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Meet the Intern: David Salter

Meet the Intern: David Salter

Posted by salterd at Aug 03, 2012 10:22 AM |

Hi, my name is David Salter, the second Systems intern in the 2012 DiscipleMakers internship! I’m a recent graduate of Lafayette College with a Bachelor’s of Science in Electrical and Computer Engineering (ECE). I would like to use this post to talk about how I came to be in the internship, tell you some of the highlights, and explain what I most learned from the experience.

I first got interested in the DM Summer Internship during Fall Conference my junior year. During Fall Conference, there was an early morning meeting explaining to people what the internship would be like. As an ECE major, I love computers and when I heard about how you could use computer skills in the HQ to help support DM, I suddenly got an exciting vision of being able to use my skills to serve God’s Kingdom. I immediately applied and got really excited about doing the internship, however that was not God’s plan for me at that time. When I got a call from someone in Systems telling me they didn’t have a position for me, I was really upset. Looking back I can see how God was using that time to help me learn that He was in control of my life and that I needed to trust Him more. A year went by and during my Senior year I once again decided to apply to the internship at DM. This was strange because Seniors in my major usually were more worried about getting jobs or going to graduate school after graduation, not trying to get an internship. But I still had that exciting vision of using my computer skills for God’s glory so I applied and this time I was accepted! With the help of Adam Focht, I was able to raise my support in time even through a very busy Senior year.

Other than using my computer skills for the Lord, I was also excited to learn more and more about God and Christ through the people I’d be working with. I knew I would learn a lot, but as soon as the internship started it went way above and beyond my expectations!

One of the first important things I learned came from living with Peter and Erin Krol and their four wonderful kids. There, I witnessed a family that lived in a real Christ-centered fashion, where the parents clearly communicated the Gospel to their kids not only through sharing Scripture but also by living it out day to day. When the kids get upset, the way Peter uses the experience to point them back to Christ has been inspiring to me. I’ve learned a lot about how to lead a Christ-centered family that, Lord willing, I will get to apply to my own family.

I’ve also learned how God can use a Christian community to bring people closer to Him. In the office, much time is spent just talking with people about life and what God’s doing in it. It seems that there is as much time spent discipling others within DM as there is outside DM, all to the greater glory of God. I’ve been able to witness team meetings that are entirely focused on the spiritual growth of the staff members involved. It has been amazing to see how staff members willingly become vulnerable in revealing their personal lives so that other Christians can come alongside and help them in their struggles. I have seen staff members sharpen each other as instruments of God and I think they do their work all the better for it.

While the entirety of the internship has been a great experience, there were some specific instances that were especially so. The first one that came very soon after the start of the internship was the Summer Staff Conference. It was fun to see all the DM staff come together and it struck me as being a lot like one big family reunion. Another highlight was the regular dinners Ben and I had with families who worked at the HQ. With the constant flow of delicious meals and conversations just to get to know us better, it was easy to feel welcome and loved. The biggest highlight of the internship for me, however, was Tom Hallman’s Rafting Trip down the Delaware. Tom and a bunch of friends took a whole Saturday to get in some rafts, fill them with snacks and drinks, and proceed to travel down the Delaware River throwing a Nerf football between rafts and throwing each other into the water! It was a blast!

I came into the internship expecting to grow in Christ, but I had no idea coming in how big that change would be. After graduating college, I’ve thought a lot about what to do for my future. I expect this internship will be a grounding experience to know what it really means to live my life for Christ. I thank God that I was given the opportunity to work as an intern for DiscipleMakers! Why not consider it yourself?

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Meet the Intern: Ben Richards

Meet the Intern: Ben Richards

Posted by richardsb at Jul 17, 2012 11:20 AM |

Make the coffee. Copy this report. Sort the mail. Maybe some of you out there have felt like this during your internship. Not so in the Systems Department at DiscipleMakers. Even on my very first day, staffing the Help Desk with Jason Maas, I was modifying email lists, troubleshooting the print server, and other things usually reserved for those who actually know what they’re doing. But Jason always made sure (and continues to make sure) that I did know what I was doing, with seemingly infinite patience and a genuine interest in guiding me every step of the way.

By the way, I’m Ben Richards, or Mr. Spock, as you may have gathered from my photo. I’m soon to be in my third year of Electrical and Computer Engineering at Lafayette College. I really like trains, mountain biking, and fixing things. I feel very blessed that God literally dropped this internship into my lap. (He knows that sometimes I need BIG hints!) During the fall last year, I was casually looking for possible internships in various areas and corporations, when I received a call from the DM HQ offering me an application and interview for the Systems internship! Not only was I surprised to be approached about an internship at all (let alone one I hadn't applied for), I didn’t even know that DM offered internships!

God's path to the start of the internship was one of fear, doubt, growth, rejoicing and ultimately praise. Raising support was completely unfamiliar and uncomfortable for me, but God used it to show His love and power. By His grace and the guidance of my mentor Brian Roberg, I was able to raise 80% of my support in just one month! This was especially important because I would spend the following four months studying abroad at Jacobs University in Bremen, Germany.

After a two-week flurry of activity consisting of Orientation, Refresh (videos here!), and Staff Conference, I was able to settle down and begin my "regular" tasks, if such things could be posited to exist. Some of these tasks have included Help Desk (which itself covers a huge array of jobs which may or may not be related to technology!), physical plant maintenance, donation processing, the Online Giving project, the Google Apps project, and a whole lot of watching and learning. Each of these has given me insight into a different facet of operations at DM, and a broader vision for what it takes to support our field staff.

 

Things are usually pretty low-key in the office: There's no specific lunch hour, no time clock to punch, no hard and fast rules about time off, and no stiff department divisions. While some managers might consider this a detriment to productivity, it actually encourages (I feel) everyone to fulfill Paul's command in Colossians 3:23: "Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for men" (NIV). In this way the HQ really serves each staff member by allowing him or her to care for other people in his or her life if necessary, while still maintaining the vision to "git 'r done!"

