number of people in extreme poverty fell by 114 million from 2012 to 2013.

::: Why the Best Leaders Want Their Superstar Employees to Leave

::: The Church in Iran has become the fast growing in the world.
It's a simple story that can be summarized in just two sentences: Persecution threatened to wipe out Iran's tiny church. Instead, the church in Iran has become the fastest growing in the world, and it is influencing the region for Christ.

:::‏ 53% of the world speaks 2 or more languages. - @DavidLivermore

Photo: morning team meeting, Italy, July 2016.

Wednesday, October 05, 2016

SparkBizLive - Scott Harrison from Charity: Water

The Shengs have been huge fans of charity: water for a number of years now so when I saw a event here in DC to hear founder Scott Harrison speak, I signed up immediately. The event was hosted by Inc. Magazine and Capital One as part of their SparkBizLive series and was last Monday night. Held at the great Capital View at 400, which overlooks Union Station, it was a perfect DC October evening.

When I got there, I was able to try out the new charity: water virtual reality headset which was cool. Free food and drinks and then Scott was interviewed by Jon Fine, the executive editor for Inc Magazine. Some of my notes:
CW was a digital charity from the start - no mass mailing or paper marketing.
The numbers can't humanize people - need to tell your stories instead. The water problem is too big in numbers for people to get. 'You numb out.'
Never paid for marketing officially.
Stories that share.
The 'giving back' language is not quite the right message.
Giving of your time is not enough. Bad excuse. You must also give money sacrificially. His family of 4 live in a 900 square foot apartment in NYC to live below their means on purpose.
The Well - their fund/account for paying for overhead. Distinct and totally separate from public well projects. 115 currently families fund The Well.
3 year commitment with 6 levels high touch donors treating them like investors, return on their money, get to see people get their children involved with generosity.
What is next if you fix the water problem: Grow the community of generosity for what is next.
Current trend is to have your nonprofit finish a task and put itself out of business. Scott doesn't necessarily buy into that idea.
'Do not be afraid of work that has no end.'
Favorite charities right now: Invisible children although they now have a skeleton crew.
'You offer people the opportunity to make their money greater than who they are'
Institutional givers - 'I have heard it is hell.'
Invited himself to speak to Twitter's staff when they were only 20 people. Getting speaking engagements can help your org at the beginning but you have to tell the stories.
I also hung out with Erika, wife of long time friend Joshua and some of her friends in the social entrepreneurship world. Erika runs Pulchritude, Sarah runs Kicheko Goods and Meagan runs Ethic Goods.

Most profound moment of the night: During the Q&A, a lady spoke about her starting a nonprofit for the water crisis in a country in Africa and her coming to the end of funding and having to raise more money or shut it down. Scott said, "Email me tonight and I'll make a donation." Jon Fine then added, "Yes email me and I'll donate too."

Thanks charity: water for continuing to always inspire all of us.

Monday, October 03, 2016

Made on the road

Disciples are made on the road, not in rows. - Kim Hammond
When you design a leadership development event or strategy, it is tempting to center it around the idea of people sitting down to learn content. This is the primary paradigm of learning for most of us - it is what most of us default to. Unfortunately, it isn't that successful. Just look at the quantity of events that are called 'leadership retreats.' And you know what 'retreat' means, right?

The sentence above is one of Ember's mantras and helps us stay centered around the idea that most people learn best by doing. You start with the concepts that you want people to experience and you build the road trip from that. It is more work than just getting a speaker and chairs but far, far more rewarding.

You can do this too.

Friday, September 30, 2016

Friday Burn

::: Icebreakers Are Terrible. They Also, Unfortunately, Work Really Well.

::: 5 Tips That Will Make You a Better Communicator

::: What Is Wrong with Western Missionaries?

::: The dangers of life are infinite, and among them is safety. - Johann von Goethe

Photo: The Grand Mosque, Abu Dhabi, UAE.

Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Future Casting from 2016

From my experiences this summer, here are some ideas as you think about engaging your students for their global future.

