Linked List // November 27 2015 by Brandon Jones

Source: CAP

Source: CAP

On the Christmas Story and Refugees. by Brandon Jones


I’ve got a lot rolling around in my head and heart but before I launch into the specifics I need to sort a few things out. Call this a preface to lay out the ground rules as the issue I’m going to be approaching is political and does seem to be making people tense. Me included in that. So, here’s some things to consider if you are going to read on.

  • This post is predominantly about personal conviction rather than the nitty gritty details of national and/or international political philosophy (or theatre depending on how you view the politics playing out around you). How you apply (or don’t apply) what I write is up to you. I’m not here to tell you how to vote (if you are blessed enough to live in a place where that means something).
  • Following from this, I’m not expecting to change anyone’s deeply and sincerely held political beliefs with my digital tap of a key. I simply would hope to help us understand and/or rethink our sub conscious aims and the language we use to reflect them (it does matter!). We live in a flattened world so hopefully we all will seriously consider how what flows from our hearts affects those around us (even if they are quite far from us by distance).
  • Also, I find it important to wade in understanding the hermeneutical lenses through which we read the biblical text knowing full well that a middle class American likely approaches and reads the text a bit differently than a Syrian follower of Jesus holding on to his gospel text tightly as he drifts in a raft between Libya and Italy.
  • Finally I think it’s important to note that a post on the internet will never give the topic sufficient justice. Don't expect it to. I hope to spawn some honest discussion and introspection. I won't tolerate personal attacks in the comments here though (personal attacks have no part in honest discussion).

The Advent

Advent is upon us (soon). Technically starting next Sunday I believe, it’s the time of year where we expectantly look towards the arrival of Christ. It’s a time full of reflection, hope and eventual celebration.

Typically in advent, time is spent between expectation of the incarnation (when God takes on flesh as Christ) and expectation of the parousia (when Christ returns to reign). Typically four key concepts are explored:

  • Hope because God keeps His promises.
  • Preparation because we must ready ourselves for the coming of Christ.
  • Joy because the coming of Christ is something to celebrate.
  • And finally love because this is who God is (identified in the act of sending His son to take on flesh).

This is a loose categorization and varies somewhat from tradition to tradition but loosely those that follow advent take something akin to this trajectory culminating in the celebration of the birth of Christ on December 25.

There is something here, something in this gift (and its expectation) that should particularly move us today. It’s buried a bit deeper in the Christ story but as we wait expectantly we might uncover it and hopefully we’ll be moved in more compassionate directions.

No Place To Lay His Head

The Christmas story kicks off to some degree with a census. The ruler of the world’s major empire decides it’s time to know a bit more about the lands he controls forcing everyone to return to their birthplace to be counted and measured. Then there is this young couple that gets caught up in the annoyance of this process; it wasn’t ideal traveling back to the husband’s home town, especially considering the impending birth of their firstborn. In this case that town they were going to was Bethlehem.

At that time Bethlehem wasn’t a large buzzing metropolis full of hotels and such. It’s estimated to have had a population somewhere between 300 and 1000. Today it has about 28000 people (but about 20000 Palestinian refugees that have been living in refugee camps since 1948 struggling with a secure place to sleep much like the ancient family we are following). Upon arrival this young couple searched for a place to stay but had no luck finding anything until an open innkeeper let them move into his barn. They could finally settle in for the census. They thought that they might have no place to lay their heads but some one came through with a barn. Finally.

And then a baby came. Incarnation. God made flesh with all of the mystery that that inspires. This baby found security in a trough full of straw though. That’s not really a regal setup. And not really that secure if we think about it. It’s definitely not really what that particular baby deserved. Personally it’s not what any baby deserves if we are being truthful. But it’s what Jesus had because there was no room in the inn.

Jesus Was A Refugee

Fast forward a little bit and we get some newcomers on this delicate and sweet scene. Three wise men from the east came seeking this child. They started with the regional leader - a king - presuming, I imagine, that the child was born in his household. But the Christ child was in a trough and not a cushy bed of a palace. This particular king reacted much like leaders in empires the world over do: not well. Oh he smiled and sent those three wise men on but begged them to come back through him so that he could ki - I mean worship - that child.

Those wise men though found that child and celebrated his arrival. They gave gifts worthy of a king. And having been warned, they left avoiding the empire’s king.

And as it turns out, that family — the couple and their new child - had to go to.

Empire showed its true colors. On discovering the birth of a threat, no matter how humble his abode, empire demanded the sacrifice of his life. Sacrifice is forever a dominate ritual of empire particularly of those that threaten power structures (as that baby born in a humble trough did).

That family had the blessing of a dream to warn them. A lot of other families didn’t. That family left for and found refuge in Egypt. As refugees. Those other families lost every child aged 2 and under.