I've been experiencing the value of problem-solving, in that I don't necessarily need an in-depth knowledge of the technical end of the system in order to make progress on solving an issue. I've also determined that there is no occupation in the world which does not rely heavily on effective communication. My co-worker Adam Focht and I share an ongoing personal goal to become better communicators, and it's something that is central to spreading the gospel as well.

Here in the HQ we all wear many hats, and it helps promote a "family" atmosphere, rather than a hierarchy. This encourages us to serve the Lord and one another with humility and grace. (Warning: Shameless Plug Ahead) If this sounds like an exciting and fulfilling way to spend your summer, get started on that application!

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Minimize the Boring Stuff!

Minimize the Boring Stuff!

Posted by Jason Maas at Feb 13, 2012 05:35 PM |

Sometimes I repair computer systems that are broken.  Other times I get to take something that is good and make it great.  Recently I got to work on making our ministry expense handling system and try to make it great...

Now you might be wondering: what’s a “ministry expense”?  It’s what companies call a “business expense”, but we’re not a business, we’re a ministry.  :)  So for example one of our staff needs a new laptop or some thank-you notes for their ministry - that’s a ministry expense.  They just need to document why it’s needed for their ministry and DiscipleMakers will pay for it (or reimburse the staff).

Sounds pretty boring and tedious, right?  It is!  So why don’t we leverage the power of computers to automate it and make ministry expense handling be as small of a part of our lives as possible?  Bingo!  That’s what I’ve worked on lately.  My goal is to help our staff who are submitting ministry expense reports and the ones who are approving them to spend as little time on it as necessary so they can move on to other more important things - like fulfilling the Great Commission of Jesus Christ!

We’re now beta testing a nice web & mobile app called Expensify which unifies and streamlines our ministry expense handling procedure.  It’s been fun working with the Expensify crew as I ask them for help and overall I’ve been very impressed with their product.  It’s a great fit for a ministry like DiscipleMakers and I hope that it saves our staff lots of time and energy in the years to come!

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Meet the intern: Vic Chester

Meet the intern: Vic Chester

Posted by chesterv at Jul 28, 2011 02:25 PM |

My name is Vic Chester and my time working at DiscipleMakers during the Systems Dept 2011 summer internship has been one of the most memorable of my life. Some of the most common questions I'm often asked by people are, "How is the internship going?", or, "What is your favorite part so far?". I often feel less than content with my answers to these questions because words alone can never fully convey my feelings during my time at DM. It is more than I could have ever hoped for in an internship!

I'm a soon-to-be graduating student from East Stroudsburg University enrolled in their B.S. Computer Science/Computer Security dual major program, and due to graduation requirements an internship was necessary. Much of my early attempts at pursuing an internship were frustrated for reasons which at the time appeared to me as very bizarre. There were many prospective internship opportunities characterized by positive interviews and further supported by recommendations by my professor that still somehow fell through the cracks. Most others around me who I deemed less than qualified were receiving well paying internships at good companies. It just didn't make any sense to me. Of course, up until this point, my ideal internship was one at a company where I would wear a suit to the office everyday and earn a two-figure hourly rate in the high teens if not twenties. Though the dress code at the DM HQ can be described at times as less than casual and I would end up raising my own support for the internship, it is truly a testament to God's goodness and how He really does have the best in store for those He loves!

There is so much I can say that I've learned from this experience. I have definitely found working in the Systems Dept challenging and rewarding. Through various meetings with cool names like “tactical” or “strategic” and with an example set forth by several mentors, I have learned much about productivity and collaboration. My independent security research for the department has been successful in demonstrating I am capable of accomplishing goals through perseverance.  "Failing in the right direction" is often a good place to be when faced with uncertainty.

Similarly, because I work in an environment where the love of Christ is determinedly imaged, I have grown so much spiritually. I have learned more and more what an important role effective communication plays in walking in love with others. I have  also come to appreciate the value in being more open with others through team meetings and discipleship by several men willing to share their insight. I have learned that listening for God's voice, though it can be a means, is also an end in itself. I am excited to be currently working on a security awareness program for DM and I pray that by God's grace my work would prove to be a fruitful experience for me as well as serve other staff members.

Besides work, I have also participated in parties, movie-nights, BBQ's, retreats, an hour-long fireworks show during the 4th of July, and even had the pleasure of going rafting for the first time! Add to that an amazing host family where I have my own room and bathroom and the many five-star dinners I've had with various families, this internship has felt more like a first-class vacation than a job!

I'm extremely grateful for this opportunity to share about my experience during the internship which sharply contrasts my summer two years ago before I was saved. When I am tempted to forget how good God is, I know reading this will serve as a reminder of how God worked in my life during this summer.  The DiscipleMakers internship is an unforgettable experience for anyone interested in serving God using their gifts while growing in community!

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Meet the intern: Katrina Layman

Meet the intern: Katrina Layman

Posted by Katrina Layman at Jul 08, 2011 09:10 AM |

My name is Katrina Layman, and I have had the immense pleasure of being a part of the DiscipleMakers internship this summer.  As an Information Sciences and Technology (IST) major at Penn State I am required to be involved in an internship before I graduate.  God really provided for me with DiscipleMakers.  I was originally only looking for an internship that was technology focused, but when I was informed that the Systems Department in the DiscipleMakers Headquarters was offering positions to work with them as an intern, I jumped at the opportunity.  For me, it is the ideal job: to actively strengthen my relationship with God while working with the technology that will help me in my future career.

God is teaching me so much through this internship!  The first two weeks worked at the Helpdesk with Jason Maas, and it was the perfect opportunity for me to grow in my walk with Christ!  I’ve learned so much about how to care for and serve others.  1 Peter 4:10-11 says, “Each one should use whatever gift he has received to serve others, faithfully administering God’s grace in its various forms.  If anyone speaks, he should do it as one speaking the very words of God.  If anyone serves, he should do it with the strength God provides, so that in all things God may be praised through Jesus Christ.”  This has been my “go-to" verse this summer.  God has given me the gift of understanding technology, and He has opened the doors for me to be a part of DiscipleMakers and use that gift to serve those around me. 

