Monday, November 20, 2017

ProtoGuide 17-18

One of our best core competencies is the ProtoGuide Experience, an experience designed for high school seniors where they work with The Ember Cast at a Guide level, participating in as much as they can. This year's ProtoGuide is Meghan B and, although it took a little time, she's getting into the blogging thing. Check it out [scroll down], or even better, follow it from your favorite RSS reader.

I am a firm believer that this is still a unique, niche experience for the emerging global student leader and it's our joy for Ember to offer this kind of experience.

Friday, November 17, 2017

Friday Burn

::: The Most Successful Kids Have Parents Who Do These 9 Things

::: Syrias Students Going to School in a War Zone

::: You Are What You Carry

::: "To BE the church, you're gonna have to stop doin' so much church stuff.” ~Bob Roberts Jr.

Photo: Bilingual bulletin. Oct 2017.

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

The Well

We have started a new experiment this year as part of some Ember staff development: a monthly staff dinner with special guests. The goal of this is to gather our staff to hear from some of the most creative, missionally imaginative and innovative people we know.
This month's guest was Mandy Memmel [sorry for the bad pic Mandy] and her daughter Jolie. Mandy is the founder and executive director of The Well in Curtis Bay, which originally started as a vehicle for womens mentoring but has flourished into community development for all of Curtis Bay. We've conspired with The Well a few times and have loved it. [here and here and here]

Our conversation was fascinating and included topics such as:
Food desert - grocery stores won't come into Curtis Bay because it isn't profitable.
Social enterprise - The Well is starting to develop a series of micro businesses that will provide a locally sourced product and also employ local women from the area.
High school kids love slime - yeah I don't even know.
Workforce development - The Well has also started some workforce development, meaning they teach local women job skills and employ them.
Gentrification - Port Covington is a huge city development that will impact long term residents of Curtis Bay, possibly raising housing costs and price these residents out of their community.

Mandy is a leader you would follow.

Monday, November 13, 2017

Ember BOD - Nov 2017

Some thoughts and themes from the last Ember Board of Directors meeting, last weekend. Maybe these will help you in the areas of organizational clarity, missions mobilization or working with volunteer teams:

+ Ember direction - Would be helpful to the board to get a feel for this consistently once a month.
+ Re-articulate Ember mission statement. We do a lot of things surrounding our core mission. Good to articulate that again.
+ Expectations for participation - We need to be clearer on the expectations of people that participate in our experiences.
+ We've been exploring the idea of doing some re-imagination with some of our team training competencies. Small discussion on key volunteers who would be engaged around this idea.

Friday, November 10, 2017

Friday Burn

::: Measles Vaccine has Saved more than 20M Lives Since 2000
Link via Future Crunch

::: Saline Soil Rice Experiment a Success

::: Is France Reached?

::: If a leader can't ever be questioned, he's not a leader. He's a bully who just happens to have a job. - @edstetzer via @willmancini

Photo: Sicily. July 2016.

Thursday, November 09, 2017

Board Prep

Prepping for the Ember Board of Directors meeting the past few days. Mostly, it's recapping stories from this past year and looking to the future. It also includes some 'business development' and some financial details.

The people on this team are my biggest advocates. And their support catalyzes teams, churches, communities and decades if not centuries. I'm fortunate for their insight and wisdom.

You don't have to run an organization to have one of these. Maybe it's time you gathered a personal board of directors.

Tuesday, November 07, 2017

Giving Away Money is a Complicated Business

Giving away money is a complicated business, as I appreciate more and more all the time. I have met so many decent, optimistic, generous people who want to make a difference, but they become disillusioned with the difficulty of finding the right fit for their philanthropic interests. Almost by definition, the causes that need the support the most often do not have the infrastructure, management talent, or strategic plan needed to deploy large amounts of capital efficiently. It's tempting to pick projects that are straightforward and "doable." There is nothing diabolical about that. The problem is that those kinds of projects are one-offs. The gains may not be sustainable, and the impact tends to be local or limited. Meanwhile, there are other global organizations that do good work, but they have grown to a size that limits their ability to innovate, and administrative costs and approaches seem to produce produce fewer and fewer returns.
- Forty Chances - Finding Hope in a Hungry World by Howard G. Buffett

Friday, November 03, 2017

Friday Burn

::: As Caterpillar Inc goes, so goes the world's economy.

::: China's Millennials - the World's Most Important Consumer
318 million consumers between the ages of 15-29 - roughly the population of the US.

::: Saudi Arabia becomes first country to grant citizenship to a robot

::: "Can a person maintain a relationship with Jesus apart from the Church?
But their children will not." - @BrianZahnd

Photo: Belpasso, July 2017.

Thursday, November 02, 2017

One of the Best Tools to Grow Global Kids

The question I get asked most is something along the lines of: how do we grow kids with a vision for the world? And the best answer is: get them to travel. Traveling breaks down barriers, it gives a new a larger perspective, it promotes divergent thinking. Your plan A almost always fails when you travel, you meet people different from you, you experience new places and sometimes even see old places with new insight. Obviously, we are big fans of dragging your kids around the world.