You can pretty much travel to any global city and experience a microcosm of another culture. Go to Chinatown in Philly, Little Italy in NYC, the east end of London, Ashleigh in Sydney or any number of other combinations. The key is going to that 'global city' - a city that is important enough in the world economy to warrant lots of people wanting to be there. You'll probably see lots of examples of the world's biggest problems there like homelessness or food security or poverty and you'll also almost be guaranteed of the opportunity to experience another ethnicity there as well. This is fantastic for your students.

Every refugee has a smart phone. It is literally priority number one. The future is governed by connectivity - connectivity across language, cultures, and physical location. In the midst of the largest movement of people in history, individuals are tied together via technology more so than ever in the past. Our Italy team still connects with some of the people we met overseas and the same goes for teams in years past - they remain connected through the power of the Internet. For those youth leaders who have a constant no smart phone policy, you may want to refine this. Certainly there are times when smart phones are a distraction but we have moved into an age, many years ago, where being connected is the constant. Help your students navigate this so they can powerfully use connectivity.

If what they say is true about the demographic growth of Asia, Africa and the Middle East, then us Western Americans are going to have a steep learning curve when it comes to hospitality. Want to impact the future, teach your students how to be gracious hosts.

Picture: front row, UMBC Cru.

Friday, September 23, 2016

Friday Burn

::: To Get to Harvard, Go to Haiti
Richard Weissbourd, a child psychologist and Harvard lecturer who has studied the admissions process in the interest of reforming it, recalled speaking with wealthy parents who had bought an orphanage in Botswana so their children could have a project to write and talk about. He later became aware of other parents who had bought an AIDS clinic in a similarly poor country for the same reason.

::: 10 Tips for International Relocation

::: Why You Shouldn't Give Up on Traveling in an Age of Fear

::: For a leader, it's not what you can do but what you can duplicate. - ‏@willmancini

Photo: The Med, from Mount Etna

Thursday, September 22, 2016

Finding Potential

After spending the past decade studying vulnerability, courage, shame, and worthiness, I’ve come to believe that leadership has nothing to do with position, salary, or number of direct reports. I believe a leader is anyone who holds her or himself accountable for finding potential in people and processes.
- Brene Brown via Mitchel

Monday, September 19, 2016

Summer 2016 Travel Hacking

Not everyone has the ability or the desire to travel like we did this summer. But if you have the desire, I am a huge fan of 'travel hacking.' Simply put, it is the art of maximizing credit card points to earn points that can be applied to travel. If I can do this, anyone can. Here are two real life examples from this summer.

+ Australia
Outbound flight - BWI-OAK [not direct but 1 stop in HOU, same plane]
Transferred 43,000 Chase Ultimate Reward points to Southwest account. I already had about 3,000 points from some travel for work. Bought 9,000 points for $192.50 plus I paid for $50 for early bird confirmation and the fees were $22.40. Overall cost - 55,000 points.
4 tickets = $66.22/person

SFO<->SYD roundtrip flight
Transferred 280,000 Chase Ultimate Reward points to United account. Fees were $409.44 plus I bought travel insurance for $90.32.
4 tickets = $124.94/person

Inbound flight - SFO-BWI [1 stop in PHL]
I had about 80,000 American Airlines points and used all of them. Fees were $22.40 and $60 for travel insurance. Most of these points were on the Citi AA card and for a few years, I had put automatic payments for smart phones and Internet on this card. I've since started using the Chase Ink for these fees since it's 5x points at least right now.
4 tickets = $22.10/person

Total flight cost:
335,000 Chase Ultimate Reward points
80,000 American Airline points
$846.40 - $211/person

In addition, when I read about the the IHG index card sweepstakes, our family wrote 94 index cards. We received around 60,000 IHG points from this sweepstakes and was able to book two hotels in San Francisco on the outbound as well as the inbound for $0 except the $46 in postage for the contest. Lodging in SFO is extremely expensive so this was totally worth it, even if no one got any sleep all night long in the hotel on the way back to Merryland. Thanks jet lag.

+ United Arab Emirates
Direct round trip on Emirates. IAD<->DXB. 90,000 Chase Ultimate Reward points bought through the Chase Ultimate Rewards portal brought the fare down to $1097. Two tickets = $548/person.