In the college of IST, we refine the art of managing and organizing information.  One unique way to serve the ministry with this training is to apply it to the DM staff website, a site used by the staff for internal communication and training.  Under Brian Roberg’s direction, I am running a card sorting exercise in which I have asked various staff members to participate in.  Obtaining the results of their feedback will help lay the groundwork in the restructuring of the website.  Through this exercise God has been growing me in humility.  I was having a difficult time approaching people that I didn’t know as well, but I was shown that I have nothing to fear by the grace of God and the encouragement from the staff members. 

DiscipleMakers Staff and students live and breathe by Matthew 28:19-20: “Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you.  And surely I am with you always to the very end of the age.”  This verse surrounds and encompasses everything we do.  The thing that attracts me the most to DM is the family atmosphere.  They care so much about each member of the ‘family,’ and that is one of the main reasons that I believe DM has grown so much over the years.  The kind of fellowship I receive here I haven’t found anywhere else and I am very grateful for it.  When I’m in the office I don’t even feel like I am at work; I feel like I’m at a theme park.  Every day in the Headquarters has been an exciting adventure, and I wake up every morning with the anticipation of going back.

If you want to find out more about opportunities like this one with DiscipleMakers visit the DiscipleMakers Events web page!

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Making Things Better

Making Things Better

Posted by Jason Maas at Jun 03, 2011 03:30 PM |

“That's the way we've always done it.”  Sometimes when I hear that saying it inspires confidence in timeless traditions.  Other times it causes me to wonder if anyone knows why it's done that way anymore.  As new staff come to work at the DiscipleMakers headquarters sometimes they are trained to do a task without a full explanation of why it's done that way.  Then as available features and operational needs change the procedures don't always get updated to be done in the most effective ways.

Recently the Systems Dept has been tasked with observing and understanding some of the procedures performed at the DiscipleMakers headquarters.  Our goal is to look at the big picture and suggest and implement improvements.  We're striving to use technology tools to get more done in less time.  The results enable more staff time to be spent directly ministering the good news of Jesus Christ to students!

So what have we found so far?

  • Opportunities to use existing software more effectively:
    • “Oh, I didn't know it could do that task for me!”
    • “I was wondering why we weren't using that field!”
  • Manual data comparisons that can be automated or removed
  • Data re-entry that can be avoided by connecting databases together automatically
  • Numerous tweaks to help reduce errors up front which saves lots of time down the road
  • Labels and wording that can be made more clear so that people aren't confused and don't have to dig into our documentation as often


We've also learned valuable lessons in how to interface with our “customers”.  It's important to hear them out and not jump to conclusions.  It's also vital to enter their world and experience the problems they're facing and trying to solve.  Working apart, the headquarters staff implement non-optimal solutions that can cost us big in the long run.  Working together, we make a great team and can support the whole ministry well!

 

“Plans fail for lack of counsel, but with many advisers they succeed.” -- Proverbs 15:22


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Introducing the Group Assignment Center

Introducing the Group Assignment Center

Posted by Tom Hallman at May 26, 2011 04:20 PM |

Movin' on up...

For a couple years now, DiscipleMakers has used an online conference registration system called Thriva EventRegister. It's served us well for our conference needs. However, EventRegister is being phased out in favor of a new tool purchased by Thriva's parent company, ActiveNetwork, which is called RegOnline.
 
Overall we were quite impressed with RegOnline and saw it as a big step up! However, the one significant feature it lacked (which EventRegister had) was a means of arbitrarily grouping registrants. For example, DiscipleMakers puts people into housing groups and discussion groups ("small groups") for most conferences. We've done this by hand or using a spreadsheet in the past, but that's proven to be a time-consuming and error-prone process.
 

The Vision

The DM Systems Department was given the vision of adding this group assignment functionality to RegOnline. We were excited to see that RegOnline offered an API that would allow us to do that!
 

The Bigger Vision

One of the visions of the Systems Department is that if we can make something work for us, why not see if we can make it work for others? Thus, we decided to write this tool not only to serve DM, but all RegOnline users, including other disciple-making ministries across the globe!
 

The BIGGER Vision

We also saw this as an opportunity to learn some new methodologies and tools that we'd heard good things about. So we ran the project using agile software development principles, including pair programming. Moreover, we took a chunk of time to also learn Ruby on Rails, git and other tools.  It was exciting to watch these ideas and tools go from strange to comfortable, and to watch productivity go from slow to... well, agile!
 

Mission Accomplished

The end result is the Group Assignment Center. It is now available on github, and we even put together a video to show it in action.
 
GAC, as we've affectionately called it, has become one of the most successful projects Systems has done to date. It was done on time, we got very good customer satisfaction feedback, and it was used for two of our conferences already.
 
In the process of developing GAC, we also wrote a middle layer of code called the RegOnline Connector (ROC). ROC serves as a Ruby API that unifies and improves the native RegOnline API. Thus, other Ruby [on Rails] applications can be more easily written in the future, saving the developers a lot of time and effort.
 
We're excited that not only is DiscipleMakers now benefiting from our work, but any other organizations (including ministries) who want to use RegOnline to manage their events can have useful, fine-grained control over grouping their conference registrants. And that will help lead, by God's grace, to making more disciples of Jesus Christ!

 

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Oops

Oops

Posted by Tom Hallman at Nov 19, 2010 04:00 PM |

Around 3:30pm yesterday, something bad happened.

But let's back up.

For the past couple months we've been in the process of migrating our server virtualization infrastructure from Xen to KVM.  It's something akin to lifting up a house to replace the foundation - but without anyone in the house realizing what had happened.

