Saturday, March 11, 2017

March 2017 Update

One of my favorite spots in my favorite city.
(Note: If you don't want to read this - just skip to the very end for the "Summary".)

Sometimes, working for EMI out of the Global Office in the United States isn’t the most gratifying work. We often look back on our time overseas in Uganda and the UK as times where we ‘felt’ more a part of the ministry work we set out to be a part of just over 9 years ago. I would like to say that’s not the case, but that wouldn’t be true.

And actually, that’s ok to admit. It’s not a terrible thing to want to ‘feel’ like you’re doing something important. I think everyone wants that.

5/6 of the UK Board of Directors (EMI CEO John Dallmann
joined via Skype from the US)
But we can’t let those feelings confuse us into ignoring what the actual facts are. Because while sometimes those feelings serve as an important ‘nudge’ to get us to consider making a change, other times they will deceive us into believing that we need to make a change when in fact that isn’t the case.

A few weeks ago, we held a weekend-long board meeting and
time together. A very enjoyable time with this good group
of guys, despite the bitter cold front that blew through the UK
that day.
It shouldn’t come as a surprise that our family hopes to move overseas again at some point in our work with EMI. And, we’re open to that being an indefinite move. In some ways, we’re looking for signs or opportunities that would lead us to conclude that God is saying it’s time. But the reality is, it just hasn’t come yet.

If I’m honest, what I actually feel is that the work I’m doing right now with EMI here at the Global Office in Colorado is the most important work I’ve been a part of since we were appointed to EMI staff back in 2007.

A 'prayer dice'. You elect someone to pray for the meal, roll the
dice, and read the prayer. I'd never heard of such a thing before
but kind of liked it. I felt it was done in a very sincere way.
There’s a term I’ve heard a number of times in the mission community. It’s called, ‘sexy ministry’. I’m sorry if that’s offensive to some, but I actually kind of like the term because it’s a perfect descriptor that helps categorize mission work in the minds of those involved. It acknowledges that some mission work is more popular and attractive for people to get involved in than other mission work is, sometimes irrespective of what might actually be most helpful. At times, this distorted view and desire to be in ‘sexy’ ministry has the potential to lead us down wrong paths.

Bringing water to the poor is sexy ministry. Fixing unsafe buildings and making them safe again is sexy ministry. Directly sharing the gospel message to unreached people groups is sexy ministry. Living in Africa is sexy (whether ministry or not!). So what isn’t sexy? Working for a mission organization’s home office inside the United States – even if that work is critical to the success of those participating in the ‘sexier’ aspects of the ministry.
The Thames in Windsor - 90% of the time, you fly directly over
Windsor castle about 1 minute before landing on approach to
London Heathrow airport.

Ok, I’ll stop using the word sexy now (my kids might actually read this post!), but I think you get what I’m saying. This season of work with EMI’s Global Office in Colorado will undoubtedly not last forever. I really believe God will one day allow us to return to the ‘field’ since our desire to do so is strong.

Heresy alert! No, I’m not saying God gives us everything we want. Apologies to the prosperity gospel faithful, but that just isn’t true. What I do think though is that God very often gives us the desires of our heart when those desires involve feeling a calling to join in his work. Not always, but often, and this is the sense we have.

We live in Colorado Springs! Most Americans think of the Springs as a mecca of Christianity, and one of the most beautiful/desirable places in the country to live. Our feelings? Well, yes, it’s ok (though we think Oregon wins the beauty contest!)…but mostly, we’d much rather return to Africa, or even post-Christian Europe, or even somewhere else EMI is working if it means we can be more closely connected to the ministry work of EMI. Why? I can only chalk it up to the sense of calling we first started feeling back in 2007. In other words, it doesn’t fully make sense apart from seeming like it’s God’s doing.
Whoever says it's never sunny in London is lying. This photo,
snapped in 1997, is proof otherwise. (Kidding - I took a walk
in Hyde Park near Kensington Palace.)

So what’s my point? Admittedly, I’m having a bit of moan. But I also wanted to communicate that right now, I really do feel like God is using us in big ways at EMI. How?

A house I stayed in, in Guildford. It's an old carriage house that
was recently remodeled by the architect who lives in it.
Pretty amazing.
We are in the process of transitioning EMI into a truly global entity – one that employs up to 50% local nationals in our now 10 worldwide offices (we’re growing fast – just 3 years ago we only had 6 offices!). The ramifications and complications of this are widespread. If we don’t get this right, we could sink the whole ministry of EMI and the incredible work God is doing in and through us and the people we serve.

