Thursday, January 17, 2019

"In Quietness and Trust"

It's been rather quiet in TEN3 lately. The ministry is still moving--Christie and her team have many endeavors they are working on, both with their own school and with various other schools in Nigeria, Tukiko told us they are preparing to open a second school in Bunda, TZ, and the Lord blessed us with the ability to ship about 80 laptops to Zambia for free. I am still working with editors on some literacy materials, and have quite a few projects still lined up to finish.

But we aren't starting anything new. Deliberately. No new projects in Curriculum. Consulting has put inquirers from three or four countries on hold. With Ken, our technology administrator and school consultant, preparing to retire, we will soon be down to four people: Jim, who prays and tells people about TEN3; Ray, who introduces new inquirers and mentors some of our African directors; and Anthony and me, who do everything else. Frankly, Anthony and I agree we can't do it anymore. Not like this.

We've been praying a long time for more people to come help us, and Maria, a long-time volunteer, has been approaching missions to try to get us some more help, but so far, we haven't had any takers. So we are seeking a face-to-face meeting with Christie, Tukiko, Collins, simply to pray about the direction TEN3 should take. Though Anthony and I already have our ideas of what needs to happen and what we would like to happen, we want to come in with open hearts, listening to our siblings as we ask, "Do you still share the vision? What do you want to accomplish? How can we help you do it with what we have to offer?"

We've always intended to hand over the leadership of the ministry to them. But this is not the situation in which we envisioned doing it. We planned to have a thriving training system, with certified teachers, administrators, and writers, with several clearly standing out as gifted and having been mentored with us for years. But our country directors don't have anybody who has completed certification. That's where I really question if the ministry can continue and thrive. And it's honestly scary to wonder if the vision we have so earnestly prayed over, rejoiced over, lost sleep over, and worked toward so hard for nine years (even longer for the rest of the team) believing God gave it to us, won't happen after all. That fear is exposing the worst in me, how much pride I still harbor, how little I trust God, even after so much.

And so, both this ministry and my life are in a state of quiet, waiting to see what direction all will take. What God has in store for TEN3, based on so many factors that we have tried to address and many we never saw coming. And what I will do in my own heart, if I will humble myself and trust Him come what may.

Pray for us.

Friday, November 9, 2018

Launching something new

As I posted a few weeks ago, I have a second job with a start-up technology company, which we are hoping will help us personally keep afloat to continue the ministry, and also to help with certain things that TEN3 needs. Our first contract is doing the tech support for a school in western New York. Our second venture has been developing an app. It's just taking the idea of a student info system that has been available for a long time and making it accessible to a huge market that heretofore hasn't even considered it an option, adding a few features that they find valuable. We so far have 50 institutions interested in it, each of which we estimate, if they sign on, would bring us about 300 customers each. And if all goes well, that will be just the beginning.

Programming, testing, tweaking, and writing help for the app has taken a huge chunk of time. We are a few weeks behind when we hoped to release the first version, but today we announced the first release. There will certainly be tweaks to be made and bugs to iron out, and we have a long list of things we want to improve for the next version.

I'm kind of nervous. Will this side business, with the money and attraction it brings, and the example it makes of GUTS, be the last piece that we need to see our ministry reach as many people with the long-term impact we've always prayed for? Will it be yet another scrap in our pile of failed opportunities? Will it change the direction of our ministry, for good or ill?

Stay tuned.

Wednesday, September 19, 2018

A Texas house, a Nigerian house, and God's glorious house

There are a lot of things I like about my house. The living room, with its ambient lighting and built-in bookshelves. The built-in storage cabinets in the bathroom and two of the bedrooms. The view off the back porch. But there are a lot of things I find myself wishing it had. A basement, both for tornado safety and to store the stuff for my husband's projects and experiments out of sight. Plumbing that doesn't leak and windows that aren't drafty. And that it were rodent-proof!

This is my dear colleague's house, provided by their church where her husband pastors, when I visited in 2016. It's a duplex, so she, her husband, and her two younger boys (her oldest is at college) live in half of this. She told me about the time they had to go buy all their water because a dead animal contaminated their well.