We had a good plan.  In fact, the plan has gotten even better since we've begun using some agile techniques including pairing.  By around 3pm yesterday, we were actually ahead of schedule and really excited to get ahead.  We'd migrated over a good number of our virtual servers from Xen to KVM and had planned out the remaining virtual servers so as to minimize downtime.

So all we needed to do was make a little change in the logical volume manager.  To use our house analogy, we were going to move the floor supports from one place to another.  While not a small task, it's easy in concept. Thus, we typed in the command.

It was about 3:30pm.

Suddenly, very strange things started happening.  Our house analogy breaks down a bit here, but let's just say that some very important, low-level data was being reported correctly on our new KVM server and not correctly on the old Xen server.  To our surprise, nothing actually stopped immediately.  But we were no longer sure what magic was holding it all together.  As our concerns about data corruption began rising, we decided that the best thing to do would be to reboot the Xen server (along with all its virtual servers).  If all went well, the fresh start would clean up any leftover junk and all the virtual machines would come up correctly.  So we rebooted it.

We never heard from those virtual machines again.

To make a long story slightly shorter, we realized that our best hope of fixing everything was to just follow the plan we'd already made for migrating the remaining Xen virtual machines over to the new KVM server.  In other words, we'd do the next two weeks of work... but in one night.

After we prayed together, Brian and Adam went to work migrating the remaining machines.  Jason pulled the "Beta" label off of our new KVM-based terminal server (which only a select few had been testing at that point) and moved over the remaining users still left on the now-dead Xen-based terminal server.  I got on the phone (email was down) and called through our Staff list to let them know what happened and to ask them to pray.

The highlight of the evening (after Jason and I had gone home) was when Brian's wife Carin and Adam's wife Jen showed up with food to encourage their husbands!  Both couples had scheduled date nights anyway - this just looked different than they'd expected.

By 8pm that evening, almost every service was migrated and running correctly on KVM.  I sent an email out telling the Staff what had happened and we quickly got back many encouraging responses!

Only in the LORD's grace can we experience a server catastrophe and yet actually arrive further down the line in our project.

Only in the LORD's grace can a canceled date night turn into an opportunity for two ladies to show their love and devotion to their husbands.

Only in the LORD's grace can we find rest, peace and joy even in the midst of a crisis.  No doubt this will not be our last one.  But our God knows the very hairs on our heads.  He can certainly handle corrupted disks - and whatever else comes our way.

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Locking it Down

Locking it Down

Posted by fochta at Oct 11, 2010 05:05 PM |

In the beginning you laid the foundations of the earth,
    and the heavens are the work of your hands.
They will perish, but you remain; they will all wear out like a garment.
    Like clothing you will change them and they will be discarded.
But you remain the same, and your years will never end.
- Ps 102:25-27

Have you ever bought an expensive piece of software and find out a week later that a newer version of that software will be released next month? Have you ever noticed how quickly technology becomes obsolete? It's often said that a computer is obsolete before you even get it home. As the psalmist says in Psalm 102, God is eternal while the things of this world are temporary at best. Few things illustrate this as clearly as technology!

Over the past couple of months, I had the opportunity to replace our email server. It was one of our oldest machines - being an "ancient" 7 years old, the server software could no longer be kept up-to-date with bug fixes or security patches. Since email is a critical service for our staff, we were eager to make sure that it was reliable and secure. God provided the tools for us to make this transition quickly and smoothly, with little impact to our staff throughout the process. The email system that we have now is indeed reliable, secure, and cares for our staff in several exciting ways!

"Spam" (unsolicited and unwanted email) is a huge problem and can drain resources as staff scan for false positives. The subject matter of much spam is often obscene, and can, in some cases, present stumbling blocks to staff. Utilizing new and more aggressive (and accurate) methods, we were able to significantly reduce spam delivered to our staff. Just for reference, we have ~55 email users. Each day our system blocks ~9,500 spam messages (roughly 175 per user) before they even get in to our network. Of the messages that make it in to our network, ~300 are flagged as spam, and ~230 of those are discarded before users even see them. That means, on average, each staff now gets 1-2 spam messages per day instead of 175! Even if it only takes about 3 minutes to scan a spam folder per person, this could save a total of about 3 hours of work per day across all staff! Since even the subject lines of spam can be obscene, this greatly cares for our staff as well!

In addition to better spam filtration, our new system allows our users more flexibility in organizing their inboxes, better prevents unauthorized use of our server, and lets our staff check from several places at once (like an iPhone and a laptop)!

For me, personally, there were some significant challenges - particularly in communication. There were a number of opportunities to communicate different details (to staff, to the other systems guys, to the office managers, etc.) ... and this is generally a challenge for me. I can often assume that everyone knows what I'm thinking or thinks the way I do. The Lord gave several instances of both good and poor communication, and it was a huge opportunity to trust Him and rest in His Grace rather than fall into despair (that I won't learn or grow in communication). Paul implores the Philippians to "look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others" (Phil 2:2), and David proclaims "The lines have fallen for me in pleasant places; indeed I have a beautiful inheritance." in Psalm 16. I've been consistently reminded of the opportunities to care for and consider others using technology, but also throughout the process of employing that technology. However, when I fail, I can rest in the inheritance God has provided us in Christ!

What an exciting opportunity to learn to better communicate, care for our staff and help them be more effective and focused! Praise God that He has not only blessed us with a new email server, but that He has made Himself known all the more through the project!

Photo by Darwin Bell, used under a Creative Commons license.

 

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Meet the Department: Adam Focht

Meet the Department: Adam Focht

Posted by fochta at Apr 19, 2010 11:00 AM |

Hi, I'm Adam!  Welcome to the fourth installment in our "Meet the Department" series!  I'll also share a bit about how I became interested in computers, how I came to know Christ, and how I came to be a part of DiscipleMakers.