So if you really want to travel, you too can do this. Most of this, as you can tell, was done with the Chase Sapphire Preferred and the Chase Ink cards both of which are great cards. The Chase Sapphire Reserve was just released a few weeks ago and I'm not sure about that one yet. But between those two other cards, a good bit of time and some intentional planning, you can save a huge chunk on airfare, anywhere around the world.

Friday, September 16, 2016

Friday Burn

::: To attract young people to your church, you've got to be warm. Not cool.
At one multiethnic church, we were struck when volunteer leaders told us that they all have meal budgets. Every small group leader in the youth ministry is encouraged to take students out for meals or treats regularly as part of their formation process. The students trumpeted the value of this investment, as you'd expect from teenagers who are getting fed. But it wasn't just about food; when describing their meal conversations, students used many of the phrases common to warm communities that emerged in our research.
Link via Jeremy Del Rio

::: You're more likely to be killed by your own clothes than by an immigrant terrorist

:::New York's Elevators Define The City
The six-story building is the staple of New York housing stock. There are good reasons for this, one of which is geological. Nearly all New York City's drinking water flows down from reservoirs and through aqueducts from upstate without any pumping - gravity does the work. A building taller than six stories requires a water tower and its own pumps to provide suitable water pressure to tenants on the higher floors, and that's a costly pain in the neck to build and maintain. Also, new buildings five stories or taller at least since 1968 have been generally required by the city to have an elevator, although some five-story buildings are exempt. So six floors is tall enough to need an elevator but short enough to avoid needing a water tower and other extra construction expense.

::: The future has many names. For the weak, it is unattainable. For the fearful, it is unknown. For the bold, it's ideal. - Victor Hugo

Wednesday, September 14, 2016

The Emerging Global Student Leader

The emerging global student leader – it is a student that likes to travel, that loves to be immersed in new contexts and cultures, that enjoys peeling back elements of culture to gain deeper understanding. They are not afraid to lead or activate or initiate. Their parents don’t mind putting them on planes. ‘I love airports!’ is one of their favorite sayings. Living in another culture for a season or a lifetime is a natural thought. They have lots of globes, maps and compasses. They think about how to make a dent in the universe by loving the unloved, engaging someone unlike themselves, and serving a world in need. Global missions looks different in light of a generation of this type of student and The Ember Cast was started as a response to tap this potential.

The Ember Cast is a tribe of missional leadership guides who, based on Biblical principles, catalyze students, and those that serve them, for the future of humanity.

We exist for these emerging global student leaders – to resource them, to connect them, to put them to work and to give them the platforms to lead. We also exist for those that serve them – parents, coaches, student pastors, and churches.

If these concepts resonates with you or a student that you know, get in touch. We’d love to connect. And of course, throw fire with you.

Monday, September 12, 2016

Summer Travel 2016

There has never been a season in my life where I traveled like I did during this summer. It was totally ridiculous, absolutely out of control and so totally worth it. Here are the stats, mostly for my benefit.

In 3 months, between Australia, Italy and the United Arab Emirates:
40 total days away. 30 days away from work including 9 days of leave without pay.
3 continents in 3 months.
4 islands - Australia, Lady Elliot Island, Sicily, Saadiyat Island.
44,300 air miles.
76 hours in flight.
18 flights including one on an 8 passenger plane.
18 airplane meals.
13 AirBnbs/Hotels.
1 boat. [1 was enough]
3 rental cars.
Drove 1,800 miles in rental cars - I only drove in Australia.
11 train rides including subways.
22 Uber/Taxi rides.
1 wild kangaroo sighting, but it was dead on the side of the road [Australia].
44 servings of Gelato [the whole Italy team].
7 days in 106+ degree F temps, with an average of 112 degrees F [UAE].
Somewhere on the order of 4,200 pictures.

My trip to the UAE was probably the most profound cross cultural experience to date.

2 pro tips:
1 - Put everything you will need for 24 hours in your carry on bag, including a clean pair of underwear and a clean shirt.
2 - Put a fresh dryer sheet in your carry on bag.

Tuesday, September 06, 2016

Chase the Lion - Mark Batterson

May you discover your God-sized dream in the pages of this book, and may you have the courage to chase it. But your greatest legacy isn't your dream; it's the dreams you inspire in others! You aren't just a dreamer; you are a dreamcatcher.