And while the work of EMI continues on stronger than ever around the world (I’m trying to post about this as much as possible on our Facebook page and elsewhere), the fact is that structurally, as an organization, we are changing, and changing “bigly” (I never knew this was a word!). And by the way, I believe these changes are absolutely essential – and more importantly, I believe it’s God who’s ultimately stirring these things.
It's an Abercrombie Kids store now, but this
non-descript little row building at 3 Savile Road
was a famous place to be on 30 January, 1969.
(Google it!)
Summary:  1) we’re not very sexy right now, though 2) we feel strongly that God is using us right where we are; 3) we’re not going anywhere long-term anytime soon, that we know of; 4) we’re hoping #3 changes, in God’s timing; 5) ultimately, we’re content with 1 – 4 and thankful that God’s in charge, despite what we think or feel.

Welcome home dinner after my 5-day trip to the UK

CEO John Dallmann celebrated his birthday at the EMI office
recently. John treated us to a speech in West African pigeon,
complete with translation from Nigerian intern Tolu!

This may be the first non-soccer picture posted on this blog,
but Jonah (#24) has for now decided to hang up his 'football
boots' to play basketball instead. He's loving it!

Graysen's soccer team put together a basketball team in the
off-season at the YMCA too. It was fun to watch
such a good group of little athletes dominate games
with athleticism despite shooting about 10% from
the field! Ha!

Graysen (far right) guest-played on a tournament team in Pueblo
last weekend. The spring Soccer season has begun!

Sunday, December 11, 2016

December 2016 update

With the Senegal Office team!
Well, our trip to Senegal and the UK came and went, and now we’re staring down Christmas! I’m sure you can relate to not keeping up with the busy-ness. Here are some recent highlights…

We had a busy 5 days, but it was a great chance to spend time with our staff who have newly arrived in that country to set up life and the office. You can only imagine the challenge of moving your family to a West African nation that speaks no English (French and the local languages only) and is 90% Muslim. It’s a friendly people and generally a safe and open country…but it couldn’t feel more foreign. We were able to talk through a whole bunch of things with the team, both personal and EMI work related, and by the time we left I think the team was encouraged. It’s a tough place…but we saw a lot of potential for that office become a major hub for EMI!
Driving into Mbour, the town where the EMI office will be.
Alisha talking with the Wright kids. Their dad David is the
Senegal Office Director. Nationality-wise, they are from
Northern Ireland, but these kids have lived their entire lives
in Africa!
Home church, Senegal-style.
Currently, this dining room constitutes the EMI Senegal Office!
The front door to what may become the future Senegal Office.
It needs some clean-up and finishing work, but it's could be
a pretty cool place inside!
Looking out on the town from the roof of the prospective office.
Another roof shot of the neighborhood.
On the way back from Africa, we stopped in the UK for 5 days as well. I attended the end of year board meeting for the office there (I’m on that Board of Directors) where we officially handed off the leadership of the office to a guy named Dave Lambert who has become a dear friend (along with his wife Jaz) of Alisha and I. He is a retired British architect from outside London who has spent a couple of longer term stints in our Uganda office. I am happy to be handing off my ‘interim UK Office Director’ title to Dave, who assumes the position permanently. Beyond the meeting, we also had a chance to connect with a number of past, present and hopefully future EMIUK people, as well as to visit our old hometown and home church in Colchester. We have so many good memories and friends there.
Dave pulled some strings and got us this office meeting room in
a swanky sky-rise office building in downtown London!
With new EMIUK Office Director Dave Lambert
Underground stations make me happy. Underground stations
with names that remind me of Oregon really make me happy.
The Colchester train station - it was strange that this was our
home station. So many memories of greeting loved
ones arriving to visit us here.
Out front of Darcy's, the downtown 'tuck shop' (candy store) our
boys used to love to frequent in Colchester.
Got to watch the Man United v. Arsenal match in a downtown
Colchester pub.
The pub where we watched the game.
Visiting our old church, Colchester Baptist Church, was one of
the highlights of our stopover in England.
Coming into Lexden, our old subdivision. We drove this road
hundreds of times. Weird.
With Fiona and Marietta - two dear friends.
Former EMIUK'er and family friend Rob Johnson.
It felt like a normal Sunday afternoon meal with the old
EMIUK office. Dang, time goes too fast.
Keeping it real, we were reminded of a few of
the things we weren't crazy about in the UK -
6 1/2 hours of daylight in the winter, and
bitterly cold and rainy weather (though the
resulting 'green' landscape is a major improve-
ment on the dry Colorado brown!
If you're ever in London, you must eat at this tiny little pizza shop!