Just Like Me

Well not just like me. I haven’t had to flee the land of my birth because of persecution. But millions of people roaming the globe today have had to. They have nowhere to turn. The innkeepers have slammed the door in their faces. The empire(s) they flee hold knives to their throats. Their homes have been demolished. Their lives turned completely upside down. Everything about their world has been shattered.

They typically don’t have angels directing their every move. Thank God the wise men did. Thank God Joseph & Mary did.

But God has seeded this world with people who claim the kingdom of that Christ child. People who claim to understand Him and His story and the road that He paved for us to follow. We don’t just follow blindly on an uncertain path - we follow Him. In life into death, we follow.

A Third Way?

Nationalism dictates strong ties and dedication to particular nation-states. These states don’t necessarily align cleanly with the family those who follow Jesus are adopted into. It’s important to recognize that this should create internal tension that we who follow Jesus must deal with on a daily basis. One means of navigating it is by being willing to love that which is other (in this case, that which is beyond the bounds of the nation-state) while processing the relative truths claimed by those speaking for their empire.

We do this by listening. We do this by not jumping to conclusions. We do this by not assuming the worst of those who aren’t like us. By not accepting wholesale the myths fed to us as truth. There are a lot of these myths floating around. The christmas story should be tugging at us as an internal compass saying ”there is something more here” but if social media is to be believed, it’s not actively doing this, at least not in any significant way. But maybe the advent season will change this.

Let’s look at some of the more common truths claimed by those in power. These quickly crumble into myth when examined a bit more closely:

  1. The US borders are overrun with Syrian refugees. How could we take anymore? The truth is that the US has accepted just over 2000 since conflict began in Syria in 2011. We have committed to an additional 10000 in the coming year. But that is nowhere near being overrun, particularly considering There are millions in the middle east (some estimates put the number in Jordan around 1.3 million, 2 million in Turkey and another million in Lebanon - oh and I guess this addresses another myth, that they aren’t being taken in the middle east) and hundreds of thousands in Europe.
  2. The US doesn’t vet Syrian refugees. This outright lie is being spread far and wide. The US has one of the most stringent entrance program for refugees. It’s actually easier to get into the US via a tourist visa. This is why we’ve only accepted just over 2000 refugees while the middle east and Europe has been flooded with millions. Read here for specifics on this from the US government. Another great resource is this post by a Christian immigration lawyer that deals specifically with refugees. A long story made short: the vetting process takes between 1 and 3 years and involves multiple checks in every possible direction.
  3. It’s only fighting-aged men that want to come into our country. This one comes from blogs and social media and seems to have originated from mis-reading UNHCR data. The actual data says that 22% of all Syrian refugees are military-aged men (and this number is only 2% in regards to Syrians in the US).

There are additional myths that elected officials and politicking candidates promote at every turn these days. Read here for further information on the 3 above and others. Much of the above info was sourced from this link and it includes detailed references for those 3 (as well as other myths).

Now lets consider some truths as well:

  1. Syrian refugees flee with guns at their backs. I sat with one Syrian family whose shop was destroyed by bombs (that also filled their sons arm with shrapnel). I sat with another who saw half of their family, fleeing in a separate van, riddled with machine gun fire near the Syrian-Jordanian border. Young and old, male and female, they are fleeing because they have no other choice. There choice would forever be Syria but that’s not an option available to them currently.
  2. These refugees aren’t as welcomed as they should be and/or have little hope for a sustainable life in the gulf countries. Those that are taking them in allow them to exist but not much else (no work, no school, etc). The designated UNHCR camps are overflowing. Still millions have settled here (to lead a very unsettled life, at least for the moment).
  3. They have little to no good choices for those clamoring that the men ”stay and fight!”. That response sends them mostly straight into the arms of daesh as there is little in the way of alternative choices. Daesh found reasonable success in Syria as they were fighting the dictatorial regime that many in the country hated. A friend met one refugee that spoke of this reality: he said if he went back he’d have no choice but to fight with daesh rather than Assad. There are other options out there that require a ton of courage, like joining up with the white helmets or taking Jesus into the war zones, but few know of these or are willing to take the risk they necessitate.
  4. They want to survive most of all. This doesn’t mean that a transition will be smooth but subverting host cultures isn’t nearly as high as a priority as many people think. Most people are longing to sleep with both eyes closed, work with their hands to support their family and walk outside together without having to dodge the bullets.
  5. Their world has been shattered and they are questioning everything that they’ve ever known to be true. The first Syrian family I sat with spent about 3 hours asking question after question about Jesus. My friends and I didn’t even bring it up to begin with. They feel that what they’ve always known is lacking in some way. That doesn’t mean that they will all follow Jesus or live like a European or American but it does mean they are open to other expressions of life in ways that they weren’t before. And I don’t know of one obsessed with destroying American or European ways of life.
  6. And I’ll add one more: The Syrian refugees I’ve met are some of the most hospitable people I’ve ever met. We sat with them where they were living in their poverty (no furniture or household goods) and they served us out of their lack (mostly tea) and engaged us in the most open and honest conversations. It was an honor to spend time with them (and is one I hope to repeat one of these days).

