Monday, October 23, 2006

Partnering with Local Churches

One of InterVarsity's core commitments is to the local church, and I hold strongly to this commitment myself. If a student were forced, I would by all means tell the student to choose a local church over our ministry. Self-defeating? Maybe, but I'm ok with that.

The problem is that Christ founded the Church, and InterVarsity Christian Fellowship isn't one. We are a support organization, designed to support local churches in their ministry to college campuses. As such, as I go searching for partnership for this ministry, I am aimed at the local church in Nashville.

It's a long process, building databases of contacts and trying to stay up with what other IVCF staff workers are doing in the area. I want to build real partnerships of ministry, and the first step is mutual advertising. I'm constructing a "church book" that will have information on local churches for our graduate students so they can get involved in local churches. I have also prepared Graduate Christian Fellowship ads to be put in local church bulletins and fliers. The free exchange of information will go a long way toward genuine partnerships.

I'm also meeting with a lot of local pastors to get to know them and their ministries. I want to be able to approach them with things down the line that suit their needs and interests. I also want to be able to take volunteers for the ministry on campus.

There is also the remote possibility of moving our small groups into local churches so that a grad student could benefit from GFM's expertise in graduate ministry while being able to plug into a local church during the week. It's an interesting thought I'll have to consider more later.

Please pray that as we move into this new phase of partnership-development, the Lord would work to move the people and places into our orbit that would benefit the people in our care and that, above all, God would be glorified in what we do.

Friday, October 13, 2006

Doctors without Borders

Last weekend, Monique and I went to Centennial Park near downtown Nashville to the Cultural Fair and went to the Doctors without Borders exhibit there. The exhibit itself was a simulated refugee camp that helped us better understand what it was like to live scared for our lives in another country that doesn't want us but has to support us because of international law.

I'll give you some of the highlights of the exhibit. It started on the other side of a guard-rail where it was explained to us that when things get bad in a country torn by war and individuals feel forced to flee their homes, they have no rights in their own country. They might "have" rights in the abstract, but who is going to protect them? Is it the government who's trying to put down an insurgency, or is it the insurgents themselves? When innocent people get caught in the middle of warring parties, rights go out the window ("collateral damage"). If you are being chased by people bent on killing you because of your race or creed, you have to flee the country...

...Because in the next country over, they have to do something about it. According to international treaties, countries must provide refugees with food, water, shelter, and clothing. Needless to say, this is trying on any country who has hundreds of thousands of refugees at a time fleeing over their borders, so many countries (Ethiopia is a good example) close their borders.

Doctors without Borders is an interesting organization because it helps provide medical care for these displaced peoples, the innocent fodder of war. I was impressed by how well human beings can do under such adverse conditions, but I was humbled by the comparative lack they must experience. One example: the average refugee uses 5 gallons of water a day. The average American: 100.

It hit home when one of our touring group (we were led through the camp by a guide) said that she had been in a refugee camp when she was nine. We did the math and found out that she was only a year younger than Monique and I! A Kurd displaced by the first Gulf War, she had to carry those five-gallon jugs of water a mile at a time ("They were heavy," she said, "but we had to do it."), while I was disgruntled that AWANA was canceled the night of the beginning of hostilities and wanted to know why war wasn't like G.I. Joe. I was having a hard time understanding the amazing technology of war shown on ABC news while she was fighting for her life in the dessert. I sat at school while she carried water by the mile.

In these circumstances, Christians cry out from the depth of their souls, "Maranatha! Come, Lord Jesus, come!" With all the evil in the world, and all the sufferers, and our lack of ability to finally fix either one, we can only cry for our Redeemer to return and set everything right again. We give thanks to God for His grace to us in Jesus Christ, and apply ourselves to walk in the path that Jesus pioneered for us, the path of self-sacrificial love for our neighbors nearby and for the little girl carrying water on the other side of the world.

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Getting Things Done, by David Allen

The book Getting Things Done: The Art of Stress Free Productivity, was suggested to me by my supervisor on Thursday of last week. The way he talked about the book made me immediately curious about what could be so revolutionary about it. It's just a productivity book, eh?

Well, it's the first book on productivity I've read, and it's been an amazing few days. The book introduces a five-step method of "getting things done," one that I'm finding to be extremely helpful.

1. Collect--Put everything, I mean everything, into a physical inbox (electronic in the case of email). The whole point of the system is that you free your brain to do stuff other than remember. So get it all out of your head.
2. Process--Sit down and process everything in the the inbox by asking several questions. Is it an actionable item? If no, then throw it away, file it, or put it aside into a "Someday/Mabye" list. If the item does have an action associated with it, take a couple of seconds to decide the very next physical action required. If the action takes 2-minutes or less, do it. If it will take longer, organize it on one of your lists (step 3)
3. Organize--file non-actionable items, and put action items that will take more than two minutes onto a "Next Action" list, arranged not by topic but by context (i.e., at the computer, online, office, anywhere, home, etc.). There are more lists to be added to that make the system even better, but I won't go into them here.
4. Review--before you go about doing, you have to review. Start with your calendar. If there are items that HAVE to be done that day, do them. Next, move to the "Next Action" list.
5. Do--now, looking at your "Next Action" list, decide based on your context, time, energy, and priorities which item should be done next.

