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.