Thursday, January 31, 2019

Emily - World Race Gap Year

Your greatest contribution to the kingdom of God may not be something you do but someone you raise. - Andy Stanley

The Ember Cast, and of course, Deanna and I, are thrilled to announce that our Emily has committed to being on The World Race Gap Year starting in September 2019 for 9 months. WRGY is run by Adventures in Missions, a global missions agency based outside of Atlanta. I have a ton of respect for Adventures - they've done some deep thinking about character formation for young people and using cross cultural experiences to help the next generation understand themselves, their calling and the impact they can have for a world in need. They are super careful about sustainable charity and engaging local partners and their president, Seth Barnes, still has the best debriefing resources found anywhere - I still pull something from his library for every summer team.

From the time our children were little, we tried to embrace the ethos that our family was blessed to be a blessing to others. We are so proud that Em has chosen an experience along this trajectory, one that will grow her character while serving a world in need because of what the Lord has done in her life. And of course, our kids grew up around this and we know it's never certain they would continue to do this kind of stuff as they got older - the double edged sword of being Ember spawn.

Wednesday, January 30, 2019

Orphans in our Churches

As odd as it may seem, the prosperity of the past few decades has created its own kind of 'orphan' generation. Whether it is addiction to work, entertainment, handheld devices, some mind-altering substance, some other cause for family 'abandonment,' or just living in a culture where people seem to slowly drift further and further apart with each coming day, we have more disconnected people in our societies than ever before. This has produced a sort of orphan spirit in those who come into our churches where people have that same wide-eyed desire to be adopted that I saw in the faces of those children in post-WW2 Japan. The problem is, rather than nurturing them into a relationship with their Father and their new brothers and sisters, we seem to have turned our churches into orphanages instead of families.
Think about that for a moment. In an orphanage, dozens, if not hundreds, of children can be the responsibility of one adult...
Now think of the way most churches operate. There's little to no nurturing connection between people who show up on Sunday mornings. Our interactions with one another are shallow at best, and artificial and insincere at worst. We show a more carefully curated persona there than most do on social media. We want to be liked, we want to be seen as good people, we want to be shown approval, and we want to be looked up to, so we show people only our best behavior. Or we go to the other extreme and become walking sponges, sucking the life out of every interaction with our 'woe is me' demeanors. Neither is real or healthy (dare I say 'hypocritical'?) and neither holds the fullness and life God wants for us.
I think this largely happens because, even though we're saved, we have little idea who we are because of it.
Unravelled: Reform the Church, Transform the Culture. Jon Petersen. Book rec from Carver Pugh.

Monday, January 28, 2019

The Dorm Drop

Got to drop Katie and her compatriots at school this weekend, a new experience for us since she is in NYC this semester.

I have longed for a Sheng to be in one of the most strategic and influential cities in the world. Em was actually in LA for a pre college thing so Shengs in both incredible cities this weekend.

Wednesday, January 23, 2019

Interested and Never Bored

In January of 2017, I was invited to speak at a leadership event for a partner church of The Ember Cast, a church we love that was started by a dear friend. While there, I shared some pictures from the Italy Ember team from the previous summer, 2016. Someone in the audience, R, came up to meet me and said that those pictures looked amazingly similar to ones his stepson, C, had taken recently. C and his family were considering an invitation to move to Italy to run a community garden as part of a refugee project. Interesting.

R was an engineer by day, working in the power and infrastructure industry. He and his wife had been involved in a church in the northern part of the state, and he had done lots of stuff with projects around clean water and agriculture in developing countries, specifically with a thing called aquaponics [yeah I had to look it up too]. When we talked, he hadn't quite seen things be fruitful yet.

Fast forward two years. C and his family did move to Italy, joining the same team that Ember has worked with the past three years. Although I had emailed and talked on the phone with C a few times, we met face to face for the first time this past summer. And R and his wife just returned from visiting them a few weeks ago, visiting, seeing the sights, lots of quality time with their grandkids and…. starting an aquaponics project. How interesting.

In finding people doing incredible things, our efforts to 'throw fire', the passion to connect young people with immensely creative and innovative people running projects that serve a world in need, I am constantly interested and never bored.

Monday, January 21, 2019


The Ember Cast had the privilege of facilitating a culture service learning experience this Saturday for some students from one of our local church partners here in Merryland. This is the first of three that we will be running for these specific students this Winter and Spring. Here are some of the highlights in case you are interested in replicating this in your context:
+ Serving with A Wider Circle. We've served with AWC numerous times now and every time is fantastic. They are a great organization that is making progress in the fight against poverty in the DMV and we love the way they operate. Their diligent conviction that things given to those less fortunate should be in 'dignity condition' is so excellent. If you wouldn't use it in your house, you shouldn't give it to someone else. There must have been hundreds of volunteers there this weekend - MLK is their biggest weekend in terms of volunteers involved in serving.
+ Cultural navigation - Chinatown and Eastern Market. This was a little flat this weekend. Partly because of the weather - cold and wet - and Chinatown in DC maybe wasn't the best place. Our ProtoGuides/Guides probably need a bit more direction from me as well. Our navigation sheet is great but not quite enough to execute this well. Pro tip - the public bathrooms in Eastern Market are great.
+ Church at National Community Church. Like most of these experiences, we love to be able to visit a church that is contextually different from the everyday. 'All kinds of churches for all kinds of people.' Pastor Heather spoke during their current session entitled Detox. Loved how she addressed anxiety and mental illness and that NCC wants to be a safe place that is willing to talk about these tough subjects.