Travel can be expensive - but not always. In today's global world, traveling across your city is as important as flying overseas somewhere. You can experience lots of culture shifts in your own city. And as people serving a world in need, it's your imperative to care about those that live near you as well as those far off. It is not over here OR over there.

The best tool related to travel is travel hacking. This is what can help make travel very affordable and it's what we have been doing for a few years now. Case in point, a trip to Sydney next year that was purchased solely with points [this trip probably represents over 1 million points we have redeemed since early 2016]. If you are new to this idea, google it. Then get the Chase Sapphire Preferred or Reserve card. Make the minimum spend to get the bonus points. Then use the Chase portal to either exchange points to their travel partners or book travel through the portal.

Going places is the best way to grow global kids.

Wednesday, November 01, 2017

Friday, October 27, 2017

Friday Burn

::: Worldwide Child Labor Plunges

::: Singapore has the Most Powerful Passport in the World

::: Is Estonia a Preview of our Tech Future?

::: The first step of humility is unhesitating obedience. - Benedict of Nursia

Photo: Making missionary speakers. Fairfax, VA. October 2017.

Tuesday, October 24, 2017

Whisper - Mark Batterson

One of my core convictions is that the church ought to be the most creative place on the planet. I believe there are ways of doing church that no one has thought of yet. And as an author and preacher, I try to say old things in new ways. Those values weren't birthed in a vacuum. They were catalyzed by a wide variety of experiences, one of which was The Toymaker's Dream. And that's the beautiful thing about dreams. You never know when or where or who or how your dream will inspire someone else to pursue his or her dream. Only the Dream Giver knows that. But we'll have a lot of people to thank someday for directly and indirectly inspiring our dreams.

We've been inspired by Pastor Mark and NCC for many years now - long time readers know that. We also try to drop in with some friends there a few times a year since it's so close. NCC has certainly helped us dream and Whisper is a great read for those of you that live willing to try new and interesting things for the Lord.

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

Friday, October 20, 2017

Friday Burn

::: The 12 world leaders under 40

::: Be Ruthless
From Fred Smith, who runs The Gathering, one of the largest events for Christian philanthropists:
Learn enough to get started.
Only work with those who are receptive.
First ideas, then results.

::: The Power of Anti-Goals

::: "I don't need time. What I need is a deadline." - Duke Ellington via Tim Ferris

Photo: Tram, Taormina, Italy. July 2017.

Monday, October 16, 2017

Random - Missions Pitch

I get a good amount of mission support letters, as you might imagine, and lots of times, there is a request to hear the 'pitch.' I actually like that - I think most people in these circumstances can use more practice for their pitch and I'm always willing to listen when I can. And there are almost always interesting and intriguing items of note in the orbit of the people and projects sending me these, here are some from the latest batch:

+ A church in a rural East Coast area has a vision to start both 10 campuses and 10 independent nonprofits serving specific areas in the community.
+ Distributed missions organization - treats all of their staff like everyone is an entrepreneur. Which I think is atypical.
+ One of the pitches was related to a community agriculture project. The candidate family is moving overseas and has secured an agreement with a local city government for land for a 9 year lease for $1.
+ Funding for one of these candidates is flowing through his own nonprofit, not through the sending agency. The perspective on this was that the agency wanted this person to own his financial network.
+ Most young people skip budgeting for retirement. At their age, time is their friend so skipping it is a big mistake. I know that can sound like a lack of faith. I would argue that it can sound like a lack of brains.
+ I received a very detailed project plan for one of these pitches, which included terms such as schedule performance index, variance at completion and annual yield. It was put together like a business, because, well, if your nonprofit doesn't make any money, it will cease to be a nonprofit.

As always, if you want to know more about these, ping me directly.

Friday, October 13, 2017

Friday Burn

::: Mining Wifi Data on the London Tube

::: Science Says the Most Successful Kids Have Parents Who Do These 9 Things

::: Dad Suggests Arriving at Airport 14 Hours Early

::: 38 Startups Serving the Underserved

::: Bees create hives, ants create colonies, but humans create futures. - Erwin McManus

Photo: London, July 2015.

Thursday, October 12, 2017


We have started a new experiment this year as part of some Ember staff development: a monthly staff dinner with special guests. The goal of this is to gather our staff, and specifically, our ProtoGuide [who I will tell you more about soon] to hear from some of the most creative, missionally imaginative and innovative people we know.

Last week, our guests were B & S, who serve with The Samaritan Woman. TSW is a one of a kind organization dedicated to restorative work for victims of human trafficking. I've known B & S for a number of years and have always been impressed by their dedication, passion and ability to execute.

Some highlights from the dinner conversation:
TSW currently 3 residential recovery properties.
One mortgage paid off last week.
Another one paid off a few months ago by a very large, local church.

S listens to a podcast where there is a lady mentoring homeless women to make granola that breaks all sales records. She calls her and asks to be mentored.

TSW used train their clients in urban farming as a vocational skill - they have one of the only urban farms in Baltimore. But they pivoted, because most of their clients actually don't want to dig in the dirt.