Past Projects
The Honduras project design we worked on back in March is under construction! One cool development – you may remember me talking about the connection the ministry leader Andy had with the Mayor of Siguatepeque. Well, that has paid off, as the Mayor has agreed to extend the city sewer line to the project site – nearly 2 miles from the current end of the line! This is a huge blessing – dealing with sewage on-site is tricky, and even with a good design it can be difficult to maintain. It’s one of the main causes of sickness in the developing world – inadequate handling of sewage. Anyway, we’re working on revising our design to connect the site sewer lines to the city main.

Also, the Mustard Seed Academy school project in Uganda I worked on back in 2013 is also under construction. Actually, Dave Lambert was on that project with me and recently visited the site to do an inspection of the work since EMI’s construction management department in Uganda wasn’t able to build the project (over-booked). There were a number of items needing to be addressed, so we’re working to ensure things are built safely.

Up next
With our Nicaragua and Senegal teams now on the ground, our Cambodia staff team flying out in early January, and the South Africa office coming soon, coupled with our 5 current offices, John Dallmann (our CEO) is planning to have me help him with taking support trips to these offices. Being a growing organization brings all sorts of new challenges, so it’s becoming more and more important to make sure our offices are getting the support they need. Also, it is getting increasingly more difficult to operate as a non-profit organization in many countries, so we are being forced to start thinking about ‘business as missions’ options in some places. Stay tuned on that… Travel-wise, it looks like I’ll be traveling a bit more next year to these office locations, so I may not lead any project trips.
We had Thanksgiving at the Dallmann's house again this year.
It was a family first - we actually did the same thing for
Tgiving two years in a row!
EMI CEO John Dallmann with his wife Gala. John and Gala
are great friends and mentors to Alisha and I. Their 5 kids
are almost all raised, so we're gleaning all the parenting advice
we can from them! (John just finished carving the turkey - he
normally doesn't wield a knife.)
We’ve been enjoying a short break in the soccer season since early November! Alisha has been keeping busy with all things ‘Beachbody’, as well as occasionally substitute teaching at the elementary school. The boys are busy wrapping up the Fall school semester – it sure seems like kids have more homework these days than when we were kids. And the rabbits are still eating and, well the opposite of eating, a lot.

We’ll be in the Bay Area over Christmas with Alisha’s family, so (likely) no white Christmas for us…though most of the rest of the Christmas season will certainly be white (and cold) here in Colorado!

Tuesday, September 27, 2016

The Missionaries

Late summer family pict
This past weekend while on the sidelines of a soccer field watching Jonah and Graysen referee side by side games, I was approached by three missionaries from the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. We had a friendly conversation, and one where I tried to avoid the normal defensive and/or aggressive posturing we Christians often feel is our ‘duty’ to display in such situations. I led the conversation by asking them all kinds of questions about their home and backgrounds instead of allowing them to ‘drive the boat’ – something I think we often don’t realize we’re doing as we freeze up and focus on trying to remember some key scriptural references we’re going to need to do battle!

The average weekend attire these days.
Actually, our conversation never really took much of a turn towards the spiritual side of things, though they did ask me if I was a ‘religious person’. Having spoken to Mormon missionaries many times, I know that this is not the time to be ‘winning over’ these young people – after all, they’re at a place in their life where they have felt such a strong conviction about their faith that they’ve given up two of their most prime years in life to move away from home and serve their church. Of course I had a lot to talk to them about and would have loved to do so, but during their mission is rarely the right timing.

So, I was as friendly as possible, and tried not to give them any of the weird or even offensive vibes they often receive from us well-intentioned Christians. Instead, we just shot the breeze about life and football and the craziness of having hundreds of people out on the soccer field that day. When they asked, I did tell them I worked for a mission organization and a short bit about the work of EMI (which was enough for them to get the picture that I wasn’t exactly their best bet for a recruit either), but otherwise it was just a normal conversation that only lasted a few minutes before they moved on to better prospects.

Post-game team talk and selection of Man-of-the-Match
But it got me thinking – regardless of the significant differences in beliefs we have (I do not consider the LDS church to be a Christian church, unfortunately), I have always been impressed by the number of young people in the LDS church who give up two years of their lives. I’ve also always been impressed by the high number of LDS church goers (I’ve seen one statistic put it at 90%) who give a full 10% of their income to the church (even though I’ve heard there is a fair amount of pressure from the church for them to do so – I have no idea if that’s true or not). By comparison, the last statistic I saw for Christian churches was that less than 10% of church-going Christians in America tithe 10% of their income. That’s disappointing to think about, especially in a side-by-side comparison with the LDS community.

