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

Friday, June 23, 2017

Friday Burn

::: Life despite death today in Douma.
Stunning images of a Syrian town breaking Ramadan fast amidst rubble.

::: Why Don't You Donate for Syrian Refugees? Blame Bad Marketing

::: There are More Refugees Today Than Ever Before

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

Photo: Ember Italy 2016 team. The 2017 team departs soon.

Thursday, June 22, 2017

Thoughts on Student Missions and Global Safety

4 Thoughts with 4 things you should consider doing.

1. From one of our trusted church partners:
A: [Church] works closely with our local hosts, and we do everything in our power to ensure safety in health, food and travel. In almost all instances, we are assured of safety when following the direction of the local hosts. Ultimately, our security is in the hands of the Lord.

2. What Global Terrorism Means for Sending Churches

3. Track the US State Department and UK Foreign Travel Advice updates.

4. 7 Keys to Traveling Without Fear Despite Terrorist Attacks

Tactical Things The Ember Cast does:
1. The development of a safety and security plan is part of every overseas project. This plan outlines what happens if global events occur prior to departure at specific locations where our teams will be. This plan also details what happens if global events occur when a team is on the ground. This document is vetted by our Board of Directors prior to distribution to our team and parents.

2. Each team is registered with the US State Department Smart Traveler Enrollment Program.

3. We subscribe to Concilium's IAG intelligence service - highly recommended.

4. Details for travel dates and locations are not published on social media.

Monday, June 19, 2017

Italy Team #6

Talking to strangers
Telling your story
People of Peace

Tentative Schedule - Plan A never works out anywa

Creation to Christ Story
Your Favorite Bible Story:
Ethan - David and Goliath
Alan - Paul on the road to Emmaus
Niall - Jesus water to wine
Kate - Esther
Kathleen - Joseph
Tony - Jesus and demon possessed man

Less than 2 weeks until wheels up. Over this past weekend, this team became 100% funded. Poland and Italy are landing right around $30K all together. Thank you for your support - in encouragement, prayer and finances - for this team.

Friday, June 16, 2017

Friday Burn

::: Carmageddon is coming
Fascinating read. I've said for a few years that autonomous cars will change everything because America is a car culture. This article has lots along those lines.

::: How to Manage a Team of All Stars

::: The World's Fastest Growing Cities, by the hour

::: Learn the rules like a pro, so you can break them like an artist. – Pablo Picasso

Thursday, June 15, 2017

From The Ember Cast International Office

Final logistics planning. Team departs in a few weeks*. The world is connected like never before.

* Dates and locations of travel are not posted on social media.

Monday, June 12, 2017

The City

Kleiber’s law proved that as life gets bigger, it slows down. But West’s model demonstrated one crucial way in which human-built cities broke from the patterns of biological life: as cities get bigger, they generate ideas at a faster clip. This is what we call “superlinear scaling”: if creativity scaled with size in a straight, linear fashion, you would of course find more patents and inventions in a larger city, but the number of patents and inventions per capita would be stable. West’s power laws suggested something far more provocative: that despite all the noise and crowding and distraction, the average resident of a metropolis with a population of five million people was almost three times more creative than the average resident of a town of a hundred thousand.
- Steven Johnson, Where Good Ideas Come From

Photo: the top of One World Trade Center, June 2017.

Friday, June 09, 2017

Friday Burn - Meeker Edition

Last week, Mary Meeker, the Queen of the Internet, released her annual always highly anticipated presentation of Internet trends, which basically is THE state of the Internet report. This comes out every year and if you live in the United States and have any influence or lead any kind of team, you should be reading this - it is one of the most interesting thermometers on culture that there is. And the deck reiterates what I like to say to lots of people when I speak - we are living in some of the most amazing and unique times in human history. Here are some takeaways from the perspective of emerging global student leaders.

3.1 hours of mobile usage every for adults, 2.2 for desktop/laptop [slide 9] - What this does mean for spiritual formation and attention.
Internet ad spending just about greater than tv ad spending [slide 14].
20% of mobile queries made from voice vs typing [slide 46]
Google machine learning achieved 95% accuracy, same rate as humans, for voice recognition [slide 48] - What is the impact on reaching oral cultures or on Scripture translation efforts.
Package parcel growth increasing - deliveries [slide 65] - how it affects cities.
Retail - unit closings at 20 year record while Amazon opens retail stores [slide 72] - affinity groups, culture become more and more tribalized
Average age of gamers = 35 - optimize learning and engagement [slide 85]
Gaming tools - optimize learning and engagement [slide 87 + 88 ] How does this affect leadership development? Are our experiences going to be too boring? Can we incorporate these kinds of concepts in the way we form leaders?
Gamification influencing multiple domains - human computer interaction [slide 117]
Esports vs traditional sports [slide 138]
Gaming experience - technology leadership and innovation [slide 147]
Media evolution [slide 176] - more tribal cultures
Household debt [slide 344] - highest since 2008 - this will affect future vocational freedom - debt is one of the largest barriers to vocational missions.
Immigration [slide 347] - USA to become non white majority country

Photo: Elevator, Floor 148, Dubai.