So does this all mean that US borders need to be open to millions of refugees? Not necessarily. That’s a question for the American people and their elected officials to decide. I wish we were more open to the opportunity to host and influence this people for the name of the baby born near their territory so long ago. But others have different concerns and that’s OK. There should be honest discussion around legitimate issues.

We can’t, however, use the above myths specifically as an excuse to fear or as an excuse to keep people out. The carefully constructed myths created by politicians and pundits are nothing more than lies and lies like these should hold no sway for those trying to follow in the footsteps of the Christ who was born in a trough because there was no place else and who then had to flee as a refugee escaping persecution.

This Christmas story should embed deeply within our hearts. It should create an openness to the refugee - to those with no place to rest their war scarred heads, to those fleeing intense persecution. It should change the language we use to talk about them. They aren’t roaches or vermin or dogs or rats (as I’ve heard those who claim the name of Jesus say of them). It should make us crave truth over the myths offered to us (and which we so often blindly accept). Ultimately it should move us to compassion, whether that’s creating local space to welcome the refugee or seeing that they are cared for in their nearly locals spaces. We should intrinsically know that fear doesn’t protect us but that instead perfect loves drives out fear.

In this season as we build anticipation for the incarnation and the parousia of Christ, anticipate meeting Him in the refugees spreading across the globe.

Linked List // October 30 2015 by Brandon Jones

Where the Syrian Refugees Are Settling by Brandon Jones

This article details where the Syrian refugees are settling. I link to this as its an extremely important opportunity to practice hospitality and neighborly love and show these hurt and traumatized people what the kingdom of God looks like. To much of what I see posted on social media is full of fear and violence. That's not what is needed now.

As an aside, the great commission is pretty easy when the nations come to you.

PSA: Facebook Wants Your Junk To Be Publicly Searchable. by Brandon Jones

As the title suggests, all public posts are externally searchable now.

Macworld has the rundown and here is how to change your privacy settings:

But you can change this easily. Log into Facebook. Click the lock in the top menu to the right of the search bar. Avoid the privacy shortcuts and go straight to “see more settings.” Under Privacy Settings and Tools, it says, “Who can see my stuff?” Choose the option to “limit the audience for posts you’ve shared with friends of friends or public,” then select “limit past posts.” Facebook will ask you again if you want to limit old posts, so click again to confirm. It’s a slog, but it will make every single old post viewable to only your friends, so it’s worth the extra steps.

See the article for more details.

Linked List // October 23 2015 by Brandon Jones

  • Flash had a major security vulnerability discovered this past week. While it has been patched, it might still be a good time to just go ahead and uninstall flash from your system for keeps.
  • This is an interesting look at 18 missional leaders talking about mission today. I was a bit surprised that only 9 in 18 explicitly mentioned the Great Commission when talking about the nature of mission. (Personally I liked Alan Hirsch's response the best).
  • Ever wondered how faith healers make money? This articles interviews one just about that very topic. Found it to humanize a topic I tend to stigmatize quite well.
  • I'm not too keen on switching to Android as a platform. Sure it does some neat things but then it has this to deal with: a Cambridge study recently discovered that at least 87% of the Android devices out there have signficant security issues. That's unfortunate and not exactly accpetable in this world we live in today.

The white man in that photo | GRIOT by Brandon Jones

Sometimes photographs deceive. Take this one, for example. It represents John Carlos and Tommie Smith’s rebellious gesture the day they won medals for the 200 meters at the 1968 Summer Olympics in Mexico City, and it certainly deceived me for a long time.

I always saw the photo as a powerful image of two barefoot black men, with their heads bowed, their black-gloved fists in the air while the US National Anthem, “The Star-Spangled Banner,” played. It was a strong symbolic gesture – taking a stand for African American civil rights in a year of tragedies that included the death of Martin Luther King and Bobby Kennedy.

It’s a historic photo of two men of color. For this reason I never really paid attention to the other man, white, like me, motionless on the second step of the medal podium. I considered him a random presence, an extra in Carlos and Smith’s moment, or a kind of intruder. Actually, I even thought that that guy – who seemed to be just a simpering Englishman – represented, in his icy immobility, the will to resist the change that Smith and Carlos were invoking in their silent protest. But I was wrong.


This was a really, really fascinating read. Well worth the length especially if you enjoy history at all (and it's not at all my favorite subject but I still really enjoyed this bit of overlooked Olympic/Civil Rights history).

