From Ning to Grou.ps

When I heard early last week that Ning would be dropping its free offerings and going completely to being a paid service, it didn’t worry me too much.  Although I have a Ning network, it’s never grown beyond a handful of members.  Still, I wanted to have a social network available for potential future projects where having a community would be helpful or necessary.  There are many options out there, but I opted for Grou.ps, and I’m glad I did.

Grou.ps offers pretty much everything I had with Ning, plus the possibility of assigning a custom domain to the site.  In my case I chose to create a subdomain of one of my domains, registered through GodaddyThe steps to do this were fairly straightforward but the process was by no means immediate.  While I created the CNAME in Godaddy’s Total DNS with no particular problem, it took nearly 24 hours before the Grou.ps site would recognize and accept the custom domain I input.  It worked eventually, however, and now I’m the proud administrator of a Grou.ps-hosted social network.

Here’s a screenshot of my old Ning site:

Here’s the new Grou.ps site:

Why don’t you check it out and join, if interested?


See Also: 

Ning’s Bubble Bursts: No More Free Networks, Cuts 40% Of Staff (TechCrunch)

Christian Camp Faces Uncertain Future

Update: (05/26/2010) A drive is underway to attempt to raise money to get the camp out of debt by the end of June, thus saving it from closing.  Contributions of any amount are welcomed.  If you are interested in helping keep a Christian Churches/Churches of Christ camp alive and well, serving the greater New York metro area and beyond, please send a donation to: Catskill Christian Assembly, PO Box 1438, Bay Shore, NY 11706. *Checks can be made payable to “Catskill Christian Assembly”

Update: (07/05/2010) The camp will be holding retreats instead of regular camp sessions.  Click here for more info!


Catskill Christian Assembly, the camp serving independent Christian Churches/Churches of Christ in the greater New York metro area, is facing an uncertain future.  This post is a call to help if you can and pray because you must.

The camp’s situation is, frankly, dire.  It’s roughly $20,000 in debt, the camp manager of 16 years has resigned and if money can’t be found soon the insurance will be cancelled in a few weeks.  Without insurance the camp will have to close until the matter is resolved.  Without a camp manager (someone 25 years old or older or holding a bachelor’s degree, with 24 documented weeks in camp management) the camp also cannot legally operate.

Although there were around 20 congregations represented at the recent Metro Christian Convention, with many more in the region, only 8 currently support the camp on a regular basis.

So, what can you do?

  • If you or someone you know meets the above qualifications for camp manager and could at least be available for this year, contact Peter O’Leary.  He’s a member of the camp board and the one who presented the camp’s situation in workshops at the Metro Christian Convention this year.
  • If you are a member or minister of an independent Christian Church/Church of Christ in the region around New York City, check and see if your church supports the camp financially, or at least sends campers.  If it doesn’t support, why not?  If there were problems in the past, now may be the best time to see them resolved.  The last thing anyone should want is for the churches to lose this vital ministry tool.
  • Camp trustees will be meeting on May 1st to discuss the camp’s future.  If the camp is important to you, plan to be there with a prayerful, helpful attitude.  Contact the camp to let them know you’ll be there.
  • Pray.  Beyond blogging about this situation, that’s all I can do.  It may be the best you can do, and it is valuable.  God hears.

Update:

05/03/10 – The camp board met this past Saturday, May 1, and decided to proceed with the search for a new camp manager.  The following information was provided in response to a request for information on qualifications and where to send applications.  If you are interested or know someone who might be, please take note!

“Applicants must meet the qualifications from the NY State Board of Health (Click here for details.) Resumes can be sent to the CCA Executive Board President, Pete O’Leary, at 1123 Broadway Ave., Holbrook, NY 11741 or via e-mail: pete262@optonline.net ”

OMG Africa! Linux Project Press Release

Luqman Saeed, a Linux and open source advocate in Africa, sent along the following information. Give it a look and spread the word.


Though a great concept and model, the use and adoption of Free and Open Source Software in Africa is very negligible. This is not because Windows and other proprietary software are better, but because not much is being done by those of us in the FOSS world to bring it to Africa.

There is a vast untapped market available here where Linux in particular and Open Source Software in general have a lot of gains to make. But these gains will not come without efforts on the part of all FOSS proponents. It is in this light that we would like to present to you and seek your involvement in the OMG Africa! Linux Project.

Essentially, the Project has 3 main objectives

1. To increase the use and adoption of Linux in Africa: We hope to achieve this by educating people and small businesses about the massive advantages Linux has over other systems. To increase accessibility to Linux ISOs, we would seek volunteers who would be willing to mail FREE copies of pre-burned CDs containing Linux distros to those who have no internet connection to download.