Advice for a 17 year old interested in this kind of stuff:
Kingdom work isn't an exclusive marketplace either/or ministry anymore - it is more of a the ability to leverage your marketable skills.
Follow the Lord in obedience. You will reap joy in your life.

Thanks B and S and other guests for hanging with us.

Monday, October 09, 2017


Part of Ember got to join Chinese Bible Church, Fairfax for their annual missions conference this past weekend. Great time with their people. CBCF is church plant from Chinese Bible Church, College Park which was planted from Chinese Bible Church of Maryland, making CBCF a third generation church plant.

Always interesting questions about missions from things like this, including these from this weekend:
- Isn't short term missions a waste of time and energy when long term missions might actually make more of a difference?
- How do you figure out what your gifting and passions are and organize your life around that?
- What are some things that have changed in the field of missions since you started being involved compared to now?
- If I have some pre-teens at home, how could I start to prepare them for being involved in some of these things?

Thanks again CBCF for having The Ember Cast.

Friday, October 06, 2017

Friday Burn

::: Dangerous Shortcuts in Missions Mobilization

::: What is the Right Size for a Leadership Team?

::: 3 Hours of Productivity Every Day?

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

Photo: Church in Sicily. July 2017.

Thursday, October 05, 2017

2017 CBCF Missions Conference,October 6-8

Would love to say hi if you are around...

Theme: Making Missions Matter

Oct 6, Friday at Rejoice Fellowship, McLean Bible Church 1A
Dinner starts at 6:30 pm, Program starts at 7:30 pm
(RSVP for dinner:
Speaker: Tony Sheng and the Missions Team
Message: “Vision and Skills for Missions Today (Ephesians 3:20 and John 20:21)
Missions sharing: The Ember Cast ministry

Oct 7, Saturday at CBCCP
Dinner starts 6:00 pm, Program starts 7:00 pm, Refreshment starts 9:10 pm
Short term missionary sharing: Crystal Mak (Go & Love)
Missionary sharing: K&M
Message by Dr. Brent Slater, Translation in Mandarin

Oct 8, Sunday at CBCF
Speaker: Tony Sheng and the Missions Team
10:00 am Message “Missions starting from us to next generation” (Daniel 1)
11:30 am Testimony: “Our Missions Journey”


(晚餐請至 報名)
信息:《宣教的異象與技巧》(弗三20, 約廿21),及火種傳遞宣教事工分享


十一時卅, 分見證分享:我們的宣教歷程

Monday, October 02, 2017

Think Deeply About Relief

Sandy. Maria. Harvey. Irma. Katrina. Matthew.

My advice to churches and nonprofits that want to send teams to assist with these kinds disasters? It isn't popular advice...
1. Send money. But not to the Red Cross. [Extra reading]
2. If you must send teams immediately, send highly trained professionals. Think medical, supply chain, construction, infrastructure. [Extra reading]
3. If you send teams later, ensure they are prepared to build capacity and not just do labor. [Extra reading: 1 2 ]

Most of us are surrounded by people that sacrifice incredibly because they have been blessed to bless others. Consider that resource carefully.

Photo: Coney Island, NYC. Post-Sandy. Jan 2013.

Friday, September 29, 2017

Friday Burn

::: QR codes in China

::: Strategies from Writers on How to Stay Productive
Link via Justin Long

::: The Elevator that Zooms Horizontally and Vertically

::: Honor the past but be more loyal to the future - Brian Houston

Photo: Warsaw city wall. July 2017.

Wednesday, September 27, 2017


Chris C and I with Chris Guillebeau, last night in DC, who provided much of the inspiration and instruction for our Sheng travel hacking. His new book, Side Hustle, came out a few weeks ago and, although I haven't read it yet, it is I'm sure worth the read. If you ever wonder what other productive things you can do with your time outside of a day job, this book would be for you. Of course, that might include something like starting a nonprofit for emerging global student leaders, or hey maybe you've got another great idea.

Monday, September 25, 2017

Hello SeptEmber

Well, I cannot say it's been a great sabbatical... but I have appreciated the time off. But we aren't quite done yet - there are at least a few leaders the Lord has entrusted to Ember for this upcoming season.

Here is a bit of what we are working on:
+ ProtoGuide 17-18
MB started with us a few weeks ago, excited to tell you more about her soon. She started with the StrengthsFinder [Empathy, Belief, Consistency, Adaptability, Connectedness] and has started digging into Movements that Change the World. For those of you not familiar, ProtoGuides work with me for a school year at a Staff level. The ProtoGuide experience is our best effort at resourcing and engaging the best, brightest and most passionate emerging global student leaders we can find.
+ Monthly Ember staff dinner
We are hosting a monthly Ember staff dinner which will feature special guests doing some of the most creative, innovative and interesting global missions, nonprofit, charitable projects around. Invite only - mostly so our staff can get to meet these amazing people.
+ Chinese Bible Church, Fairfax
I'm speaking at a missions conference hosted by Chinese Bible Church, Fairfax in early October. We'll have some of our teams there too - would love to say hi if you are around.
+ Perspectives
Teaching Lesson 12 at 2 classes near Lancaster in late November. There will also be three classes in the DMV in the Spring so if you are thinking about taking the class, it is highly recommended.
+ And more...