What Role Do Outsiders Play? by Brandon Jones

In development work and church planting work, it’s fairly common in this day and age to question what role an outsider plays. There has been an important shift in recognizing the great need to empower strong local leadership, particularly where sustainability and long term transformation is desired. Where this isn’t a priority you often see colonialism rehashed and projects that fall apart as soon as outsiders leave.

I’ve often wondered if it wouldn’t just be better if people like us left; in our place we’d hope that local people would establish and run with everything. It would look indigenous this way and it’d likely last. I’ve never been able to shake the sense that we are called to this though - that we should be doing what we are doing (just making sure that what we are doing is responsible and sustainable).

To back this up, I once had the opportunity to hear a strong local African leader speak to these very points in the organization we predominantly partner with. Trying to be provocative I think, another American friend asked this African man if us westerners should even be here (or if we should just pack up and go home). His response was quite helpful and I thought I’d expand upon it here for those that might be wondering the same thing. He speaks more out of the church planting context than other developmental works but he is involved in many things and partners with many groups and I think the application spans many different areas.

In his response, he pinpoints 7 clear ways that describe partnership and details why we shouldn’t just pack up and leave. Here, find each way and some commentary on what this means and why it’s important.

7 Ways Outsiders Can Help Fuel Movement & Transformation

  1. By Providing Clear Vision. When we partner through vision, we help to identify what local leaders are called to lead into. This doesn’t mean we necessarily provide the vision wholesale. It’s an identification process. It means we take time to listen and tease out the perceived needs and desired direction a particular community is moving in. Often we are able to aid in articulating and casting the particulars of vision. Often we are able to paint that picture of what could be and point others directly to it. This is quite important as you cannot gain what you cannot see. Further, where vision isn’t clear human nature tends to dictate that we wander, mostly aimlessly, in directions that distract from what’s actually important.

  2. By Providing Necessary Training. You can’t really understate the importance of training. With the right knowledge and training people can go much further than they could without it. Often an outside perspective is able to discern the type and depth of training needed to move a leader or community from point A to point B. Training also insures that we are working ourselves out of positions, particularly positions of power, as we train local leaders to fill them. It’s an important “high impact / low visibility” thing we can do. If we are doing our jobs well, we should be giving our best away so that we remain invisible and locals step into the forefront.  

  3. By Providing Necessary Marketing. It’s important to let the world know what is going on. As example, the Syrian refugee crisis started several years ago but is just now capturing the world’s attention. While we talked about it back then, not everyone did and many people across the globe were surprised at the magnitude of the problem. As outsiders we can help clue the rest of the world into what’s going on on by capturing information and events in order to make them known to the world outside. This is a sensitive process though - it’s not always acceptable and permissible to share. It’s also a process where we need to be careful not to fall into slacktivism (activism from our lazy boys that doesn’t actually do anything, like simply changing a profile picture) or exploitation: we always tell the story out of relationship and with permission and only where it will bring positive impact. Where we share the story for our own gain we are not helping but hurting, often tremendously. We can aid significantly through the marketing and awareness process but only where it’s done sensitively in partnership with local leadership.

  4. By Providing Necessary Administration. Developing the proper administrative efforts for supporting, empowering and encouraging work can be quite the challenge, specifically where it’s never been done before. It’s definitely not a glamorous role (most people don’t want to be stuck in an office) but it is a vital role in many circumstances. This is something we can teach locals to do and succeed at easily particularly as more often then not administrative efforts do not have to be incredibly elaborate and complex: just simple structure to aid the effort.

  5. By Identifying Emerging Leaders. If as outsiders we are able to successful identify emerging local leaders it becomes a real gift to the community as we encourage and empower them to take an active role in the work at hand. Often we will see and encourage potential where many will ignore it, especially those within a community. Looking for the outside in we carry a different perspective that might be a boon in this area (connecting potential leaders with appropriate positions). 

  6. By Identifying What Matters. Put in a different way, it’s not about making people look like us. In the context of church work, that’s focusing on the Gospel and not my preferred American version of church. In development work that’s through identifying solutions desired by indigenous culture rather than acting as colonial overseers. By separating our own culture (that means for me my “American-ness”) from the desired message itself, we enable the message to flourish locally. Where we don’t do that we create weird hybrid people that take on aspects of our culture that just aren’t reproducible and limit long term sustainability. And by modeling this, as local leadership seeks to take the next step in helping neighboring communities as they’ve helped there own, they will carry this notion with them.

  7. By Identifying Resources Locally (And Afar). We can help identify what a community already has that they might be overlooking. And where there might be lack - we can help find the necessary resources to compensate for any lack. Often through looking from the outside in we are able to see the hidden strengths that locals often overlook. Often the flip might be true as well: we can perceive potential needs that locals might also miss. We should be helping them identify these things. And no, this doesn’t mean we always bring in the money. Resource can mean a lot of different things and is very dependent on the community, project and task. When the focus is solely on money, particularly in the context of what can be brought in, we often hurt communities more than we help them (through creating dependency, creating false expectations, limiting sustainability and local reproducibility, etc).