As I thought more about it though, it made me even more thankful for the faithfulness and generosity of our supporters who allow us the privilege of doing the work we feel God has called us to do here at EMI. With so few Christians (according to the statistics) giving to the work of the church, we feel especially blessed by the team of people who have been so faithful in supporting us through the years. Given my past feelings about the LDS church and how well-funded they are by their people, our experience has restored some of my faith in the Christian church and our willingness to fund the church and church activities we say we value.
Brodie sending the ball down the line.

Even still though, I wonder how much more effective the church would be if our percentage was up at 90% of our people tithing? Knowing the struggles we have at EMI to raise funds for our organization, it would completely change what we are able to do and the impact we have around the world. As we are pushing to fulfill a goal of having 50% of our staff be Local Design Professionals (i.e. designers who are from the places where we work), our funding strategies are now more than even being challenged to the core.

On a personal note, we don’t talk about it much because we have always felt that God would bring along our support as needed. But for the past several years, Alisha and I have operated at about 80% of our funding target (EMI sets salary bands for all staff based on experience, location and job responsibilities). God has been faithful to meet our needs in a variety of creative ways, but still, it’s a struggle.

One of Jonah's many hobbies.
But lest this appear to be some kind of moaning session – I sure hope it doesn’t sound that way – I’ll get back to my main point, which is that seeing these three young LDS missionaries was honestly a bit of a challenge for me. No, I’m not interested in the Mormon faith (that’s a whole other conversation I’m happy to have). But rather, the commitment and financial support that LDS church-goers give to their church is undeniable, and if you compare it with that of the Christian church as a whole, it’s a little disappointing. But that said – it just goes to show even more how special a group of people we have supporting us, and why we feel as blessed and encouraged as we do by you all. So, we just wanted to again say thank you - both for being in "the 10%", and for your investment and interest in the ministry work we do with EMI!


*Our family is in the full swing of soccer this Fall – I’m coaching two teams and all boys are playing and refereeing. Complicating matters a bit this season is the fact that Brodie made his high school frosh soccer team, so those games now have to shoehorn into the schedule as well.

Helping Graysen practice his upcoming Drama class skit project
- an interview with Donald Trump that he wrote and will star in.
I need to find a place to post a video of the skit online!
*The school year is going well so far for Graysen and Jonah at middle school and Brodie at high school. All 3 love going to school, which is a huge blessing. I volunteered to join the School Accountability Committee at Brodie’s high school on a 2-year term, so once a month I have a meeting with 5 other parents, a district rep. and the principal to discuss school matters. It’s weird to be a part of a high school again!

*At EMI, our Cambodia office launch team is here in the Colorado Springs office this Fall, preparing for their permanent departure to Cambodia in January. The Nicaragua and Senegal teams are already on the ground, and the South Africa office director is working to build his team there in Cape Town.

*Alisha and I will be traveling some this Fall – first, we’re once again each leading sessions at this year’s annual EMI Network Conference, this time being held in San Diego at the end of October. Then, we will be traveling together in mid-November to visit our new office launch team in Senegal, West Africa. After a few days with the team there, we then head to the UK as our EMIUK Board will be naming the next permanent Office Director and a new Board Chairman at the year-end meeting (I’m on the UK board). Alisha’s parents will be here with the boys while we’re gone, so a big thanks to them!
Ticket to Ride Europe - our favorite family game at the moment.

*On the horizon, it looks like I may be leading a project team to Zambia in early-mid 2017, and possibly stopping over in South Africa afterwards to meet up with our office launch team there and possibly assist with some speaking engagements.

*Alisha continues to manage the crazy family schedule, do lots of Beachbody work and substitute teach 1-2 times per week.

*The rabbits continue to eat hay and pellets. Murphy is a star and is the easiest-going pet we’ve ever had. Mildred on the other hand has lodged a formal complaint on account of the withdrawal of animal cracker treats from her diet, but we were tired of cleaning up after the stomach aches they were giving her. Occasional fresh vegetables have been added instead, but she has yet to declare whether this is acceptable or not.

Mildred (L) and Murphy (R) - our ridiculous rabbits
Graysen stealing Alisha's 'Shakeology'
An average Colorado Springs Summer morning,
out at family friends Laurel & Fred's farm
An average Colorado Springs Summer afternoon
An average Colorado Springs Summer evening
Hiking 'The Incline' (Google it!) on our 21st anniversary last month.