Thursday, September 21, 2017

The Grand Canyon - 2009

Saying goodbye to her body over the next few days but not her spirit. And that's the Gospel - death to life.

Sunday, September 10, 2017

The Madre

I used to joke routinely with The Madre that Chinese people were taking over the world by marrying into one Caucasian family at a time. We are grieving losing her a few evenings ago and yet thrilled for her that she is now healed, reunited with her husband Rudy and promoted to Glory.

In many ways, she was more than a mother to me than even my own mom. And of course I'm part of a lot of people that benefited from her investment of raising three incredible kids. If you knew her, you knew she parented with compassion and character, grace and truth, perseverance and prayer, sarcasm and wit. Especially sarcasm and wit.

The Madre was also a huge patron of student missions, supporting Ember in many ways. She hosted numerous teams of high school kids at her house over the years, living out an ethos of hospitality. She traveled with us this past Spring - her first time traveling out of the USA was to the Middle East. You are never too old for an adventure.

Thanks to all of you for your messages, comments, texts and emails - we have read and cherished every one of them. We are looking forward to celebrating her life in a few weeks.

Photo: Sir Bani Yas Island, UAE. April 2017.

Wednesday, September 06, 2017

Book Notes - The Last Arrow

If you submit to the idea that you can be mentored by someone from a distance [which I do], I'll tell you that I've been mentored by a handful of people from a distance, including Erwin McManus. So of course, his latest book, The Last Arrow, is a must read for me. He packs lots of cool stuff in there, like adventure, risk, faith, relationships and leadership and will get you to think in new and different ways about those ideas. The Last Arrow will push you to consider what you are about, who you are devoted to and what your life will amount to. Highly recommended.

The Last Arrow is not a call to never settle in every arena in life; The Last Arrow is a call to never settle about what God intends to do with your life. You have to know what matters; you have to know who you are; you have to know what your life is to be given to. For in the end, the one thing where we must never settle for less in is the calling that God has on our life; the purpose for which he has created us, the impact he designed us to make in the world.
The great tragedy that I have witnessed over and over again is that we keep underestimating how much God wants to do in us and through us. Too many of have believed the lies we have been told, that we're not good enough, we're not smart enough, we're not talented enough, we're just not enough. One of the facets of God that makes him extraordinary is the ability to do the impossible through the ordinary, everyday, common people like you and me. This book has one intention, that whether you win or lose, succeed or fail, live a life of celebrity or anonymity, that when you take your last breath, you will know that without reservation that you have given everything you have, everything you are, to the life you have been entrusted with.

While my family has had the great privilege of traveling across the world, I am reminded that Jesus never walked far from the place of his birth. The great adventure that God calls us on does not require jet-setting across the planet. Sometimes our greatest quest is within walking distance of our front door. Sometimes the great challenge that God has placed in front of us comes in the most unexpected places - like being a good husband, a good wife, a good parent. Sometimes your geography doesn't change at all but the journey is still long and hard. Becoming the man that your family deserves is no small endeavor.

Sometimes God needs you to go somewhere so that you can take others there as well. When you choose to stay behind, the future moves on without you. When you refuse to stay behind, you become a conduit to the future.

Perhaps the reason so few of us have received a double portion of God's spirit is that the lives we have chosen require so little of God because they require so little of us. I do not want to watch God work from a distance. Neither do I want to hear the amazing stories of God's activity in the world as if they are fables made for other people in an ancient time. I want to live the kind of life that cannot be lived without the fullness of Christ in my life.

You need to act like your life depends on it because it's never just your life involved. You need to never settle for less because the world desperately needs everything you can bring to the table. There's a subtle spirituality that has a deep disdain for ambition and hides apathy behind a language of simplicity. If you want to life a simple life, that's a beautiful thing. If you want to use it as an excuse to live beneath your God-given capacity, that is negligence.

People like Shammah create a problem for the rest of us. One person who chooses to live a heroic life disrupts the narrative 'we are living a lesser life' as the acceptable option.

You can't fight the future, but you can create the future. To fight the future is to ensure that you will be lost and left behind to the past. For some, the idea of standing your ground is a desperate resolution to find some way to make sure that the past is the future and that the future never happens. Frankly, the apocalyptic tone of the Christian faith has postured the church as an enemy of the future. The faithful hold on to the past and fight for the future. If I have had one struggle in my faith journey, it has been that the church seems to march into the future walking backwards. For many, the only hope of faith is that one day we will leave this earth and be free from a future which filled as with fear. Often our best hope has been that Jesus would come back soon. Yet I am convinced this is exactly the wrong posture for any of us who live by faith. Faith is the fuel of the future, and if God is the God of yesterday, today and tomorrow, then tomorrow should fill us with inexplicable hope. No matter how bleak the present may seem for those of us who believe, the future is always full of hope.

