Techmissionary Interview – Tim Young – Lightsys.org
I don’t expect that any of the techmissionary folks interviewed by MissionalTech want to be in any sort of lime-light, but these are people who work and support the use of technology in missional ways to further God’s kingdom and support the Church and their perspectives are worth sharing.
“LightSys is a fellowship of believers serving and praying together for spiritual fruitfulness and the fulfillment of Jesus’ Great Commission. LightSys partners in the evangelisation of the world by providing IT consulting, training, software development, and missions mobilization, to equip missions and missionaries and provide the knowledge and contacts needed to support their technology. We desire to see missionaries serving with greater effectiveness, keeping their mind on their task, not their computers, thus redeeming technology — for God’s Kingdom.” (from LightSys.org)
This week we hear from Tim Young of LightSys. (LightSys.org)
First up, tell us what things you enjoy doing when you’re not working with LightSys?
As we travel, we live out of other people’s homes. So the things we like to do are things that are portable and can be done in many places. One thing we like to do is hike. And I enjoy doing fun programming projects for family.
What is LightSys all about, describe the ministry?
LightSys is a ministry that helps mission organizations with their computer needs. I am a “field consultant”, which means I travel to visit the missions and help them out. That is often done through teaching and training, instead of just troubleshooting.
What inspired the development/creation of the ministry?
I am a missionary-kid, and I saw the need as a child. Greg Beeley and I were friends in college, and we swapped notes along the way and realized our visions were similar.
How do digital technologies support or enhance your ministry?
Most of what we do is to help missions use digital technologies to serve God better. But we also use them ourselves because it enables me to continue to serve ministries even after I leave them. Part of what I do is to document the work we do and the training we give, and I store it in digital format. This enables me to answer questions after I have left. And I do a lot of telecommuting, helping out ministries at a distance after I have left them.
Are there any key/specific scriptures which are commonly shared with your ministry staff?
Since we work with a large number of ministries, we are always coming in contact with appropriate Bible verses. We do not re-use them as often as one might think. But one of my favourites has been 1 Peter 4:10 “Each of you should use whatever gift you have received to serve others, as faithful stewards of God’s grace in its various forms.” It was instrumental in my realizing that, as a computer guy, I could serve God. When I started, most people did not realize that missions needed a lot of computer help, so very few computer people were going into missions.
If you travel to different countries, what differences stand out to you regarding technology uses you’ve observed?
There is a lot of high-end technology all over the place. But it costs a lot more to have it. For the most part, the technology overseas is either of lesser quality (older, more beat-up, etc.) or not used as well as it could. Usually the main thing that is lacking is enough creativity and training to use the stuff they have. Higher levels of technology keep getting pushed farther and farther into the world, and the people who are using it tend to use it very creatively. But as westerners, we tend to either bring technology that the area is not prepared to use, or we do not see how the current technology is being used. We often try to force technology in areas and places it is not a good fit for. At the same time, there is a great need to use technology better, from getting servers to automatically shut off when the power goes off, to taking older equipment and finding ways to keep it useful.
I usually end up doing my devotions on my e-reader. I usually do not end up sharing the Gospel myself. I usually am working with missionaries who are already Christians. But many of the missionaries I work with use technology to share the Gospel. That is often done through web-pages, email, videos, and building training materials for other things (AIDS awareness, etc) that contain the gospel.
If you had an unlimited budget, what technology would you equip your ministry, yourself and your staff with this week?
Technology keeps changing. Buying something this week will not help us next week. What we usually need to do is see what the people on the field are using and use that. But technology is not our limiting factor. We need people. While we may be able to hire people, we find that we really need people who have a higher dedication to service than just someone we hire. And you cannot buy a heart for missions. That is something God needs to build into someone.
How do you collaborate with others in your ministry teams using technology?
We use a number of technologies, from Skype and Teamspeak to Mindmup and Google-Docs. We use Owncloud, email, and a whole collection of tools. Just like asking a construction foreman what tools they use to build a house, the collection would be huge if I put it all down. We are techies, we know a lot about the tools available to us in this day and age, and we try to use as many of them as we can, so we can teach others how to use them effectively as well.
Are you closely connected with any other ministries because of technology?
Yes, and no. It is not the technology that ties us together in the end. Technology gives us a reason to be connected. But very quickly what ties us together is a relationship. Many people ask me questions about technology, and we like to discuss how to use the latest gadget to serve God. But what really connects us is a common heart for ministry with technology. For using the cool tools that God has allowed to come about in this world as tools for furthering God’s kingdom.
What hardware and software do you find yourself using most frequently?
Most of my software tools are on my laptop. Probably the most commonly shared piece of software was “The Dude.” But the vendors who made that recently changed it so it is no longer as useful to missions as it used to be. Other software I often recommend is “HDSentinel”, a tool for determining if a hard drive is going bad. But the reason I recommend those often is because they are not commonly needed. The most common tools are ones that most of the techies I work with already know about.
What technology developments over the last 5 years have impacted your ministry activities most significantly?
The tool that has completely changed the face of what we do is called “Bomgar.” It is a tool for working on computers remotely. There are now many other tools like it, but the Bomgar company early on made a decision to give a lot of its product to missions. Because of that, many missions use it. Being able to remotely access a computer and work on it allows us to service computers around the world even if we are not there.
What technology skills are you looking for when recruiting new ministry staff?
The needs are so great that the skills we are looking for are not as important as the heart behind the skills. We usually find that skills can be learned, but the heart for missions can only be given by God. That said, we are looking for system administrators, programmers, and even office-staff (We need recruiters, people to help manage the finances, and staff to help run our college intern program). Basically, anyone with a beating-heart could be helpful.