I've been inspired by Mark Batterson and NCC for many years now, and we've had a front row seat to watch how they have impacted DC and beyond and inspired tons of people around the globe. His newest book, Chase the Lion, is typical Batterson. You'll laugh at his jokes, be awed by his stories, be intrigued at his research, and be jolted into action by his perspective.

He is right though when he states that God sized dreams aren't just about our dreams, they are about the dreams that we inspire in others. But in order to do that, we have to, just like the subtitle implies, go after dreams that are big and dreams that terrify us.

Read Chase the Lion and you'll be activated for not only chasing your dream but embarking on a journey to uncover dreams within dreams and erupting far more than your own soul.

Disclosure: I was provided a copy of this book for review purposes.

Monday, August 29, 2016

Leaving Your Kid 7000 Miles Away

We had an amazing time this past week transitioning with our older daughter to her first year of college. She is going to a school in Abu Dhabi which is the capital of the United Arab Emirates. The UAE is a country right off the Persian Gulf, just east of Saudi Arabia. Up until this past March, I had no idea where it was.

Visiting Abu Dhabi is like visiting the future. Modern, large, creative architecture. A physically clean city with zero crime. 100% car culture meaning taxi cabs, private cars and no public buses or subways. A proactive government that is investing in many ways for the future of the country. The ability of the city to attract world class cultural and educational institutions and multinational corporations. The gravitation of grand hotels and huge malls among daily living. Escalators that turn on when you step on them. The intentional collection of people living together from all over the world. Even with lots of reminders of the ancient world - the Grand Mosque, traditional Emirati clothing, the smell of oud - I was captivated by the futuristic in this city. Coming home to Dulles airport was quite anticlimactic.

Leaving your kid 7000 or 70 miles away is difficult. But the Lord has so been so clear in this, we continue to be in awe of the opportunity. She was born for this chance to flourish in the global future of a place like Abu Dhabi.

Thursday, August 18, 2016

See You in SeptEmber

Every year around this time, I take a self imposed 4-6 week sabbatical from all activities related to The Ember Cast. The general rule is no meetings, no writing, no financials, no dreaming. I let the very busy spring and summer season slow down and rest and celebrate what we have accomplished. It is kind of difficult. But the principle is true: spring is always on the other side of winter. In years past when I have returned, I'm very energized and thrilled. Deanna and I are doing some traveling at the start of this [surprise surprise] so that will be fun. See you next month.

Photo: Acate, Italy. July 2016.

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Throwing Fire - Round 2

2nd try last evening at a different airport since her original first leg was too delayed. But en route all night.

Monday, August 15, 2016

Kids Matter More Than Adults

There's a new kind of leader who believes kids matter more than adults.

Maybe you're thinking that the statement, "kids matter more than adults," is a little extreme. If you're an adult, you might be even slightly offended.

Before you discredit the idea as too radical, think about it. Even your dog figures this out pretty quickly. When a new baby arrives, everyone's status changes.

I'm not trying to devalue any human at any stage of life. The statement isn't intended to imply that an adult's life has any less value than a kid's life, nor that the world should in any way revolve around a child. What does it suggest is that if you want to affect the way a generation sees the world, then it makes sense to start influencing their character and faith when they are young.
- Reggie Joiner

Friday, August 12, 2016

Friday Burn

::: In Search of Metaphor

::: The Hard Work of Rest

::: Hey Church, We're Just Not That Into You

::: Cynicism is the status quo's most powerful ally. - @jnovogratz

Photo: Late night leaders. Ragusa, Italy, July 2016.

Wednesday, August 10, 2016

The Med

The colors of the water are what you imagine they would be - a deep blue and green, clear and cool, the refreshing Mediterranean sea. Until your host tells you that upwards of 5000 people die in these waters every summer. It then seems disenchanting to take pictures of this scene. Can I really enjoy this when so many have died here? In a blog post, you write, "Our hope is that these waters are redemptive at some point."

And then, the next day, someone decides that they would love to get baptized. 10km to the west of where you were the previous day, but the same water, the same sea. It's yelling and clapping and screaming, a small celebration with 14 people, cheering on a public declaration of a dedicated and redeemed life.

Living water.