So who are we to believe - Solomon when he says there is nothing new under the sun, or God who says, "I am doing a new thing?" The same God who says, "I am making everything new," the same God who tells us that he gives us a new heart and makes us new creations, the same God who calls us to sing a new song and whose mercies are new every morning.
For me, the future is my field of lentils. I have found the church strangely walking backward into the future. The church has become an institution that preserves the past and fears the future. It is not an overstatement to say that the church has become more of a reflection of what we are running from than what we are running to. No wonder we have lost our power to change the world. No wonder the church has lost its magnetism to a world searching for hope. We are seen as the guardians of tradition. The church is known for fighting for the future rather than creating the future that humanity desperately needs.

I have a limited number of copies to give away - leave a comment and I'll ping you if you are a winner.

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

Thursday, August 31, 2017

Sabbatical Reading

1 The Last Arrow Erwin McManus *
2 5Q Alan Hirsch
3 What is the Bible Rob Bell
4 Only the Paranoid Survive Andrew Grove
5 Whisper Mark Batterson *
6 Alone Together Sherry Turkle
7 Jesus of Arabia Andrew Thompson

1 out Sept 5
5 out Oct 24

Wednesday, August 09, 2017


My yearly sabbatical from The Ember Cast starts later today with a little road trip up north. This time off is one of the best ways I take a little break from being bivocational. Even though many people I know don't consider themselves bivocational, they truly are, investing a lot of effort outside of a vocational job with faith based communities, nonprofits and humanitarian projects. I cannot recommend this yearly rhythm enough.

Ember is so generative for me and having this break means margin to ask what the Lord is doing with it. The sabbatical every year is meant for this but this year was more unique than others so it's even more important now. Some years, I start this time not sure Ember will continue when I am done.

We have some interesting and exciting things lined up for the Fall and I'm excited tell you more about those things in SeptEmber. I hope some of you will join us for them.

Tuesday, August 08, 2017


Regardless of church governance, you are not called by a church board, senior pastor, or denominational leader. You are called by God. And for the record, he’s the only one who can un-call you. You can get fired, or get burned, by a human employer, but they cannot un-call you.
- [Classic] Mark Batterson. Seven Hard Earned Lessons on Calling.

Monday, August 07, 2017

Summer 17 Financials

We've reconciled most of the summer expenses so maybe this will help you with your future planning or give you a baseline for comparison. This is all the big stuff even though there are some small incidentals here and there. Some notes below since this is The Ember Cast and nothing is ever straightforward around here.

11334 - Italy Airfare
3160 - Poland Airfare
1685 - Italy Lodging
1200 - Poland Lodging
~1500 - Poland on the ground costs including food, excursions, incidentals, etc.
~2200 - Food, for 2 weeks for both teams
350 - Insurance
1032 - In Country Transport
1900 - Future
58 - Bank fees
2577 - Ministry
~27200 - Total

- team of 6
- 13 days long
- team of 2
- 44 days long + 7 days in Italy

+ Two teams that overlapped in both time and locality means that some of the costs are shared and were not easily categorized.
+ We used two Airbnbs which were extremely inexpensive. Our team also felt like it gave us a better flavor for living like a local. I was a fan of Airbnb even before this trip - this is the definitely the way to go.
+ We had two people drop last minute so there was both a credit for airfare and some much smaller sunk costs due to one of the flights being non-refundable.
+ In country transport included a rental car, subway/tram and taxi fares.
+ We purchase overseas medical insurance for each person. We have a great insurance person - let me know if you need an intro.
+ The best way to get cash is to go to an ATM in country. My credit cards do not charge foreign transaction fees but my ATM cards do. Annoying.
+ Ministry costs included costs to do the stuff as well as some monetary funding to our partners.
+ In the case of the people that dropped last minute, when we can, we like to hold the money they raised to be applied to something they do in the future, whether it is with Ember or another 501C3 nonprofit.
+ Spending $27K in 13 days... Make no mistake, spending this kind of money every summer always gives me pause. When it comes to short term missions, we should always be asking whether this amount of time, money and energy is worth it but ask it with a 500 year horizon.

Friday, August 04, 2017

Friday Burn

::: My Life as a Suburban Church Planter
This is an excellent read.

::: Has the Smartphone Destroyed a Generation?
Also an excellent read.

::: Natural Wayfinding Tips

::: The World's Most Dangerous Cities

::: Honor the past but be more loyal to the future - Brian Houston

Photo: Italian subway, July 2017.

Thursday, August 03, 2017


Long ago, in a previous life, this middle school girl in the blue in the center of the picture came on a homeless community impact thing we worked on. Twelve years later, she is the point leader for a team from our church that our younger daughter Em is on this week. Back then, I helped run student missions for our church but transitioned out of that in 2008 and then started The Ember Cast in 2010.

This is Em's first missions thing apart from The Ember Cast - that is a good and healthy thing. Running your own parachurch/nonprofit thing sometimes means that you naturally 'lose' your church. If you start something on your own, make sure your kids are still connected somewhere.

Running your own thing also means that sometimes you will behave with a worldview focused on scarcity instead of abundance. This manifests itself by hoarding instead of being generous and tells you what you really believe about control. You might struggle with this especially when it comes to what your kids are involved in.