Special thanks to Audrey, Sam and Emily for jumping in this weekend.

Friday, January 18, 2019

Friday Burn

::: What Straight-A Students Get Wrong

::: Ping an Good Doctor, Chinese AI based minute clinics

::: 15 Ways the World Got Better in 2018

Tuesday, January 15, 2019

Better Practices - Cultural Navigation

This is a series of posts that outline our better practices - tactical things that you could do right now that The Ember Cast has found highly profitable for growing global leaders. Feel free to use these ideas with attribution, meaning just say, "I got this from The Ember Cast."

Through the years of helping cross cultural teams, one of our most powerful tools has been the cultural navigation exercise. Originally executed by KNorman in Vienna in the summer of 2008, we've tried to expand his idea of an urban navigation exercise to help teams peel back layer of culture, ultimately asking the question, "If we were to plant the Gospel here, how is this relevant?" We've adjusted it slightly so that teams think about observations in the culture, not just getting from point A to point B. The Upstream Collective also had a huge influence with this tool, specifically in their book Tradecraft. We use some tangible objects to help people do some observing around these ideas too - things such as people, architecture, food, etc. In some cases, we've had to redirect people when they focus on planting a church versus planting the Gospel.

Culture exists in every human experience. From where you live to where you work, how you interact with your family, co-workers, friends from school, power dynamics, lines of communication, worldviews, the route you commute. We will have made a mistake if we have not taught young people how to navigate culture.

Long after we've completed this exercise, lots of people tell us that they look at culture with completely different lenses, they see more of it, can unpack layers of it easier and are more sensitive to it. Anyone can learn to navigate culture and culturally savvy leaders will always be in high demand.

Friday, January 11, 2019

Friday Burn

::: Stadia to provide all church planting resources free of charge
Because of the Pinetops report. So sweet.

::: 8 Forecasts for the Future - Scott Belsky
Author of The Messy Middle and Making Ideas Happen.

::: Preparing Your Kids For Jobs That Don't Exist Yet

::: The key pathology of our time, which seduces us all, is the reduction of our imagination so that we are too numbed, satiated, and co-opted to do serious imaginative work. - Walter Brueggemann via Dave Blanchard

Thursday, January 10, 2019

Happy 18th!

Dear Em,

Well this is one of the big ones - happy 18th birthday!

What a year! You've done some travel - 70K air miles, 6 countries, 3 continents - jealous.You've worked hard to be almost done with high school. You've held a few part time jobs. Gotten into to some great colleges offering great scholarships. Made an incredible decision for next year. Clarified a possible area of study.

Mommy and I have loved watching you flourish this year and are so proud of you and are grateful for all these things that have helped shape your life this year. The travel has made your more empathetic to others, finishing senior year has made you more diligent and applying to college has made you more responsible. You are growing deeper in character.

The world is in constant need for people of character. The ones that listen, that finish a job, that can be trusted, that will be a friend. Character travels far longer than knowledge.

Can you take Oreo with you next year?

Happy birthday, thanks for letting me fulfill my dream of riding a camel in the desert into the sunset even though it only lasted 10 minutes.

Tuesday, January 08, 2019

Mastery Requires Patience

Mastery requires patience. The San Antonio Spurs, one of the most successful teams in NBA history, have a quote from social reformer Jacob Riis hanging in their locker room: "When nothing seems to help, I go and look at a stonecuttter hammering away at his rock, perhaps a hundred times without as much as a crack showing in it. Yet at the hundred and first blow, it will split into two, and I know it was not that last blow that did it - but all that had gone before."
Atomic Habits, James Clear

Thursday, January 03, 2019

Ways to be Involved with The Ember Cast in 2019

Here are some different ways to be involved with The Ember Cast this year:
1 - Be in the know. Subscribe to this blog via email [on the right sidebar] or add it to your RSS reader [I use feedly] or like The Ember Cast on Facebook. The aim of this blog was always to document our work with global student leaders so I try to write about that 2 or 3 times a week. There's also posts about related topics such as leadership development, global cultures and students. Most Fridays, I post Friday Burn, which has been a 12-year-running weekly series highlighting innovative and creative news in the nonprofit/development/global poverty/faith space, with the aim of catalyzing our imagination for a world in need.

2 - If you are in the Baltimore/DC area on any 2nd Sunday of the month, join us for the Ember monthly dinner where we invite the most creative and innovative people we know in the global missions space to come and discuss calling, strategy and erupting the next generation of leaders. Always great conversation and an opportunity to connect with super people doing great work. Ping me for an invite.

3 - If you are involved with any kind of ministry or nonprofit and interested in a partnership [partnership... not sponsorship], get in touch. We have some ideas about organizational partnerships.

4 - We'd love to be involved with you and your efforts in global leadership around our competencies. We love working with student groups, short term mission teams, and leadership teams.

5 - Attend one of our planned culture learning service experiences this Spring. Availability is limited but we'd love to serve with you while introducing you to some of our work.

We are honored that you would give us your attention and trust. Happy 2019!

Photo: Refugee center Christmas party, Baltimore, Dec 2018.