My father was the one who originally got me into computers.  He had a passion for technology and cool toys.  He had worked for the Air Force, CP&L, and numerous cell phone carriers (back when you had to lift weights to carry around a "portable phone").  I was introduced to BASIC in 7th grade, and soon after wrote my own war simulator.  We got our first home computer when I was in 10th grade - it had a blazing 33MHz 486 with an on board math co-processor, an unfathomable 8MB RAM, a massive 30MB hard drive, Windows 3.0, and DOS 6.1 (even the first iPhone was more powerful).  I played MS Flight Simulator, Minesweeper, and Links (golf) for hours on end (instead of doing my homework).

Stepping back further in my childhood, my family moved around a lot growing up.  I never developed lasting, deep relationships as a result, and eventually became very angry with the Lord.  I saw Him as distant, detached, and uncaring.  I thought He had set the world in motion with the laws of physics so that He could start it all up and walk away.  When things I didn't like happened, I could easily say God was bad and was just messing with me or those around me.  This peaked as my father died days before my 18th birthday.

I went through one semester of college at IUP (to become a music teacher), dropped out for personal and financial reasons, and held down several menial jobs.  After five years, I was motivated to get an education and get a better job.  Looking to explore my love for computers and technology, I started at Penn State as a computer engineering major with a physics minor.  My second semester living on campus, I got a roommate (Tim) who was a Christian and eager to share his faith.  I was still very angry with the Lord and as he shared about God and Christ, I was eager to disprove everything he said.  This made for quite a bit of fireworks!

I took all of his claims back to a friend from home who was Christian (Tom C.) hoping he would help me disprove my roommate.  He took me to Scripture, and I then encountered a God who was near, involved, and cared deeply for me.  Everything I had thought about God was wrong!  I accepted Christ the summer after I lived with Tim!  The next fall semester, I met Rhys, got involved in a Bible study on campus, and grew in my relationship with the Lord.  The Lord used Rhys and the DiscipleMakers Christian Fellowship (DCF) tremendously!

Back to my interest in computers ... As I got more and more interested in my physics classes, I changed my major to physics with a mathematics minor.  I started doing research in condensed matter theory, a branch of physics focusing on material properties.  Because my research was theoretical, I was able to apply what I had learned in my computer engineering classes.  Through contacts I met doing this research, I got a job in the RCC (research computing) group at Penn State.  I volunteered with DCF during my five years there, then realized God was calling me into full-time ministry.  The more I had opportunity to meet with students and get into the Word with them (both in group Bible studies and one-on-one), the more I wanted all of what I did to further His Kingdom.  While I was initially fearing raising support, the Lord was faithful to grow me in trusting that He would provide.  In 2009, I joined DiscipleMakers.

At Penn State, I was able to help researchers use computers to impact the world with science.  With DiscipleMakers, I'm so excited to be able to use computers to impact the world for Christ!  Praise God that He has seen fit not only to save me while I was His enemy, but He also uses me, the broken vessel I am!

P.S. In the midst of all this, the Lord showed even more of His grace and faithfulness: I married the woman of my dreams on September 19th (2009)!!  Praise God, I certainly don't deserve such an amazing blessing!  "He who finds a wife finds a good thing and obtains favor from the Lord!" (Pr 18:22 - ESV).

 

Feel free to contact me:

Phone: (814) 441-3579
Email: fochta@dm.org
Also find me on Facebook!

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Perseverance, Systems-Style

Perseverance, Systems-Style

Posted by Brian Roberg at Apr 06, 2010 03:10 PM |

One of the things I most enjoy about working in DM's Systems Department is seeing how spiritual truth informs our work with computers. Recently I've seen this in my work on DM's Staff Website (an intranet site our staff use to access all kinds of ministry-related information). Last summer, our summer intern Justin Brown helped me to update the software running the staff website. While we were able to accomplish the update itself, there were quite a few outstanding issues that remained to be fixed. I had lots of ideas for ways to make the site more useful, but there were other (bigger) opportunities for us to pursue first.

DiscipleMakers' "Faith" core value says, "Whatever our organizational position, we are to ask ourselves what we can do to help." The idea is that the effort we put in is in service of the mission rather than ourselves. We do this in faith that God will work and reward our efforts through the building of His Kingdom regardless of whatever other benefits we might receive.

Since setting aside my work on the Staff Website early last fall, I've been able to contribute to the mission in two very exciting ways. First, I took part in our work on our new accounting system, which has turned out to be a wonderful blessing to us as an organization. Second, I've more recently had the opportunity to spend a few weeks working on the Staff Website again. I was able to fix the remaining technical issues, making this important resource more useful for our staff.

This experience has been an encouraging reminder of how the gospel applies to our work: Our efforts can make a difference, but we never put our hope in the work itself or its benefit to us. Rather, we submit our efforts to the Lord as a sacrifice made in faith, trusting that in Him our labor is not in vain. (1 Co. 15:58)

 

 

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Can accounting software get applause?

Can accounting software get applause?

Posted by Tom Hallman at Jan 15, 2010 02:38 PM |

When a cool new technology is unveiled, it is often done so to the sound of much applause and cheering. Rightly so! New technology that is useful or fun is a big deal!

Think for a moment about what kinds of new technology get you excited. Perhaps its the latest gadget from Apple or Google. Perhaps its technology that makes life simpler to organize or maintain. Or perhaps you just like when expensive things become cheap or free.

But, would you ever guess that accounting software could get people to cheer?

Find out how it happened at the DiscipleMakers 2010 Winter Staff Conference by watching the video below. In this fun 30-minute video, I cover:

  • What DM uses accounting software for
  • The history of our old accounting software (Peachtree)
  • The benefits of our new software (FrontAccounting)
  • The exciting future of the new software
  • ... and a special surprise =)

That video represents just a taste of the kind of things that the DM Systems Department, by God's grace, is working on and planning. Would you like to be part of it?

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Caring for Orphans

Caring for Orphans

Posted by Tom Hallman at Nov 02, 2009 11:15 AM |

As someone who works with both people and technology, it's sometimes easy to wonder if my efforts would be better utilized if I dropped the tech aspects and focused more on people.  After all, Jesus calls us to make disciples of all nations - not to write code at a desk.  And His brother James tells us, "Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress."  (James 1:27) So why should I keep working on Linux servers?