Anyway, all that to say that Alyssa is an awesome leader and we are grateful for Em's involvement on this team this week.

Monday, July 31, 2017

Future Casting from 2017

+ Migration
When I speak about student missions, I almost always say that we are living in some of the most amazing times in human history. One of those reasons is because of human migration. This incredible movement of people has never happened before and will continue for the foreseeable future and will be both a major challenge and opportunity for those of us called into this kind of work. This summer reminded me that not only are we in the middle of this huge global phenomenon, but that those of us called to follow Jesus must continue to engage with this issue. Whether it's learning a new language, engaging the sojourner on your street or traveling somewhere to encourage people serving in this issue, we all can play a small part - there is room for everyone. A conversation with one of our hosts also reminded me of the demographic time bomb that is also at play. The interesting twist, also an observation from our host, is that this immigrant influx could be the one thing that saves certain countries and communities from their own demographics. Watch this play out over the next 5-50 years.

Your smartphone holds an incredible amount of power. With mine this summer, I was able to stay in touch with people at home, post quick updates to my blog, and translate Italian to English so that I could order that very most important Sicilian pizza correctly - all good and important things. But I also got caught up in a ridiculously useless game [1010!] and spent too much time goofing around on Mombook, instead of hanging and engaging with our team. But let's be clear - it isn't about the phone, it is about attention. While our team of students spent lots of time on their phones, Ember does not have an explicit phone policy except no phones at the table. The future, specifically my future and your future will be determined by what we give our attention to. Sure, you can spend months binge watching your favorite television series. But is that what you want your life to amount to? Instead, set up a series of habits to help you give attention to the right things. Change this tomorrow and you'll see a difference in the next 30 days and who knows what that will lead to for the rest of your life.

Most youth mission experiences are centered around a local church student ministry. This summer, a good portion of my team was not connected with any local student ministry and this marked a change in the makeup of our teams. Since one of Ember's distinctives is to engage 'emerging global student leaders,' the vital question to be answered is, "If you can't find these kids in churches, where will you find them?" I believe that there are students who have a vital walk with Jesus and this relationship informs their passion for the world, but they aren't connected with a local church for whatever reason. We've relied on local church leaders to help us find these emerging leaders and that will pivot and change moving forward. This will also play out in how mission agencies engage these leaders when they are ready for vocational missions. Side note: Ember holds local churches in high regard, but the church in its apostolic, missionary form is just as equally "church" as the church in its local parish form. We will see this at play in the next 3-5 years.

::: "Seeing the future first may be more about having a wide-angle lens than a crystal ball." - @profhamel

Friday, July 28, 2017

Ember Poland Has Returned

Our second team, the Poland ladies, landed yesterday afternoon after 2 months in Poland and one week in there with our Italy team. By all accounts, it was a grand success and I'm proud for how these ladies worked, served and represented Ember.

We had intentionally set this experience up with elements of cultural engagement, history exploration and startup ministry and probably our best decision was to give it a very light tempo. It was not a 40 a week job. Instead, it gave them lots of room to experience this global city as cultural explorers first and summer missionaries second.

Ember has wanted to grow this type of summer send for a while now. This is a great alternative to the 10-15 day summer team we usually do, helping give the right people an extended field experience with some great hosts being creative and innovative for the Gospel. Maybe you'll dream with us about this kind of thing in 2018.

Thursday, July 27, 2017


How many times have you heard the following?
"If it seems too good to be true, it probably is."
"What goes up must come down."
"Don't count your chickens before they hatch."

The truth is, we've been programmed to avoid risk, play it safe and only go after what is predictable, definable, quantifiable, acceptable...and possible!
But if you want to take ground for God, fulfill your destiny and live a life of faith, then RISK must become your friend.
- Christine Caine

Monday, July 24, 2017

Learners and Sponges

RH, holding court with Tess and Lindsey, who are asking deep and engaged questions about refugees. Humility and the passion to learn are some of the most attractive qualities of our leaders.

"The illiterate of the 21st century will not be those who cannot read and write, but those who cannot learn, unlearn, and relearn." - Alvin Toffler

Friday, July 21, 2017

Friday Burn

::: In Urban China, Cash is Becoming Obsolete

::: Last week, Verily - formerly Google Life Sciences - began releasing bacteria-infected male mosquitoes in Fresno, California.

::: 60 Countries Ranked on Digital Competitivness

Photo: Warsaw tram stops.

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Welcome Home

My best advice for people welcoming good friends or family home from cross cultural experiences? Set aside 90 minutes over a meal and let them talk. You eat, they talk. And talk. And talk. Most of us are awful at listening to our friends and family talk about these experiences. And some of us need to raise the bar at giving our attention to this. And it will do wonders for them as they process what they have seen and felt.

A few other ideas:
Ask to see their pictures.
Read a paper that they write about the trip.
We have a 40 day rule where no one makes major decisions within 40 days of coming home. You might encourage them to do something similar to let emotions settle.