So that’s the perspective of one local African leader that perceives the importance of partnering with outsiders like us. We’ve seen the strength in this as well and it drives us to keep walking in this direction. Let me know in the comments if you have any additional thoughts!

Linked List // Oct 2 2015 by Brandon Jones

Apologies for the time off - I've been traveling the past couple of weeks with limited computer/network access! Here is a bit of news I've caught over the past few weeks though:

  • 5 permissions needed by mission or non-profit workers. She applies it specifically to missionaries but I think the principles carry over to those in the development space. A very good article to think through if you know folks in either of these spaces.
  • I keep seeing articles like this and know that most android devices don’t get timely (or sometimes any) updates so I just really don’t want to jump wholesale into that platform.
  • Curious about the 10 most hardcore productivity hacks? Check that link. Good luck!
  • Here are some great tips & tricks for iOS 9.
  • My primary focus of study in this brief sabbatical time I have is on leadership development. I’ve got a list of books to read and have my eyes open for good articles to learn from as well. To this end, I found this piece to be quite helpful. It focuses on small group leaders but translates well into what we do. I’m also looking forward to the release of Servants and Fools which develops a Biblical theology of leadership.

Lament in Worship by Brandon Jones

James K.A. Smith recent piece on Ryan Adams’ cover of 1989 is the best piece I’ve read on this cover album. It’s not a review per se but instead discusses how it relates to worship.

I know that probably sounds funny (it’s certainly not a worship album) but what he has to say is really good and accurately places the album (at least in my mind). Long story short:

Despite lyrics that detail deep lament, Taylor Swift’s 1989 is incredibly upbeat, candy-coated, pop fun (basically the positive spin we want to pretend to be in). Adams’ version cuts through this sugary shell and brings you back to the heart break and minor chords that we mostly live in day to day.

Just like worship music should but all to often doesn’t.

As to the album itself: musically Swifts is definitely the better version but I really enjoy Adams take too.

Linked List // Sept 11 2015 by Brandon Jones

When Opportunity Comes Knocking by Brandon Jones

The Church in the west has an amazing opportunity at its doorsteps. Syrians are desperate for answers, relief and probably most importantly, a home. The country is actively being shredded by a civil war that led to the rise of an opportunistic extremist “state”. 4 million Syrians have actively fled their country. 3 million Iraqis have been internally displaced (and will likely flee if things worsen). As many of those affected are Islamic & Arab you might think that the wealthiest Middle Eastern countries would respond but unfortunately they aren’t.

It’s been a year since I spent time in the Middle East working with Syrian refugees. We were in a country where they could be but they couldn’t work - couldn’t go to school - couldn’t really do anything but be. So we, partnered with a local church, helped deliver parcels necessary for life (mats for beds, blankets, food, diapers for the babies and anything else necessary to survive). It was such an amazing time where we heard many heartbreaking stories but had many more reasons to hope.

Like - they were some of the most gracious people I’ve ever met. Some of the most hospitable. Every home we went to we were immediately welcomed in. Out of their lack they gave to us of what they had. Tea at one home. Some cut up apple at another. A little piece of candy somewhere else. We’d sit on bare floors in bare rooms and listen as they served and shared. I met one 12 year old whose family was trying to figure out surgery for the shrapnel in his arm. Another who lost several friends and family to gun fire as they crossed the border. And a woman and her daughter whose husband worked construction illegally just to try and keep some food in front of them. All of their stories involved trauma. They longed for their homeland. They clinged to any bit of hope they could find.

Amidst this trauma and brokenness many are searching out why. What’s the truth that undergirds their situation? Where are the lies? Many are crying out for God to speak to them in a meaningful way that provides some sort of hope, some sort of peace and maybe some sort of justice. What they’ve known and seen isn’t working.

Meanwhile in the west many of us claim the name of someone who understands the plight of the refugee: Jesus. After all Jesus started his human life as a political refugee running from an extremist regime (I’d call killing all the children Jesus’ age extreme at least - sounds a bit like what we hear of ISIS at least). And Jesus grew up understanding the importance of welcoming the stranger with open arms. His people find themselves as strangers more often than not (see Luke 10 as a starting point) and Jesus identifies our ability to welcome with the inheritance of his Kingdom:

Then the king will say to those at his right hand, ‘Come, you that are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world; for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me.’ (Matthew 25:34-36)

And it’s certainly something that God’s people were supposed to understand (not that they always did). You shall not wrong or oppress a resident alien, for you were aliens in the land of Egypt (Exodus 22:21). The Israelites spent significant time as refugees, as captives, enslaved and oppressed between times of blessing and their own rule. How they were to treat foreigners themselves was well understood. Or at least should have been.