Wednesday, June 07, 2017

Book Notes - Smarter Better Faster

Smarter Better Faster: The Transformative Power of Real Productivity by Charles Duhigg

This will be the best book I read in 2017. Notes are a little obscure, highly recommended.
Chapter 1 - Motivation
Concept - Internal locus of control
This is a useful lesson for anyone hoping to motivate themselves or others, because it suggests an easy method for triggering the will to act: Find a choice, almost any choice, that allows you to exert control.
Motivation is triggered by making choices that demonstrate to ourselves that we are in control. The specific choice we make matters less than the assertion of control. It's the feeling of self-determination that gets us going.
"We praise people for doing things that are hard. That's how they learn to believe they can do them" - drill instructor
The choices that are the most powerful in generating motivation, in other words, are decisions that do two things: They convince us we're in control and they endow our actions with larger meaning.

Chapter 2 - Teams
MBA study group
Google Teams
Saturday Night Live - Lorne Michaels
"I believe that the show has lasted 40 years because Lorne is a genius when it comes to recognizing talent, rolling with the changing times, and encouraging everyone (while developing their individual voices) to work with each other so the total is greater than the sum of its parts.” - Alan Zweibel, producer writer
Concept - Team psychological safety - shared belief that the group is a safe place for taking risks. It describes a team climate characterized by interpersonal trust and mutual respect in which people are comfortable being themselves.
Good teams: First, all members spoke in roughly the same proportion. Secondly, good teams tested as having high average social sensitivity - groups were skilled at intuiting how members felt based on their tone of voice, how people held themselves and the expressions on their faces.

Chapter 3 - Focus - Best chapter in the book
Air France 447
Qantas Flight 32
Concepts - mental models, reactive thinking,
Cognitive tunneling - cause people to become overly focused on whatever is directly in front of their eyes or become preoccupied with immediate tasks.
If you want to make yourself more sensitive to the small details in your work, cultivate a habit of imagining, as specifically as possible, what you expect to see and do when you get to your desk. Then you'll be prone to notice the tiny ways in which real life deviates from the narrative in your head.
To become genuinely productive, we must take control of our attention; we must build mental models that put us firmly in charge…. Get in a pattern of forcing yourself to anticipate what's next. If you are a parent, anticipate what your children will say at the dinner table. Then you'll notice what goes unmentioned or if there's a stray comment that you should see as a warning sign.

Chapter 4 - Goal Setting
Yom Kippur War
SMART goals vs stretch goals
Japan inventing a faster train - bullet train thinking
Concepts - need for cognitive closure

Chapter 5 - Managing Others
FBI case - the guy who was kidnapped
FBI software Sentinel
Agile programming
Toyota Quality - factory line
Concepts - push decisions to lowest level of where they can be made

Chapter 6 - Decision Making
Poker players
Concepts - comfortable with being uncomfortable about decisions
Making good decisions relies on forecasting the future, but forecasting is an imprecise, often terrifying, science because it forces us to confront how much we don't know. The paradox of learning how to make better decisions is that it requires developing a comfort with doubt.
How do we learn to make better decisions? In part, by training ourselves to think probabilistically. To do that, we must force ourselves to envision various futures - to hold contradictory scenarios in our minds simultaneously - and then expose ourselves to a wide spectrum of successes and failures to develop an intuition about which forecasts are more or less likely to come true.
Fortune-telling isn't real. No one can predict tomorrow with absolute confidence. But the mistake some people make is trying to avoid making any predictions because their thirst for certainty is so strong and their fear of doubt too overwhelming.

Chapter 7 - Innovation
Disney story trust
West Side Story - combined unique things for a new play
Diversity of ecology
Concepts - things that have worked in the past, combined in unique ways, from people that are innovation brokers
Tree fell to break the cycle for diversity in ecology
We can create conditions that help creativity to flourish. We know, for example, that innovation becomes more likely when old ideas are mixed in new ways. We know the odds of success go up when brokers - people with fresh, different perspectives, who have seen ideas in a variety of settings - draw on the diversity within their heads. We know that, sometimes, a little disturbance can help jolt us out of the ruts that even the most creative thinkers fall into, as long as those shake-ups are the right size.