One of the vital skills for leading emerging global student leaders is the skill of helping them decompress. You need to help them translate their experience into change. And it all starts with listening. In fact, I've arranged a few meals with some specific people [you know who you are] that I know who are coming off these experiences and my ulterior motive is to help them decompress. If you just came from one of these experiences and feel like no one has heard your stories, hit me up, I'll buy you a meal and help you decompress too. Fair warning - you'll have some homework based on the decompression toolkit The Ember Cast uses.

Photo: One week of driving a 9 passenger minivan through a 1700 year old city. Mount Etna.

Monday, July 17, 2017

Creating Something from Nothing

On our second day in Italy, our host RH was the mastermind of a 'day out' for the refugee boys. This entailed renting two coach buses and bringing all of the refugee boys out of the city from two different camps to a community gathering spot that one of the partnering churches had owned. After the boys arrived, a few different US based teams such as ours hosted some games and hung out with them. Lunch was served and after that, everyone got back in vehicles and went part way up Mount Etna. Dinner time was back at the gathering spot where this partner church's volunteers cooked brick oven pizzas - this is Italy after all - for everyone - about 100 people. Like the parade of American and refugee kids on the way to play football last summer, this was the first time this kind of thing had been done here.

In Warsaw, one of the things our team was asked to do was to conduct cultural surveys with Polish people. This survey included questions like "What do you like most about Warsaw?" and questions about priorities in life and if they were connected to a church. If you are like me, you basically push people running these surveys away like the plague. However in Warsaw, once you told them you were learning about Polish culture, they loved answering these questions and conversing about these kinds of topics. Our host TC was the instigator behind this because his startup church is English speaking and interested in what the younger generation thinks is important. To his knowledge, this was the first time any of this kind of data was ever collected in Warsaw.

These first time 'things' are important to The Ember Cast and are the basis for one of our distinctives when we run summer experiences - we want our high school teams to work side by side with people doing these kinds of things. There are a unique set of skills for a leader trying to execute something from nothing: raising money for the untested, embracing risk, building a network from scratch, logistics, budgets, casting vision, learning from failure, catalyzing others, etc. this list could go on and on and can be taught and modeled. This is where we bank our investment - the global leaders of tomorrow should be learning these skills today. RH and TC both embody these skills, they are creating something from nothing. I cannot tell you how thrilled I am that our Italy team worked side by side with both of these men and their teams.

Friday, July 14, 2017

Friday Burn

::: According to Future Crunch, this should be the front page headline every day
Since yesterday, 250,000 people have been lifted out of bone-crushing, one-meal-a-day, soul-destroying, no-dentist, no-doctor, no-electricity, single accident-means-life-and-death, unrelenting, extreme poverty. More here.

::: Why Panels at Conferences Suck

::: Ten Chinese Megacities to See Before You Die

::: 'To know the will of God, we need an open Bible and an open map.' - William Carey

Photo - LHR.

Sunday, July 09, 2017

Poland Sunday

Church plant that has been in existence for less than a year. Global city in post Communist country. Central European country with less than one percent evangelical.

This is The Ember Cast vibe.

Saturday, July 08, 2017

Poland Saturday

Church planter TC giving instructions on exegeting a neighborhood/decoding/navigating culture. Vital tools for emerging global student leaders which is part of why we are here.

Wednesday, July 05, 2017

Italy Tues and Wed

Lots of time on the street, engaging in conversations both on Tuesday and Wednesday. We also spent a few hours at one of the camps both days. Tonight, Wednesday, we and one of the intern teams had fun in one of the city piazzas, with soccer balls, glow sticks and face paint just trying to make fun.

Today was our last full day of ministry here. There is lots of interesting and exciting momentum with the team here so it's fun to see it from last year's perspective as well as be optimistic about the future here. This team has also done a great job and risen to expectations in some pretty big ways. Tomorrow is a decompression day. We devote a lot of time and energy to that process with the conviction that if it isn't done correctly, this experience goes to waste.

Tuesday, July 04, 2017

Missions Roundtable

One of the very best things The Ember Cast does with summer teams is what is called the Missions Roundtable. It is a simple question and answer discussion with the missionaries that we work with. At a deeper level, we run this because:
1 - So many, many students travel abroad with good teams and ministries and never hear the people they work with talk about their specific context, challenges and advice.
2 - We don't nearly talk enough with young people about calling, especially for global missions.

Really though, ask yourself, out of all the summer student missions teams you supported this summer, how many of them had an intentional time set aside for vocational missionaries to talk about their perspective to student teams?

We did this tonight as part of a July the 4th celebration with a few groups of Americans that were in town. Here is a sample of some of the questions, held in a talk show format with me as the moderator, with 5 individuals, which were 2 pairs of couples and one single, varied ages and family stages.

My Questions:
Who are you where are you from what do you do?
Why is where you are doing ministry now strategic?
Describe God's calling on your life.
One piece of advice for young person who wants to do this.

Questions from the Audience:
Biggest challenge how to not go.
What is the best skill to learn before you go to the field?

Best skill to learn?
Deal with ambiguity
Vision to see where the Kingdom is not
If God is calling you to do something, go and try. If you don't, 20 years will go by in a snap and you will have missed it.