Monday, August 08, 2016

40 is the new 30

One of the best systems The Ember Cast has in place is called the 30 day rule. It states that you make no major decisions for 30 days after you come back from a mission experience. No starting or stopping major relationships, no deciding to drop out of college to be a missionary, no buying a plane ticket to return to the place where you just left, no selling all of your earthly possessions. Certainly none of those things are inherently bad decisions but the intent behind this is to help temper some of the emotions involved in returning from a very intense experience in a new culture.

This year, we've expanded this number to be 40 instead of 30, because you know how much more Biblical the number 40 is. In either case, that kind of time frame allows emotions to settle. If your experience has changed you, your convictions will last past this time and prove to be beyond emotions.

Calling and vocation are topics best navigated with intention and not by accident. When we hope our students figure out what they are good at or we hope that they bump into the right kind of leaders to lead them or we are unclear about a theology of place, we are navigating these topics by accident. Instead, you should have a plan to help your students think about the future and how they will contribute to it. One of the best ways to start is to help them deeply process what are convictions versus what are emotions.

You can do this too. Encourage your students to let God's leading burn in their hearts for a month. Host a dinner with them after that month and celebrate how you all have changed.

Friday, August 05, 2016

Friday Burn

::: All the World's Immigration Visualized in 1 Map

::: The Ice Bucket Challenge Just Funded an ALS Breakthrough

::: A Deep Dive into Saudi Youth Culture

Wednesday, August 03, 2016

Ember Italy Wrap Up

I'm working on a little post trip report that will be done in a few days. I'd be honored if you were interested in reading it. Leave a comment here or tonytsheng @

Saturday, July 30, 2016

Italy Friday

Friday was debriefing day so we spent most of the morning discussing the week in detail. Unfiltered debate and missional imagination were key pieces of this.

We spent a little bit of time on the beach in the afternoon also working through more thoughts about the trip using the questions below. 

In the evening we went to a worship gathering at a center in the town of Ragusa. Fitting end to our time here.

We devote a whole day to debriefing because it is that important.

1 Write about - What did you love/hate

2 Story on an index card

3 20 second, 2 minute, 20 minute
4 Write about - When did time go fast (generative) 
5 Listing important people that you met
6 Envelopes - Tess has these
7 Write about - Something new you learned about God
8 Highlight points on thank you cards
9 Encouragement notes to others

Thursday, July 28, 2016

Italy Thursday

Today was our last full day of ministry. We started in a city in the south to hang with some refugees but didn't find anyone. This city is right on the Med and although incredibly beautiful, you feel helpless when you learn that a few thousand people die in this water every year. The boat graveyard, next to a refugee intake center, is one symbol of the refugee struggle. Our hope is that these waters are redemptive at some point.

The common term here is refugee 'camp' although 'camp' isn't quite an accurate word. In the city we were just in, the camp was a 3 story residential building right next to our hotel with dorm style rooms, a common sitting area, and a kitchen. This afternoon we visited another camp that was outside of another city in the countryside. This was an old rectory of a Catholic church and we spent time visiting. I also listened to a conversation between R, one of our hosts, and F who is here with a missions organization and one of the key players in this work in this region. The challenges are great involving cultures, worldviews, relief vs development and systems, among lots of other things.


Wednesday, July 27, 2016

Italy Wednesday

Checked out of the city today after morning in the fish market and hanging in city center.

Drove to a city in the south where we checked into our remaining lodging. We then met up with a friend in another suburb. This friend has lived the refugee life and like most of them told us a sobering story. His hospitality was second to none though and it was humbling to be hosted in that manner. Americans don't accept hospitality that well.

Dinner was with a contact who has been helping with a system for when people actually get off the boats.

Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Italy Tuesday

More time in the streets this morning, creating conversations and seeing where some refugees where hanging out near city center. Our hotel is in a great location close to significant areas in the center of this city, including a very large outdoor market, the train station, and the Piazza, one of the major city squares. My group had lunch at McDonalds today. I should clarify - I had lunch at McDonalds while everyone else brought in their food. Eating at McDonalds makes for a great cultural exercise.

The afternoon was spent hanging with the high school boys, sharing some music from both the American and African side as well as some stories about life on both sides. Lots of significant stuff happening here. You would be proud of this team and how engaged they are in this work.