This history - this legacy - of hospitality and welcome should be something that runs deep in our blood. It’s how the kingdom is established and expanded. We were all once foreigners to Jesus’ kingdom but He welcomed us in. His rule and reign gave new hope - new peace - justice - grace - salvation. It should be something we gladly welcome others into. Crisis like these present real and tangible opportunities to live like Jesus. It’s an opportunity to not just pray but also see Your kingdom come Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.

It seems most of the articles I read root themselves in fear (for our own security, opportunity, peace). Headlines like, ”Muslim Trojan Horse?” riddle social media. They ignore the opportunity to live as Jesus and embrace the attitude that says “no“ to the kingdom of God.

Opportunity is knocking. Will we open the door?

Linked List // Sept 4 2015 by Brandon Jones

  • I love this article in ChristianityToday on mentoring as discipleship. So often we strive to so finely script discipleship that we render it inert when it should be more of an intentional relationship that might look a lot like mentoring.
  • I'm a firm believer in packing light these days. If you need a reason to, check out this article on reasons to consider it.
  • I found this to be a helpful article in the current political climate. With as much complaining and moaning (and at times serious name calling) we'd be wise to remember the call to prayer.
  • Taylor Swift, with a major party foul:

Swift's music is entertaining for many. She should absolutely be able to use any location as a backdrop. But she packages our continent as the backdrop for her romantic songs devoid of any African person or storyline, and she sets the video in a time when the people depicted by Swift and her co-stars killed, dehumanized and traumatized millions of Africans. That is beyond problematic.

Hopefully one day we'll have a better understanding (as Americans) how to treat colonial issues.

PSA: 1Password is on sale right now by Brandon Jones

My favorite password manager is on sale right now. In this day and age, if you don't use a password manager you should consider it. It's incredibly helpful for managing complex passwords that are hard to crack, keeping you as safe and secure as you can be with things getting hacked left and right. It even has a feature called watchtower which keeps an eye on vulnerabilities and tells you when you need to change passwords.

Essential Apps For Working On The Go // September 2015 Edition by Brandon Jones

I've updated this since it's original publishing in January 2015 to reflect modifications to my workflow.

I have done a lot of travel in rural areas (and in areas some would consider difficult) and it’s only going to become more prevalent so it’s an advantage to travel with as little as possible. This means (1) limit the paper books and reading material and (2) limit the heavy electronics, like laptops.

But I do a lot of work where it’s an advantage to have access to resources like books and other training materials. A lot of what I do is wrapped up in training and coaching and mentoring others; its often necessary to have material on hand for this. So, over the past year or so I’ve been thinking through how to do this well. One aspect of this is simplifying material and making it as accessible as possible. I’ve been particularly working towards this during the holiday season and I’m quite happy with the progress I’ve made: I’m at the point where I can travel with ease with just my phone and have access to anything important that I might need.

While I still need the computer for some things (particularly for coding, designing and other creative work), I can do a lot on my phone now. I thought I’d share what I’m doing for those that might be in similar circumstances and have similar desires. Without further ado, the essentials:

The Hardware

  1. iPhone 6+: This Apple device is a beauty. I didn’t think I’d like it due to the size when it first came out but then I saw it in action from a colleague. It’s the perfect size (at least for me) for traveling and working on the go. It was well worth all that I had to sell to upgrade (I’ll miss my SLR camera though).
  2. The Case: I want to do everything I can to protect a device like this so I have the best case I could find: the Tech21 case. It has that special goo they put in motorcycle helmets to cushion your head if there is impact. It’s slim, offers great protection and is no where near as expensive as something like the OtterBox. I have a cheap fabric (but cushioned) zipper bag (I think it’s intended to be a clutch purse or something) to throw it in if it needs to ride in a bag.
  3. Powerbank: We travel to places that don’t have guaranteed electricity so it’s nice to travel with power to make things stretch as far as possible. I’m using the Intocircuit Power Castle and find it works quite well. I’d recommend it.
  4. Head Phones: Long bus rides require music or sometimes just an escape from the horrible things on the bus TV (I particularly dislike the buses playing music videos that are borderline pornographic). I love the ear pods that came with the phone so they are sufficient for me. I know some people swear by other brands and types but they unfortunately are a bit cost prohibitive to try.
  5. Stylus: Sometimes it’s nice to have a stylus to draw a napkin diagram (or something similar). I sold off my iPad but have an extra cheap stylus from Amazon that I kept around for this purpose.