Instead of finding all the technologies that look like they are cool technologies, I listen to the people using technologies and find the ones that are being effective.
Where do you go for new technology information as you plan ahead for future ministry activities?
I actually do things in the reverse of what many people think I should do. Instead of finding all the technologies that look like they are cool technologies, I listen to the people using technologies and find the ones that are being effective. Today’s market is driven by people inventing a new widget, and telling you that you must have it. If we tried to learn about every new thing out there, we could not function. So what we do is we find which of all the new things are being adopted, and which of them are actually being effective. Then we focus on learning what we can about those. We do have friends who follow many of the trends out there, and can help people who are trying to predict what the future technologies will be. But I find it is more useful, both to me, and to the missions I serve, if I focus on what is working, not what is trendy.
What trends in technology are inspiring developments in your ministry?
The cloud, mobility, and the fact that everyone now needs to have lots of electronic devices is really pushing the limits of technology in missions. At the same time, it is opening huge doors for mobile ministry. There are a lot of really cool projects for using mobile technologies to reach areas where we have not been able to reach before.
How do you use available technologies to communicate what your ministry is doing?
We have a Facebook presence, send out our prayer-letters over email, and use some of those old-fangled technologies. LightSys is using a system called Kardia, which allows us to have a mobile app that sends notifications to our supporters if we wanted to use it. It is funny that we, as a technology company, prefer to pour our energies into other ministries. Our own infrastructure is pretty good, but we tend to pour most of our energy into those we serve. I guess it is like the barber whose own hair is always a mess…
Have you any stories you can share where you’ve clearly seen God doing things through digital technologies that wouldn’t have been possible without it?
I do love what the Lord is doing through technology. But it is not technology that enables or hinders God, it is the willingness and obedience of His people. If God wants something done, He can do it, whether or not there are people to do it through. It is the same with technology; if God wants something done, He can use the humblest of technology to serve His bidding. Current technology has been used to do many things. But most of the things we have seen done are the things behind the scenes. Technology has mapped out things like the “10/40 window”, has compiled the lists of “unreached peoples”, and helped missions focus on the areas of most need. But, the technology is only a tool. Technology enables us to have great email lists (like Operation World’s email list) that enables us to participate in focused prayer. But, God is not listening to the email, He is still listening to the hearts of those who are obedient.
What is really going on is the same thing that has been going on for ages. God raises up His people, and equips them to serve Him using the skills and talents He has given. It is our task to do the best we can with what we have been given. At one point in time, the wheel was the latest in new technology. Today, the wheel is used so often that we take it for granted. There was a time when we thought missions was only for doctors, preachers, and airplane pilots. But, even back then, we needed the body of Christ. God uses whatever we have, and whatever we are willing to give to Him to use. And He wants to use all of us. Lawyers, Doctors, plumbers, teachers, preachers, and people who pray.
Where do you go for technical support in using digital technologies?
I have a list of friends who know different technologies. If the problem I am facing is one of those technologies, I go to those friends. We have an email list of people who are willing to be asked questions about different things, and I also go to that list. But I usually go to Google and see what the Internet says.
Within the Christian mission community are there other ministries you regularly connect with for support or collaboration?
Yes. There are a number of us who work together. Most of us all attend the ICCM conference. That is a conference that is run by volunteers, which gets us all together so we can share ideas and collaborate. We actually have a contest during the conference, where people share the cool things they are doing. The various projects are ranked by how well they impact God’s kingdom, as well as how well they encourage collaboration.
Is there a software or hardware reseller you’d like to give a subtle promotion for?
I always like to talk about Bomgar, NodePing, Caldwell Global, KingdomIT, Hands-To-Serve, and Develop CENTS. The hard thing is that I have seen hundreds of servant-hearted people serving God through their business. LightSys is careful to “advertise” people who can help the given situation. Sometimes that is the struggling PC dealer down the street, and other times it is a ministry half-way around the world. So, maybe instead of mentioning businesses, I should encourage people to be the light where they are.
What influences your technology purchasing decisions the most?
There are hundreds of technologies out there. Instead of buying the latest, or best, it usually works to buy the technology that you can use effectively. That means that the first thing I take into consideration is the skill-set of the people buying technology. Then, I discern if they should learn new skills, or remain with the skills they have. At the end, we think about the technologies themselves. Again, there are always many ways to successfully do something technologically. But there are usually much fewer ways that the people being affected by, or managing the technology, can survive. The people are usually what needs to drive the technology choice.
As you observe people around you using digital technologies how do you see them using technology missionally?
I have seen everything from Christians participating in online games, to holding public online debates with Muslim religious leaders. There are web-pages that proclaim the Gospel, and great ways to pass along the Gospel in audio (or video) form using cell-phones.
From your role in a technology ministry what technologies do you see in the next five years having impact for the Gospel?
Right now the main area of technology seems to be mobile devices. But what has happened is that the other technologies have taken a back-seat, it does not mean they are any less important. For example, most mobile ministry requires a PC or server to do the preparation for the things that will be passed along by the mobile device. It is like the wheel. The technology is still important, it is just falling to the side as being comfortable and normal, instead of being the latest and most interesting.
What app are you using more than any other?
I do not have a smart-phone. I personally do not use apps. We have an iPad, which we use mainly for entertainment. The main thing I use on it is an e-reader.
How can people best connect with your ministry?
We have a website, http://lightsys.org that has a good way to get in contact with us. Whether you want a representative to talk to you about how you can serve God with your skills, if you want to do a short-term trip, or even support us financially, the website is the easiest first place to start. Or, if you want to get a feel for what technology in missions is, I would recommend attending the ICCM conference (iccm.org)