Have you ever wrestled with that?

Now, I think it is wise to frequently evaluate where the LORD would have you be.  After all, new opportunities for ministry are constantly coming and going!  So, just last night I was asking the LORD whether my work on a particular open source software project was still a good use of my time.  Yes, that project has been very fruitful for DiscipleMakers over the years.  Yes, I really enjoy working on it.  But, there are lots of other opportunities too!  What about the widows and orphans? 

"Okay God... what should I do?"

Not more than half an hour later, I received an email asking for installation assistance with my project from someone I'd never heard of from a ministry I'd never heard of.  And, not only was he asking for assistance in installing the latest version, but he'd been using an older version for some time!

Out of curiosity, I checked out the ministry's website.  This ministry "is dedicated to providing quality care, such as food, clothing and housing, efficiently and effectively, to deaf orphans in Kenya. We also strive to provide these deaf orphans with a solid education and hope to empower them so they an lead productive lives beyond the orphanage."

My friends, the DiscipleMakers Systems Department really is a "ministry multiplier".  Because of some code we've written, college students are coming to know Christ.  Pastors are being trained.  Medical students are hearing the gospel.  Orphans are being fed.  God our Father is accepting pure and faultless religion!

Would you like to have your work multiplied thirty, sixty or one hundred foldLet us know.

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A Real Life Tower Defense Game

A Real Life Tower Defense Game

Posted by Jason Maas at Sep 14, 2009 04:30 PM |

Have you ever played a tower defense video game?  They're fun little strategy games that involve setting up a system of guard towers to defend against oncoming waves of attackers.  The proper placement of the right types of towers will keep your fortress safe, but if you don't plan well the attackers will overrun you!

Well, protecting computers and networks is a lot like a real life tower defense game!  One of my roles with DiscipleMakers is to protect the computers, data and networks at the headquarters from the attackers (most of which are automated and fairly mindless just like in the games!) seeking to steal our data and use our systems for bad stuff.  If we don't take adequate measures, confidential data could be compromised and the reputation of DiscipleMakers (and by extension, the Lord) could be damaged.  I don't want to see that happen.  Do we need to trust the Lord to protect us?  Definitely!  Has he given us counter-measures that we should use against computer attackers?  Absolutely!

Recently I completed a project to improve our Internet Gateway which handles firewalling and other network services and protections.  It's our main "defense tower" and now it has significantly newer software and hardware than our previous setup.  It's also running Ubuntu Linux which will make it much easier to keep the software up to date and secure than our previous Debian "testing" setup.  Praise God for many smart people who have written great free software that we can use to advance His Kingdom!

During this project God taught me some key lessons and grew my character.  I learned a lot about the importance of communication with other people about the status of the project.  I also learned about how to submit when decisions were made to do things in ways other than what I would have chosen.  At the end it was really encouraging to rollout the new system and see it work and rest easier that night knowing that our tower had just been upgraded with the super bazookas.  :)

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A Visit from LightSys

A Visit from LightSys

Posted by Tom Hallman at Aug 24, 2009 11:05 AM |

No matter what industry you're in, you've no doubt wished that you could have an expert consultant come in and help you evaluate your organization from top to bottom.

What if someone offered to come do that for free?

A few weeks back we got a visit from Tim & Patricia Young from LightSys Technology Services.  We'd met Tim at an ICCM conference some years ago, and this is now his second visit to the DiscipleMakers HQ.  Because LightSys does fundraising similarly to how DM does it, Tim's services to us were totally free!

According to their website,

LightSys is dedicated to equipping Christian missions and ministries with the computer technology correct for them, including the knowledge and contacts needed to support that technology. As a result they can serve with greater efficiency, keeping their mind on their task, not their computers, thus redeeming technology -- for God's Kingdom.

We really found that to be true!  We spent about three full days with Tim in our conference room while he answered our barrage of questions about everything from wireless networks to fundraising to donor management tools to open source project management.

Tim has the rare gift of being very tech-savvy but also being a great networker.  Because of that, he was able to help us understand whether the things we were doing were "normal" or "out there".  Through him will be able to connect and "work with" many other missions out there, and we're hopeful that Tim's influence will help both DiscipleMakers and other organizations to benefit over the years to come.

Beyond all that, Tim is a wonderful story-teller, and he enthralled our kids with tales of treasure hunts and us adults with the story of how he and Patricia met.  (The latter takes about 45 minutes, but is well worth it.)

Tim's wisdom and experience were invaluable, and we are so grateful that he was willing to spend some time with us!

Thanks Tim!

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Meet the intern: Justin Brown

Meet the intern: Justin Brown

Posted by brownjg at Aug 09, 2009 08:40 AM |

My name is Justin Brown, and I had the great joy of being part of the DiscipleMakers internship this summer. As an intern I got to work with the Systems Department in the DM HQ, and the experience went above and beyond my big expectations!

Coming into the summer I had two main things that I wanted to learn. First, I wanted to grow my character by becoming more selfless. Second, I wanted to understand what it meant to work on a team with a common goal. The Lord was very gracious in allowing me to learn so much about both of these things through the project that I worked on.

My background is in web development and as such I was assigned the project of updating the software for the Staff website. The site was running a version of Plone that was about five years old. In the grand scheme of updating the software, my job was to update two parts of the site that would otherwise break when we made the switch to the new version. These parts were 1) the Systems wiki where we, the department, store all our information on pretty much anything computers (and even favorite pizzerias like CiCi's), and 2) the "DM Events" photo albums.

Right from the start I found out that I had no idea of what I was doing and that I had to learn everything from scratch. This taught me a lot about humility - that I don't know everything and I have to ask for help. The lack of knowledge gave way to work that was just plain hard. My temptation was to retreat from the hard stuff and get distracted with other stuff, email, fail blog, etc. As I identified these tendencies and got time with Brian Roberg (my boss) outside of the project, I realized that this was an opportunity to be selfless by doing the hard things for the betterment of others. The only way I could do this was having a knowledge of what Christ has done for me!