Chapter 8 - Absorbing Data
One way to overcome information blindness is to force ourselves to grapple with the data in front us, to manipulate information by transforming it into a sequence of questions to be answered or choices to be made. This is sometimes referred to as 'creating disfluency' because it relies on doing a little bit of work… "If you make people use a new word in a sentence, they'll remember it longer. If you make them write down a sentence with the word, they'll start using it in conversation." … When Alter conducts experiements, he sometimes gives people instructions in a hard-to-read font because, as they struggle to make out the words, the read the text more carefully... When information is made disfluent, we learn more.
When we encounter new information and want to learn from it, we should force ourselves to do something with the data. It's not enough for your bathroom scale to send daily updates to an app on your phone. If you want to lose weight, force yourself to plot those measurements on graph paper and you'll be more likely to choose a salad over a hamburger at lunch. If you read a book filled with new ideas, force yourself to put it down and explain the concepts to someone sitting next to you and you'll be more likely to apply them in your life.

Monday, June 05, 2017

We See Warsaw

Last week, we did a little send off with Tess and Lindsey - dinner, DC monuments, final details, budget review. They landed over the weekend in Poland where they will be serving with a church plant for the next 2 months. Tess has served with Ember every summer since 2014 and this is Lindsey's first Ember outing although she has a background with lots of cross cultural experience.

I'm thrilled that these two are part of our tribe - they are kind, they care about what kind of change they can make in the world, they are willing to risk trying new things because the Gospel is worth it and they laugh at my jokes. They also represent a pretty big milestone for Ember this summer. Although we have sent a number of students for the summer within the US, these two are our first overseas. And when Italy flies, we will have two 'teams' in the field at the same time.

Thanks to those of you that have helped support these two with your prayers, encouragement and financial support. And a few hours before they flew, some of their lodging costs dropped which enabled them to be 100% funded. That's always fun. Be sure to follow their blog.

Photo: Tess, Lindsey, moi. June 2017.

Friday, June 02, 2017

Friday Burn

::: Is God Reviving Europe Through Refugees?

::: Costco's First Iceland Store Draws Massive Crowds

::: Countries Facing the Greatest Shortages of Skills

::: "A scared world needs a fearless church." - A W Tozer

Photo: Ember DC with CMP, April 2017.

Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Play The Man - Mark Batterson

If you look up sockdolager in the dictionary, it means"'knockout blow." And that's exactly what the rapid felt like - a 48 degree punch in the face. As we approached the rapid, my adrenaline was pumping like pregame warm-ups. We white-knuckled the handles of the raft and held on for dear life. Breaking through the rapid reminded me of running through the human-sized Hula-Hoop signs our cheerleaders used to make for our basketball team in high school. As we broke through the rapid, Josiah yelled at the top of his mid-puberty voice, "We are men! We are men!"
That will forever rank as one of the greatest moments of my life.
I've long been inspired by Mark Batterson and National Community Church, probably for the better part of ten years now at least. His philosophy of ministry, the values and mantras of NCC, his perspective on innovation, risk and creativity have all impacted what SPACE and The Ember Cast has done about discipleship, leadership and global missions. Being a suburb of DC, we feel the impact a place like NCC has - it seems both far away and close enough and they set the bar high for gathering and scattering people willing to sacrifice for a world in need. Close enough too to feel the impact of some good friends who are or who have been on staff. But for all of that, I'm most inspired by Pastor Mark to be a good dad. Read about his Discipleship Covenant with each of his kids.
Play the Man might seem like one of those manly men books. I hate those. No one needs one more sports analogy [and not only in books but in Sunday sermons as well.] Although Play the Man is certainly most applicable for men, it's a great read about seven virtues of manhood, described as only Pastor Mark can with facts from a variety of subjects, stories about his family and challenges to the way we live our lives.
Also, right around that time, I read a book by Andy Stanley titled Choosing to Cheat. One statement I read in the book totally changed my perspective: "To say yes to one thing is to say no to the other." I decided to say no to a lot more opportunities so I could say yes to my top priorities - my wife and children.
At the end of the day, I want to be famous in my home.
Disclosure: I was provided a copy of this book for review purposes.

Friday, May 26, 2017

Friday Burn

::: Clarkston, GA welcomes 1500 refugees a year

::: Bill Gates' Advice for New Graduates

::: Living Together, Alone
The money quote: "The downfall of humanity is the invention of the refrigerator."

::: This is an amazing time to be alive. I hope you make the most of it. - Bill Gates

Photo: Debriefing team building.

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Katie and Becca

When I was 26, I was just about done with my phase of watching MTV and eating cereal for breakfast. Meet two other 26 year olds that hung with us for a few days this week - Katie, 3rd from the right and Becca, 2nd from the right. Katie is on her 20-something country, about half of those done with significant global missions perspectives. Becca just started a nonprofit to help with children, poverty and education in Liberia.