Now they've been asked to move to another church, in a part of the city that is notorious for drug-addicted youth. She hasn't seen her new house yet, but in a poorer community, she's preparing for it to be smaller and with fewer amenities than what she has now. She wrote, "Some people have been sympathizing with us, thinking it is not fair to move us to such a place, but where else can God display His power? We want to make Jesus known through people and places people despise. Please, pray for us, we have promised God that even if we will live in a manger as long as it is His work and He is the one leading us, we will do it. Humanly speaking, our flesh long for good things of life, e.g., good house, car, clothes, etc., but it is not about us, but Christ. 'Though the fig tree does not bud and there are no grapes on the vines, though the olive crop fail and the fields produce no food, though there are no sheep in the pen and no cattle in the stalls, yet I will rejoice in the Lord, I will be joyful in God my Savior.' Habakkuk 3:17-18"

She convicts me so much that I worry about my temporary home, when we are working each day on our eternal home in the Kingdom of God, where fire will test the quality of each one's work (1 Cor. 3:12-15). Lord, make me as faithful as this daughter of Yours.

Wednesday, June 20, 2018

Not for my sake

When I first joined TEN3 nine years ago, we were a bustling team of six missionaries, one missionary-in-training, about a dozen heavily involved volunteers and many more lightly involved volunteers. We were preparing to continue growing our central team as we branched into Africa nad the Carribean, looking to have 350 affiliate schools and to be the largest publishing house for Africa. By the end of this year, we will be down to three part-time missionaries and our church networker, and a handful of volunteers who help with specific duties. Anthony asked us how we feel about that. Ken, who will retire this year and has been with TEN3 since near the beginning, reflected wistfully that he didn't know. Our team started strong, and stayed strong for a long time, but somehow in recent years, we've steadily lost people faster than we can add them.

My thought was, maybe this is, after all, exactly what was supposed to happen. TEN3 was always supposed to be an African organization, with a handful of missionaries supplying key areas of labor, resources, and perspective until the African members are ready to take full ownership. Well, Nigeria, Zambia, and Tanzania are forming and training their teams to do this ministry, and it's really now or never. If they persevere in their training and get others involved in learning and implementing the TEN3 model, then Anthony and I will continue consulting in a supporting role for them. I may yet end up asked to live in Africa for a while to work with teachers on our 5-area degree that we've planned for years, or on a primary school curriculum based on transformational principles. We will rejoice to see them take off with their knowledge and disciplines, and grow this ministry in ways we could not even have envisioned.

And if not?

Anthony admitted that he would have a hard time if he reaches the end of his life having seen no results of his decades of hard work. But he acknowledged that has been the lot of countless missionaries--fruit may well have come of their work, but often it's happened decades after their death.

Me? Well, I'm still only 31 and have plenty of other things I want to do with my life. So I'd have little cause to grieve for myself, though I certainly would regret to see all the potential that I still believe is in God's people in Africa wasted.

But Christie ... oh, Christie. She wasn't in that part of this meeting, which I'm thankful for. It's for her sake that I can't bear the idea of failure. In the last twenty years she has invested thousands of hours in passionate prayer, in meetings, in logistics and speaking and record-keeping, hours away from her family, several times ill, rarely rested. She's pressed on running a computer school on an electric grid that is sometimes off for ten days at a time, through skyrocketing fuel prices, through regulatory hoops that multiply like hydra heads. She persevered when terrorist attacks were making everyone afraid to leave their homes in her city, and traveled through even more dangerous parts of the country. She's put untold amounts of her own family's low income toward her ministry expenses. She's kept on through betrayal of people she's discipled, who not only left the ministry but falsely accused her and stole from her, and through times when we her partners have been insensitive to her struggles.

She does all this because she believes that this is what God has for Africa, that through Christ-centered education, her people can overcome the rampant systemic problems in their country, build systems with integrity that make a better world for her children, and send the Gospel forth powerfully to those still in darkness.

Lord, I think I can bear seeing no fruit from nine years' service. But please let Christie see it and know she has not labored and sacrificed in vain. Do it not for me, but for her. Do it not for her, but for the people You are calling to Yourself in Africa. Do it not for Your people, but for the sake of Your name.