The Apps

  1. Something for notes: I use Editorial for long form plain text writing and sync it via Dropbox with Ulysses III on my computer. Everything stays perfectly in sync and Editorial itself is quite nice in that I can code workflows that automate different things. For an example of sync, I started this post in Editorial, then moved to Ulysses to flesh it out. For quick bits of info I use Drafts to either temporarily store it or to funnel it out to various other places (Drafts integrates really nicely with the Editorial workflows).
  2. Document Management: I have lots of training material and other documents relevant to work so it’s nice to have access to them. Together allows me to keep my document library synced between my laptop and phone. I love that on the phone any document favorited is automatically downloaded and available. Anything else can be downloaded on-demand. In addition, it allows for slick categorization and notes and other useful features. I used to use Evernote but the premium version is pricey and the iOS app had a horrible user experience (at least for me). I really like that I now have total control over documents (Together isn’t a cloud hosted service but rather uses personal iCloud storage for syncing). NOTE: This one isn't for the feint of heart. Together has some serious iCloud syncing issues. I wish there was something that functioned like it that synced with dropbox.
  3. Task/Project Management: I have lots of tasks to do and projects to manage. Everything that needs doing gets thrown into my task inbox.Omnifocus Is my app of choice here. I’ve been a long time user and can’t imagine switching (and I really don’t want to go with something that has a monthly fee).
  4. Scanning: Everything here in East Africa seems to be based on paper. I find myself needing to scan a lot. Scanbot makes this process easy and clean: it auto snaps on the document, takes the scan and then will upload to dropbox so it’s available anywhere I’d need it. I know there are others out there but I got it free and it does the job perfectly.
  5. Messaging: Messaging is a must to stay in touch with my wife and any colleagues while on the road. Built in messaging works OK (and iMessages has a decent security record which is a plus) but my goto messaging app is Threema. It’s incredibly secure and very easy to use. I recommend everyone switch to it (and am trying to get them to). It’s cross platform too!
  6. Mail: Email is still a primary form of communication and will likely remain so for some time. So, I need to be able to easily manage it on the road. Currently Dispatch gets that job done but I’m not settled in this category. I’m looking forward to seeing how Mail Pilot 2 turns out and I kind of like Boxer (but have had stability issues on iOS 8) but Dispatch wins currently.
  7. Calendar: I got on the Fantastical bandwagon a long time ago. It’s easy to use (I love the natural language processing!) and looks great on a mobile device. I haven’t had much interest in finding anything different although I hear there are other good solutions.
  8. Bible: A Bible app is important in my line of work since most of the training I do revolves around discipleship and church planting. I used to use the YouVersion app but have found it bloated and slow lately. As a result I switched to the Accordance Bible app and love it. It’s quick, downloads the books you tell it to and is easy to use.
  9. Travel Apps: Google Maps and Apple Maps work OK in the bigger cities (like Nairobi and Kampala) but are sketchy at best outside of them. Even in the city you have to be careful; Google Maps once dumped us in an empty field at the edge of a slum in Nairobi. Rego is another great app. It works somewhat like a personal Foursquare by allowing me to build private lists of places we go by marking their location using GPS. Another decent app is Tripcase for keeping track of travel documents (hotel reservations, flight bookings, etc).
  10. Mind Mapping: Mind mapping is the primary way I plan and brainstorm. Mindnode is beautiful for this and syncs fairly seemlessly between iOS and OS X.
  11. Photo Management: Photography is a hobby of mine so I place a lot of importance on this category. VSCOcam is my goto photo app. It’s easy to use, does awesome things to pictures, has an easy photojournal feature and (at least when I got it) was free for the base. It stays on my homescreen.
  12. Podcasts: If I’m not listening to music on the hard bus trips, I do podcasts. I love to learn so this is a perfect way to facilitate some of that. Overcast is my goto app for podcast management.
  13. Social Media: it’s important to keep up with family and friends. Facebook, Instagram and Twitter allows me to do this. Unfortunately I can’t talk about a lot of the work we do as a lot of it involves working with people with messy stories that aren’t ours to tell so my facebook and instagram especially tend to revolve mostly around my adorable daughter. But lets be honest: that’s mostly what my family wants to see anyways.
  14. Books: Gerty is my e-reader of choice. I ocassionally use the Kindle app as well but I really like how Gerty functions.

Closing Thoughts

I really didn’t get into any serious workflow discussions in this post. There is a lot I could talk about there. I’ve spent a lot of time mapping it out and crafting it to work well anywhere. And it is. I’ve been able to be more productive than I could imagine using only a phone. If you are interested in any specific workflow discussion, let me know and I’ll prioritize digging into it. If you are interested in specific ways (beyond what I mentioned above) I’m using the apps, please let me know. Here’s to being more productive with a much lighter bag!

Reporting Back From CPx East Africa by Brandon Jones

I’ve successfully completed leading my first CPx East Africa (CPxEA). CPx stands for church planting experience and is [All Nations] flagship church planting & discipleship program. I’ve learned a lot about running a training event locally so I thought I’d pass on some basic details about the experience (for those that enjoy that sort of information).