Heading into the Fall semester, I'm excited to apply the things I learned by looking for ways to do the hard things out of a desire to serve others and not myself. The main way this will play out is being diligent in my work and time so that I can take the opportunities the Lord gives me to preach the gospel! Please pray for both me and all the other interns that we would keep the gospel in mind and apply all the things that we have learned. Pray that many might come to know Christ through our efforts to serve Him!

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Master Plumbers

Master Plumbers

Posted by Tom Hallman at May 20, 2009 02:15 PM |

Sometimes inspirations for ministry come from places you don't expect.  Let me share with you how a plumber inspired me just today.

My wife and I recently moved into a new home, and as such things tend to go, we've rapidly developed a list of things that need to get fixed. On that list were about half a dozen plumbing-related issues.  After a couple unsuccessful attempts at "doing it myself", I recognized my limits and reached for the phone.

A couple days later, a highly-recommended local plumber named Robin showed up at my door. He patiently followed me around from room to room as I showed him my leaking kitchen faucet, my oft-unflushable toilet, my other cracked toilet, my duct-taped bathtub drain stopper contraption, my leaking water heater, and more. He humbly nodded as I explained to him what I suspected to be the problem in each case.

Then, armed only with a flashlight and many invaluable years of experience, Robin looked in, around, under and seemingly through each of the failing components I'd enumerated. Here and there he'd ask questions about this or that, often seeking to confirm that he'd understood my complaint correctly. He also asked me questions about things that, from as far as I could tell, had little to do with the problem at hand. Yet I suspect that somehow, in his gargantuan mental database, he was putting pieces of data together in logical and creative ways so quickly that Google itself would be left dazed.

Robin then began explaining what would be required in each case to fix the problem, including time estimates (best, worst and likely cases) and cost of parts, should they need to be replaced. I can't be certain, but I remember thinking that I could detect an almost apologetic tone as he laid out the final costs. It was almost that he felt bad for even charging me at all! 

As I drove to the DiscipleMakers HQ a few minutes later, it occurred to me that Robin is in many ways just the kind of plumber that I want to be as a member of the DM Systems DepartmentIn fact, if you've ever tried helping someone with their computer, you can probably relate uncannily well to Robin's experience with his "user" today.

Moreover, God used Robin's humble attitude to convict me.   How do I respond when friends or coworkers bring their list of computer problems?  Or when they suggest to me how to fix it?  Do I listen well and try to understand their concerns, or do I see them as distractions from getting the "real work" done?

These are topics that we encounter and talk about regularly on the Systems Department, because we have a higher calling than even your average system administrator: we're not just representing ourselves or our organization, but the Lord of Hosts Himself. He has called us to love our users as we love ourselves. Moreover, our calling is not simply to sell a service or debug a script or fix a pipe, but to call other sinners like us to the wondrous glory of knowing Christ and His gospel!

And we praise the Lord that we needn't ever feel that guilt-like tension that Robin does – that which exists between fixing something for free (because we can) and getting paid hourly (because we need to pay the bills). DM has each of its missionaries – whether they'll be on campus or behind the scenes – raise their full financial support before they even get on the field. We needn't ever see our "users", whether Staff or student, as people who might be able to help financially – because we have a full team of supporters regularly paying our bills for us. Wouldn't you like to have a plumber in that position?

May the Lord continue to make us into His master plumbers!

And may there be no leaks under my sink when I get home today.

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The 2009 Taylor Spring Break Missions Trip

The 2009 Taylor Spring Break Missions Trip

Posted by Tom Hallman at Apr 14, 2009 05:15 PM |

A few weeks ago (was it that long already?), three brave souls from Taylor University ventured forth into the mountainous terrain of Pennsylvania in order to spend their Spring Break in State College. Why? These three men had a vision to use their tech skills in order to serve the LORD through helping out DiscipleMakers' Systems Department for the week!

Noah, Jesse and Jeremy each stayed with one of the families on the Systems department and basically went wherever we went, whether that was to the HQ to work for the day, to Bible study, to the softball fields, or to the DM Men's Conference.

In particular, these men helped us set up an enterprise-class secure wireless network in our HQ so that our laptop/netbook/iPhone-sporting Staff could get ready access to our LAN resources such as the file server and print server. These guys ran into a number of difficulties, but prevailed in the end, and for that we are very grateful! In addition, they were able to set up a "guest portal" for use by visitors to our HQ. Oh, and we got to run wires through the HQ and use power tools. Very cool.

We were very thankful for their hard work, and we really enjoyed getting to know these guys. Lots of bonding took place over code, the Scriptures, ice cream, Wii and Star Trek. Especially Star Trek.

Thanks for coming, men!

Have you ever considered taking a few days off to serve the Lord with the technical skills He's given you? If you'd like to find out more, drop us a line: systems -at- dm.org.

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Meet the Department: Brian Roberg

Meet the Department: Brian Roberg

Posted by Brian Roberg at Mar 16, 2009 09:45 AM |

Welcome to the third installment of our "Meet the Department" series!  Following Jason's and Tom's leads, I'll tell the story of how I came to the Systems Department, providing lots of fun and nostalgic links along the way.

I gained a familiarity with computers at a young age.  My dad is a career employee for IBM, and we had a computer in our house going back as far as I can remember.  One of my favorite childhood memories is when my brother and I received an IBM PCjr as a Christmas gift.  (We were definitely not a Mac family!)  Besides playing Sierra adventure games, one of my favorite computer activities as a kid was programming in BASIC.   However, even though I enjoyed computers and seemed to have a natural proficiency with them, I never considered pursuing a computer-related career.

Other aspects of my childhood: I did very well in school, I loved baseball (especially the Mets), and I hated going to church (but my mom made me go).