Lots more from the conversation but you had to be there.

Photo: Gina, Donna, Dave, me, Hillary, Ryan. Easily over 100 years of collective experience.

Monday, July 03, 2017

Italy Monday

We spent a lot of time on Monday at one of the refugee 'camps' on the north side of the city. In this specific situation, the camp is not a campsite with hundreds of tents like you see in the news. Instead, it typically is an older hostel or similar building with a kitchen, dorms and common areas. Today, our task was to paint at least a few of the rooms, putting a fresh coat in rooms that needed a bit of freshening up.

+ This camp was spotless, meaning that they guys that live here take a lot of pride in where they live.
+ These kinds of projects - painting, building a church, carving a basketball court out of a rock field, etc. - are done a lot in the student missions realm. You could make the case that some or most of these projects are done just to give student teams work to do. There are also a myriad of issues dealing with dependency, ownership and economic models. This was not the case today and I should be more thoughtful about my opinions about this kind of thing, maybe.
+ In our case, once we got started, a ton of the guys that lived here jumped in and wanted to do it themselves. So we actually painted a little and helped the guys do it on their own.
+ If your worldview doesn't include the idea that poor or marginalized people actually want to do things for themselves, either read Toxic Charity or come to Italy to see it for yourself. Be warned though, once you see it, you'll never look at serving people in the same way.
+ Every guy here has a smart phone and a ton of music on it. Both are staples of their culture. Sidebar: There was music playing all day and at one point, a guy from Ivory Coast and I traded choosing what to play - I played some country music. A Chinese man sitting with guy from the Ivory Coast, in Italy, listening to Tim McGraw.

Sunday, July 02, 2017

Italy Sunday

+ Church this am with one of the churches that helped sponsor the big refugee day out yesterday. Great faith community that numbered around 80 people. Great service with lots of worship, super welcoming people and a great kids program - this church of about 100 probably has 30-35 little kids. [This many people in this kind of church in Italy is pretty rare, I think...]
+ Lunch with some of the church leadership and RH and his family. Authentic Sicilian pasta dishes.
+ Helped with a post BBQ for some of the Serve the City volunteers at a local park during dinner time.

Other observations from the day:
+ Sicily is about 40 years culturally behind the US, says RH. It's worse in church world, like usual. But this church is experiencing great growth in both breadth and depth.
+ Tess and Lindsey spent a good conversation with RH about his perspective of the refugee issue, which included concepts such as the demographic time bomb. I loved how Tess and Lindsey engage people like this to learn from them and loved how RH offered his observations instead of 'solutions.'
+ Driving in Italy is nuts.
+ I think I have sung Shout to the Lord in over 15 countries and languages. Love seeing Hillsong have that kind of influence.

Saturday, July 01, 2017

Italy Saturday

Spent the day with multiple teams of people involved with some of the refugee ministry here in this city, providing a big day out for them and everyone involved. This included:
+ A large team from a church from SC - super impressed with their leadership.
+ A church here that has an outreach location outside the city, they cooked authentic pizza for the whole group of maybe around 80 people - this church is super sold out to serving refugees.
+ Interns that our host RH has. There is also a semi retired couple here from the States who are the intern's 'houseparents'. This couple most recently served in a war zone in the Middle East and has a wealth of experiences all over the world.

Today was a huge operation that had never been tried before, which involved two large buses that helped transport refugees from two 'camps' in the city to the property as well as to the top of Mt Etna and a multitude of moving parts. It is this kind of thing that The Ember Cast gravitates towards - find a way or make a way. This is also the kind of leadership that we need for the future - creating something from nothing and brave enough to risk at least a few times because the Gospel is worth it.

Friday, June 30, 2017

Italy Friday

Met Tess and Lindsey at the gate in Munich.
Driving a Ford 9 passenger van in a city that is centuries old.
This city just finished a few more subway stops making it 9 stops on one line.
Our host RH has established a dynamic intern program here and has around 11 college aged young people serving refugees all summer. This is a positive leading indicator about important things.
We did a city scavenger hunt as a way of understanding navigation.

Thursday, June 29, 2017


In line. Everyone is tired from not doing anything. I'm almost too old for this. And I'm still amazed at the miracle of modern flight.

Wednesday, June 28, 2017

Italy Team #7

+ Some last minute team changes - 2 have needed to drop. Let's see what the Lord will do.
+ Reviewing our Travel Packet for all travel details.
+ Shopping for team supplies.

Monday, June 26, 2017

17 Italy Flight Reading

For almost every team I lead, when they check in before departure, they get a reading packet. Yup, almost as bad as summer reading. I won't apologize for it though - when else can you curate a set of ideas for your team to think about while they are held captive in a metal tube flying over open water? Trust me, at least a few of them will get bored of movies and read what you have printed with them in mind.

We depart later this week. Here is most of the reading packet:

Are you willing to be sent where few can see you?

Accelerating Revolutions

How Sociology Messed Up My Faith

The Newest Mission Field

A Question I Ask New Entrepreneurs

Photo: The Med