We met Katie last summer in Italy when she and a friend joined our Ember team for a week after returning from Greece checking out the refugee situation there. She told us her and Becca were connecting through DC on their way to Liberia so we naturally invited them to stay in the international Ember office. DC monument tour at night, visiting with some Ember peeps, meeting our kitchen remodel contractors. This trip to Liberia is around vision - lots of observation and dreaming to spur strategy and action.

Ember is fortunate to hang with these kinds of people - the young, energetic, passionate for the world, willing to start something from nothing. You might not be 26 but it's never too late to be the person you were meant to be.

Monday, May 22, 2017

Italy Mtg #4

One of the best and easiest tools to help build your team - the Myers Briggs Type Indicator. This is the chart for Italy 2017.

I have done this with almost every team I have led and, even more importantly, teams have referred to it when thinking about another team member. That is what you want - a tool to help you fast forward relationships so that people become brave, vulnerable, courageous and trustworthy.

Lucky for us, I think we have one ENFJ that isn't on the list.

Friday, May 19, 2017

Friday Burn

::: Why We Send Students

::: What Would Jesus Disrupt?

::: Skateboarding, the Biggest Female Sport in Afghanistan

::: Strategy is a commodity, execution is an art. - Peter F. Drucker

Photo: Ember Advance 17 team.

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Ember Advance 2017

A long tradition for us and our student missions efforts this past weekend: Ember Advance. I love this it so so much. This year, for the morning, our team assisted one of our clients in their student missions training efforts. This included:
A time where teams prayed for other teams.
3 rounds of workshops with missions practitioners [including world class content about: being a team that your hosts like, the Abrahamic covenant, and embracing faith versus the idol of control].
Team building with their teams.
Debriefing over lunch on how the morning went.

After that, the Ember team, which was most of the Italy team and guest EQuis, did the Myers Briggs, played some of Tess' Christian college games and went downtown to church with National Community Church. We had dinner on Barracks Row and then walked to the Capitol to see it at night.

Our big goals for Ember Advance included serving our clients with a fantastic student missions training experience and spending lots of time hanging and serving together as a team and I'm glad to say both goals were exceeded. We expect a lot from the students that are involved in this experience and each one of them made me proud as they ran team activities with confidence, humility and the end goal of building better teams.

Big thanks, like almost every year, to Amy who jumped in with lots of team building advice. She is a master at this having trained thousands over the past two decades.

In a previous life, this was called Mission Advance. I have a private, big dream to reinvent this whole thing for 2018.

Friday, May 12, 2017

Friday Burn

::: A Pastor, an Imam and a Rabbi Sit Down at a Bar

::: These Friends Traveled Across America for Free

::: 10 Demographic Trends Shaping the World

::: 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

Photo: Not doing the hula hoop thing anymore.

Wednesday, May 10, 2017


Eleven years ago, we executed a student missions preparation weekend based on a few simple ideas. First, make teams travel some short distance before their actual trip. Second, give them a chance to interact with some missions practitioners. In late June of 2006, Mission Advance was born at Cape Henlopen, DE, USA. I still have the fondest memories of that weekend - sending teams to the boardwalk to serve, the sandcastle building contest, how it rained for 16 hours straight, being one of the last cars allowed to leave the eastern shore. Ah the memories.

The idea of Mission Advance [not retreat] still lives with The Ember Cast. It is one of our core distinctives - this ability and availability to facilitate a preparation weekend with student teams around some of these ideas that are still important when it comes to student missions.

We do it again this coming weekend with one of our clients. Lots of students, team building, and missions practitioners. After this kind of morning, the Ember Italy team takes a little field trip. The best thing about Ember Advance is that you could do the same thing with your teams.

Photo: Ember BOD Joyce, 3rd from the left. June 2006, Bridgeville, DE.

Monday, May 08, 2017

Support Trends - 2013-2017

Support trends for The Ember Cast's overseas teams for the past few years. Maybe this data will help some of you in the midst of raising money for your teams.

Some items to note, so far:
+ Suburban context for all of these teams.
+ Overall budget is around $31K.
+ 129 donations - $12217 - average of $94/donation.
+ 17% are electronic donations.
+ 27% is creative revenue.
+ Two teams [Poland and Italy] and budgets are rolled together for big picture percentage. Poland's costs include on the ground costs for Italy since they will be joining us.
+ Vision determines budget, hopefully not the other way around.

Friday, May 05, 2017

Friday Burn

::: A Look Inside Airbus's Epic Assembly Line

::: Churches and Generation Z

::: Why Do Students Get Summers Off?

::: I believe in getting into hot water; it keeps you clean. - G.K. Chesterton

Photo: Cultural mapping, DT Annapolis, March 2017.