Friday, June 8, 2018

A separate endeavor we pray will supply needs in TEN3

Back when I worked for the education professor at a community college, she would show her students The Freedom Writers' Diary. The scene in which Erin Gruwell's husband bemoans her choice to "get another job to pay for your job" has always stuck with me because that's just the sort of thing I'm prone to do. I blogged about doing that back in 2012. I was very thankful to be able to simplify when I became fully supported in late 2013. But times changed again this past year, such that about the time my son was born, I was reduced to about half of what I was making before (which was already substantially less than someone with my position and experience would expect). I sent out several appeals for more support, and some extra came in, but not near what I needed. I began looking seriously into getting a technical writing job on the side to help make ends meet at home.

Instead, I find myself helping with a start-up LLC. This is ironic, because I've never considered myself much of a risk-taker. In any game involving risk choices, I consistently go for the middle of the road. I do, however, take risks when I consider it part of a picture bigger than the possible failure. So how did this come about?

Anthony's brother Mike is involved in a start-up company that has something to do with using smart phones to do MRIs. He asked Anthony if he could do the DevOps, because he wanted someone he could trust. Well, Anthony admitted he doesn't have the skill set for that, but, given how good the pay is for work like that, he wondered if he could get together a team with the requisite skill set. He especially wanted me and Kenneth on the team because he knew we needed a boost. And surprisingly, just the right team came together of people technically skilled in different areas, who all love the Lord and trust Anthony. We had some meetings, prayed together, got advice, and decided, "Sure, let's start a technology consulting company." (The name is still under extensive, sometimes silly, discussion!)

Well, in a strange twist, we got out-bid of the job at Mike's company (not his choice). But we had already put together some ideas of products and services that we can see being in high demand, and sensed, well, the Lord had led us together wanting to do this for a reason, so we might as well keep at it and see what happens.

There are a few other lines of reasoning as well. For one thing, Ken, TEN3's technology officer, is retiring this year. If we don't find a replacement, we will need this company to keep TEN3's online office running. For another, as I mentioned above, several of us are struggling personally with finances, and TEN3 as an organization seldom has money to speak of. Our many years of efforts at fundraising almost always fall short of what would be considered a proper operating budget. So maybe, if we can't raise enough money, it's time to try making it. For another, one of the programs we've been recently requested to do is godly entrepreneurial education, which we could speak to much better if we had successfully done it ourselves. And finally, we would love to be a witness for Christ by developing creative solutions, offering them with integrity, and using the profits to advance His Kingdom. Our desire comes down to a quote from John Wesley: "Earn all you can, save all you can, give all you can."

Are we crazy to be putting our extra time and mental effort into a for-profit company? Shouldn't we do something "safe" if we're going to do a side endeavor? Maybe. But this does seem to be what the Lord led us to, and our best chance to meet TEN3's needs and stay afloat. Please pray for the company's success and for the Lord to provide all that TEN3 needs.

Friday, May 18, 2018

If posting our works negates our reward, where am I?

Imagine setting aside a few weeks of your summer vacation to travel on dirt roads and bump around in loud jeeps, winding deep into the remote jungle villages in Central America. You risk fevers, diseases, and heatstroke, all in order to help build an orphanage for twenty destitute kids. At the end of the month, you step back, take a selfie with your handiwork in the background, and post it with pride on Facebook. Poof!--the reward is gone. Think about it. In one humble-brag selfie, the trade is made--eternal reward from God is sold for the porridge of maybe eighty likes and twelve comments of praise.

I came across the book Twelve Ways Your Phone is Changing You and decided to buy it to see if it taught something about GUTS (Godly Use of Technology Skills, one of TEN3's biggest teaching points) that I don't already know. I came across this passage in chapter 3, and as a missionary, I find it so ironic I must wonder if Reinke actually knows any missionaries. We do lots of sharing about our work when we'd rather skip it. Most missionaries don't really enjoy writing newsletters and the like. I enjoy it more than most, but there are still plenty of days when I'd much rather zone in on "the mission" than think about how to compose an appealing account of what I'm doing. Yet sharing the pictures and stories about our activities is considered essential to missions. Can't do missions without funding, can't have funding without donors, and can't recruit and keep donors without impressing them that God does awesome things through their donations to us. So do we have to destroy the spirit of pleasing God in order to accomplish the mission?