I became a Christian in ninth grade when I discovered that the message I was hearing every week in Sunday School actually spoke directly to the greatest felt needs in my life: security and acceptance.  (Those can be hard to come by in the ninth grade social scene.)  I realized that Christ's death and resurrection meant that I didn't have to prove myself to the world (or to myself) by securing the regard of a pretty girl.  (That was the way I tended to measure myself.)  I relinquished the desire to achieve perfection on my own, and instead banked my life on Christ.

By the time I finished tenth grade, I'd seen the truth of the gospel affirmed in my life to such a degree that I decided I wanted to pursue a career that would help other people experience the same thing.  At the time I was thinking I wanted to become a pastor, but I tried to remain open to whatever opportunities might come.

I got involved in the DiscipleMakers fellowship at Gettysburg College right at the beginning of my freshman year.  I found there a group of students who lived out their faith in earnest, which I saw right away in the care they showed for me.  In particular, an upperclassman named Jared took the initiative to befriend me and help me along in my growth in the Lord.  I didn't know to attach the label to it until later, but this was my first experience of a personal ministry of discipleship.

Back to the computers for a minute.  Two things happened during the spring semester of my sophomore year: I added a Computer Science minor to my Philosophy major, and I discovered Linux.  My first distro was Red Hat 6.0, which sported kernel version 2.2.5.  I immediately became a Linux advocate and by the middle of my junior year I had moved to using Linux exclusively on my computer.  I enjoyed the freedom it granted me in tinkering and the feeling that limitless capability was only one or two configuration files away.  Still, I thought of computers only in terms of a hobby and not as a career path.

The two threads came together at DiscipleMakers' Fall Conference that year (1999).  It was there that Bill Dripps used Linux and open-source software as an illustration of how the Lord provides all kinds of opportunities to impact the world for Christ.  He described how DiscipleMakers intended to use these technologies not only to meet its own needs but also to bless other ministries.  A whole new vista opened to me as I saw the union of two hitherto distinct passions in my life.  Bill did an "altar call" of sorts for techies, inviting anyone interested to talk more with him.  I wasn't the only one to come forward eagerly.

I did a summer internship with DiscipleMakers between my junior and senior years (the very first summer internship DM ever conducted!)  By this time, DiscipleMakers' ministry--particularly Ben Hagerup's discipling me--had had a significant impact on my life.  Getting a closer view of DiscipleMakers' ministry through my internship convinced me that this is where I wanted to serve.  I joined DM upon my graduation in 2001, and joined the Systems Department upon reaching my financial support goal in February of 2002.

There's lots of stories I could tell about what's happened since then, but those are best left for another time.  Suffice it to say that I've found working in a largely technical job for an intensely personal ministry is a wonderful combination.  I am eager to see where the Lord will lead us next!

P.S. I can't neglect to mention the most significant recent event in my life: last October I married my wonderful wife Carin.  I see it as a shining example of God's goodness and faithfulness that He would bring us together!

 

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Meet the Department: Tom Hallman

Meet the Department: Tom Hallman

Posted by Tom Hallman at Feb 26, 2009 11:50 AM |

I'll follow Jason's lead in writing an entry introducing myself. Though I was brought up going to church, the incredible truths of the gospel of Christ either weren't preached or I didn't understand them. (I suspect it was both.) In high school I declared myself an atheist and had no intention of looking back.

While I didn't have Christ in my life, I did often had access to a computer. When I was in elementary school, my mom worked as a teacher's aid, which means she often stayed well-past when I'd otherwise have gone home. So I'd occupy myself in the computer lab, mostly playing The Oregon Trail on their Apple IIes. A few years later we got our first “IBM-compatible” 25 mHz screamer, and I was thrilled. One day I discovered, quite by accident, what BASIC was. Within days I had written a text-based Star Trek battle simulator (which I'm sure totally rocked.) In high school I took some computer courses and found a way to skip out of study hall (and often even gym) in order to spend time in the computer lab designing “games” or chatting on IRC. Still, in all this, I simply considered my tinkering a “hobby”.

The turning point for me (career-wise) was after I had written a networked chat program (think of it like AOL Instant Messenger, though I'd never used or heard of such a thing at the time) and installed it on the school's network... not exactly with the school administrator's blessing. A week or so after I'd done that, I was walking past a computer lab and glanced in – every one of the 20-some students in the room was chatting with one another using my program! It was at that point that I decided that I wanted to write software for a living.

A couple years later I was off to Bloomsburg University with the intention of getting a degree in computer science, getting a job with Microsoft, and then taking over the world. (It went something like that in my head, anyway.) What I certainly hadn't intended was to meet the Lord there...

The turning point for me (faith-wise) was during my sophomore year (1999) when I met Dave Kieffer, the DiscipleMakers Staff at Bloomsburg at the time. Dave shared the gospel with me in a way I'd never heard before, both through the Scriptures and through his life. I realized that, despite my best arguments, Christianity was the only thing that truly spoke to who I was, what I was and what the Solution was. Over a period of months I went from doubting everything about Christ to eagerly wanting to know as much as I could, and then wanting to share Him with the world! Slowly the gospel took root in my life, and I've never looked back. I praise God that He provided a perfect Savior to die for me, a hard-hearted rebel.

In 2001 I did a summer internship with DiscipleMakers and I saw firsthand how much God could use my computer skills to make a huge impact in the advancement of the Kingdom. And in DiscipleMakers I found an organization that was even more interested in helping me to conform into Christ's image than they were in how much code I could write. Because of this, after working at another job for a year after graduation, I joined DiscipleMakers.

I've since seen even more clearly that it's not just me DM is discipling. It's every Staff, every student, every nation. I'm honored, delighted and deeply thankful that I get to be a part of it!

PS: Though I do a lot more than write code these days, I still really enjoy programming! In fact, my main hobby these days is working on an open-source donation management system called Grace. If you'd be interested in helping me in any of these ways, please let me know!

Phone: (814) 769-1329
Email: hallmant@dm.org
Also find me on Facebook!

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