The beauty of the system is that it is "bottom-up." Since everything goes in the inbox, everything makes it in. Therefore, there's no need to worry about trying to remember something. Take two seconds to jot down a note to yourself when something crosses your mind, and drop it in the inbox. It won't be too long until you process the inbox again, and in the meantime you can concentrate on what you're working on.

The three most helpful pieces of wisdom in this book are:
1. Next actions--this is incredibly freeing, taking the time to decide what actually needs to be done next. For example, instead of putting a nebulous "Wedding Gift" on your to-do list, put it in your projects list, and add "Brainstorm gift ideas" into your next actions list. That way you know what you're going to do next, and the brainstorm will spawn another action item like, "Talk to spouse about gift ideas," etc.
2. Two-minute rule--if it takes two minutes or less, do it. Also freeing, this clears away all the clutter so you can focus on the important things. It's also amazing how many household chores take two minutes or less!
3. Inbox--putting everything in my inbox is a great feeling. I know it will be attended to, so I can forget about it and plow ahead in what I'm doing.

So, if you're looking for a way to reorganize your life, pick up Getting Things Done and work yourself through the book. You won't regret it.

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

Driving, Driving, Driving, Flying, and a Proposal

I've returned from my InterVarsity GFM fund-development trip. In my last post, I wrote out the tentative itinerary and promised a report with pictures. Well, here it is.

I started my trip by picking up a Hyundai Sonata from Hertz at the airport. It's cheaper on my budget to rent a car than to expense the mileage for my own, so that's what I did. I wish I had taken a picture of it, because it was a neat little car with a great sound system, working A/C, a sunroof, and a self-darkening rear-view mirror. Ah, the niceties of life, or, err, Hertz.

First stop was Vilonia, AR (383 miles). There, thanks to the generosity of Rhonda Harris and First Baptist Church of Vilonia, I was able to make a presentation to 15 total people. By far the scariest audience I've had (they are, after all, my wife's friends and family), they were warm, encouraging and generous. This picture is of me handing out information before the presentation.

Next stop, Siloam Springs, AR (+200 miles). In Siloam, I stayed with old college friends, Mark and Megan Etter, ate lunch with Kyle and Katie Weaver, toured my alma mater's campus, talked with professors, ate breakfast with an old friend Patrick Carr, and reinvigorated some of the networks I had lost since graduation three years ago. I am hoping to stop back through Siloam soon to make a presentation now that I have reaquainted myself with the area, but I am happy to have garnered some support while I was in town.

Next stop, Stillwater, OK (+155 miles). I had intended to have another dessert presentation while in Stillwater but for various reasons the dessert itself fell through. Instead, I was able to have meals with a couple of families who are going to support me, and, of course, I got to hang out with my family and take my (not-so) little brother Stephen out for coffee (or hot chocolate as the case may be). It was a fun and restful time. Unfortunately, the camera didn't make it out of the bag while I was there.

Next stop, Tomball, TX (+497 miles). There, I was able to attend the church I grew up in both Sunday morning and evening, talk with a few folks about InterVarsity, and stay with two sets of Callons (Ken and Mary, and Craig and Cheryl--the Callons have been close friends of mine since the second grade). I had a similar experience in Tomball as I did in Siloam Springs--I saw a bunch of people I hadn't seen in ages and got to start some of those friendships again. In some ways it's sad that it takes the fund-development process to bring me back into their lives, but in others, I'm so happy to have reason to do so. Being back in Tomball felt like going home, and I realized just how much I missed it.

I left on a Sunday and arrived back in Nashville (+792 miles) the next Tuesday night. By the end of the road trip, I had traveled over 2020 miles in that Sonata. We had become close friends.

On Wednesday, I flew to Philadelphia (+1600 miles round trip) to be with Monique while she defended her dissertation proposal. Defending the proposal is a big deal at U.Penn. because you don't have to defend the final product, just have it signed off by your committee of three. (I guess the figure they want to nip any problems in the bud). The whole department came out to hear Monique's brief presentation and then grill her on the details. Monique handled herself amazingly and her proposal passed without any revisions! Thanks be to God!

Thank you to all of you who were praying during my trip and during Monique's defense! We appreciate it greatly. If you have any other questions about the trip, please feel free to add a comment to this blog or email me. I'm looking forward to hearing from you.