I sure hope not. I was given a pretty good answer to this dilemma in Heather Ricks' God and the Elephants, which urges missionaries to make God the central character of each of our letters and blog posts, so that the surest response our readers have is to worship God for how He has revealed Himself in our contexts. I struggle to truly implement that, however. The longer I serve God, the more I find the language of "God told me to ..." or "God is leading us to ..." or "God has promised me ..." to be presumptuous. Not that I judge people for saying them, but I have found so many times that the outcomes I thought God was bringing about aren't how it turns out, that I consider myself unable to do more than loosely speculate how God is working.

The most apt metaphor I've heard for how the Lord leads me is how I once heard Psalm 119:105 exegeted.

Your word is a lamp unto my feet,
And a light to my path.

Ancient oil lamps did not give a powerful beam like modern flashlights; they gave just enough light to see the step ahead. And the "light to my path" would have referred to the torches kept burning on city walls that could be seen from far off. So the idea, I was told, is that God gives us enough light to see the next step we are supposed to take, and to know where our destination is, but everything in between is dark. We may think we know how the path will go, but there will certainly be turns and obstacles we did not expect, enough that it may not seem that there's any way this road can really lead the right way.

Our destination is plain enough: God wants to draw all me to Himself, and to make us like Him. And He gives us enough understanding to know what the next step is and obey. But I usually don't know, probably can't know, how He's going to use that step. We have a very well-thought-out strategy, but we still run into so many obstacles and dead-ends that my colleague once said he dreaded communicating with his supporters because it seemed like every time he shared about an opportunity we were excited about, people would ask about it months later and it hadn't panned out. I'm always skeptical of our plans at this point. But I keep writing the requested materials, keep the editing process going, keep researching the next software platform or project resources we think we will need, because, well, that is the step ahead of me. It probably won't have the particular results we had in mind when we decided to do it, but God knows how it will get us where He wants us.

And where does that leave me when it's time to write these blog posts and put another picture on my newsletter? Am I flaunting my works to be seen by men? Or am I conforming to the pattern before us all, acting with the things that are seen, but with such frailty and faith that the Unseen One may be evident as the source, facilitator, and goal of it all?

I have so much more to learn.

Friday, April 27, 2018

What are we up to lately?

I suppose it's high time for a plain ministry update. TEN3 is mainly focusing on getting people trained in our three active countries--Nigeria, Zambia, and Tanzania--through our Global Engagement. Our training is a ton of work as I've blogged about previously), covering topics from "What subject is the queen of knowledge?" to "The Mozart Effect and the Sorting Flaw," to "A break-even point for a computer lab." It also includes critiquing our CTO and becoming familiar with our Families and Media material.* We have put all this training on our own Global Engagement site (using the Moodle platform) so that they can work through it sequentially. The five Nigerian trainees, Luka, Fred, Wale, Joshua, and David, are meeting together twice a week with Christie to pray and discuss what they are learning, as well as plan the implementation. Please pray for our trainees as they work through this training, that they understand it well, give us good feedback for the future, and that they will truly take to heart the lessons on being transformed themselves if they hope to transform society.

The next thing we are working on is fundraising for equipment so that when these young men are ready, they will be able to start training centers in different places. They are also looking into working with existing schools to get them running a computer lab with TEN3 education. We're praying for someone much more gifted than any of our current team to head this project. But we are also excited that Christie will be visiting the US, where she will be speaking to churches. We pray that through her the Lord will open people's hearts to give toward this need.

I am also continuing to work on primary school readers. Anthony has already converted the McGuffey Eclectic Readers to a workable format. A volunteer in New York is cleaning out all the obvious bugs from the conversion for me. Then I check it for needed context revisions and send it to Charis and Zangi in Zambia, who check it for appropriateness and put the pictures back in which the conversion process deleted. Then Edna in Zambia works with her son Ben through the lessons and gives me feedback about using it, and from there I do a final edit and publish it. Our prayer is to start literacy programs in TEN3 centers and in churches across Africa. As we grow strong readers and writers, we hope to see them form a jury committee and submit stories to replace the 19th-century American stories with African ones, that continue the spirit of teaching godliness as well as language skill.

Please pray for all these endeavors as we continue to move forward by faith.

*If you'd like to know more about any of this, contact me and I'd love to explain!