The idea of CPxEA started about a year and a half ago and really began to take shape in November as I dreamed with visitors from Cape Town. I then drafted some local CPx grads from Cape Town into the process to help dream and plan and run the first CPx in the east African context.

Together we decided early on to run with it without any specific marketing. If we’d advertised & marketed it we would have gotten close to a 1000 signups but little real interest (there is a culture of moving from training to training and foreigner to foreigner). We wanted though to focus on those we knew were interested in CP through intentional discipleship. My colleagues and I specifically invited those we were discipling that were putting forth the effort to disciple others and see church planted.

In the end we had 20 students registered but 5 were unable to attend due to a variety of border and family issues. We wanted to have a smaller class size in an attempt to maximize time with students; this worked out well as all of the staff knew the students by name and even more importantly, knew their stories by the end of our time together. This ability to get to know the students I think will be invaluable in the coaching phase of CPxEA over the coming year.
 Another intentional decision was to cater predominantly to local culture rather than western culture. We did end up with 1 American student but that was quite random, last minute and unexpected. Surprisingly, we were also split almost down the middle in male-female numbers. I was actually encouraged and excited by this as women play a key role in mission.

Our venue was amazing but simple. It was very basic: dorm style beds, outdoor toilets, no running water (so bucket showers!) & mostly rice or ugali and a bit of veg for lunch and dinner. It was on about 70 acres of wildlife reserve so we would occasionally see antelope, giraffe or wildebeest as we walked to our training hall; being a lover of nature, I particularly enjoyed this as a quiet blessing from the Lord.

From a content standpoint, we tailored to who the students were: individuals in rural African contexts, some with limited education, sometimes struggling through life. This means we intentionally wanted to focus holistically on life & not just the practicals of mission. We ended up having 2 concurrent tracks that tied together really nicely in the end: the first was the CP & discipleship skills that made the program a CPx and the second revolved around worldview and personal development matters. About 2/3rds of our time was spent in track 1 with the rest of our time spent in track 2. We started the training off casting vision of the goal and ended by pulling most everything taught together in a comprehensive model of what sustainable and healthy movements look like.

For those that might be interested, track 2 included topics like financial management (both personal & business), time management, leading our families well, kingdom culture/worldview understanding & generally having vision for where our lives are heading. We went as deep as we could in the time that we had but we see this as the beginning - not the end - of training. We also did nightly discovery Bible studies (DBSs) walking through the book of Acts so that we could pull these varied threads from Acts together to tell the story of the first churches.
 Our time bringing things together worked really, really well; the students seemed to grasp it all in the model presented. It’s a slight revision to the common characteristics of CPM that David Garrison first wrote about that I found in a book called ”The Wheel Model”. 
 Our top 4 dynamic sessions were probably Discovering Church (taught by my friend [Noah Kaye]), Biblical Family Values (taught by my Kenyan friend George), African Traditional Religion vs Jesus (introduced by me & then facilitated by George & and my Ugandan friend Wilson) & then Business as Mission (taught by the senior leader in Cape Town, Neil Hart). The middle 2 were particularly important as they pressed into & challenged the traditional African worldview.

I had 2 primary short term goals & 2 primary long term goals to be worked out for CPxEA: a) Empower East African CP coaches & trainers (ST), b) Train East African disciple makers (ST), c) identify emerging East African CP leaders for coaching & mentoring (LT) & d) Identify potential AN members (LT). A worked out well, I think. B also went well, though we view this as the start of the process. C & D are both long term goals that will be worked out in the internship process & beyond.

I’ve wrote above about an “internship”; this starts now. Each student has a primary coach (this is the person that invited them except in the case of the individuals from YWAM). I’m primary for a few students as well but will also be working directly with the coaches & intentionally visiting all of the students that are following thru in the latter half of the internship (primary coaches are taking point in the first half to build relationship & authority).

We learned a lot in this process. Hopefully future CPxEAs will run more smoothly because of the groundwork laid here. It a joy and a privilege to be able to train, mentor and coach in this context. I look forward to the years ahead as result of the groundwork laid here.

Linked List // Aug 14 2015 by Brandon Jones

Our Founding Fathers included Islam - by Brandon Jones

One year later, in 1784, Washington theoretically enfolded Muslims into his private world at Mount Vernon. In a letter to a friend seeking a carpenter and bricklayer to help at his Virginia home, he explained that the workers’ beliefs—or lack thereof—mattered not at all: “If they are good workmen, they may be of Asia, Africa, or Europe. They may be Mahometans [Muslims], Jews or Christian of an[y] Sect, or they may be Atheists.” Clearly, Muslims were part of Washington’s understanding of religious pluralism—at least in theory.

Fascinating look at what the Founding Fathers thought of Islam. With all of the anti rhetoric being thrown around, it's nice to consider things like this.