2. Help curb the e-waste menace that is engulfing most parts of the continent: Given that Linux is free and runs on not so new hardware, the scourge of e-waste -which is mostly outdated computers that are dumped on us by advanced countries- can be reduced to the barest minimum by giving second lives to computers that would have ended as scrap because they are too old to run Windows. A look at this video titled from Anwerp to Ghana (my country) is ample evidence of the severity of the e-waste menace.

3. Find ways in which Linux in particular and Open Source Software in general can be used to enhance the quality of education here in Africa.

The goals and objectives of this humble but ambitious project cannot be realized without the active involvement of every single one of you wonderful FOSS proponents. If there is one thing that sets Linux apart from Windows, it is the strong community that surrounds it. Now we humbly implore the power of this community of which we all belong, to help bring Linux and Open Source Software to Africa and help improve lives.

You can contribute in a diverse number of ways to this project, two of which are volunteering to send out a FREE Linux CD and joining or starting discussions on how to achieve the set objectives of the project. If you ever wondered if there was any way Linux could be of use in any way other than on the PC, then you definitely have a role to play in the OMG Africa! Linux Project.

You can join the project Facebook page , follow on Twitter or subscribe to the official blog of the project to keep in touch with it at all times. We also are open to your ideas, feedback, suggestions, constructive criticisms and general advice and opinions on how we can improve the project. Once again, the noble goals of this project cannot be realized without your active involvement. Every single member we have counts towards achieving these goals. Why not join us right now and start a discussion? Can we reach a 100 members today?

Brazilian Immigrant Ministry Reconsidered

It seemed like a great idea when I first heard about it at the 1997 National Missionary Convention in Tulsa.  It was there I met Wayne Long, former missionary to Brazil two Brazilian men from a mission effort in the northeastern United States, Sergio and Helio.  They represented the work of Hisportic Christian Mission in planting churches within the Brazilian immigrant community.  As a result of that first meeting I visited one of the churches connected with this ministry two years in a row.  In more recent years my family moved to the northeast and became active with the Brazilian Church of Christ in Newark, New Jersey.  It was while with this church over the course of nearly 5 years that I began to perceive a problem that isn’t entirely immediate, but will become an issue in the not-to-distant future.  It simply doesn’t make any sense for Brazilian immigrant congregations to expect to retain their cultural and linguistic purity into a second generation.

First, consider the “great commission.”

“Go therefore 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 that I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” – Matthew 28:19-20 NRSV

Did Jesus say, "Go and make disciples of everyone who looks, speaks and acts like you”?  No.  How about, “…make disciples of all nations, organizing them into separate and distinct congregations along racial and ethnic lines”?  Again, no.  A church planted in Brazil will likely be composed mostly of Portuguese-speaking people sharing a very similar cultural background.  The congregation’s make-up would likely be a fairly accurate reflection of the neighborhood or city in which it exists.  In a similar fashion, I’m not at all surprised if a congregation in Kirksville, Missouri consists primarily of white, working-class people.  What about a church ministering in a place as culturally diverse as northern New Jersey?

Second, I know there will be objections.  It makes sense to evangelize people in their native languages.  It’s easier to connect with people within existing social and familial circles.  Church services can’t be conducted routinely in multiple languages (this isn’t the United Nations!).  To all these I agree, to a point.  To share the Gospel most effectively there needs to be a shared language.  We generally find the best avenues for evangelism to be those that already exist among friends and family.  Of course it wouldn’t build anyone up to try to conduct a worship service that amounts to little more cacophony of very different languages.  Remember, though, that I’m talking about mission work among Brazilian immigrants.

Mission and church planting among Hispanic immigrants may be very different from the experience of the same among Brazilians.  Hispanics tend to maintain cultural and social cohesion better than their Brazilian counterparts.  Why?  Two reasons seem to be the status of families and also replenishment from outside.

Hispanic communities in my part of the United States tend to be composed of larger extended families.  Perhaps due to different immigration policies or physical proximity to the United States, Hispanics of many countries have been able to bring large parts of their family here to live and work with them.  I’ve known people in Newark who own sections of city blocks where everyone’s from the same family.  Grandparents, parents, children, cousins, uncles, aunts, etc.  All in roughly the same geographic area.  These families have a far greater facility of maintaining their distinct identity as a sub-culture in the United States than do Brazilians.  The latter tend to come as individuals, marry or just live together and have children.  Nuclear families are more the norm among Brazilian immigrants in the northeastern United States.  Nuclear families face challenges in preserving their language and cultural memory.  They blend into the larger culture as their children speak English and become involved in school activities with friends who aren’t Brazilian.  As the family goes, so goes the church.

Don’t get me wrong!  It’s a great thing to either plant a church or start a small group that reaches out to Brazilians immigrants.  There’s also a lot of work to be done in organizing the Brazilian immigrant community and helping it find a voice.  At the same time, such works in a church context should not resist the encroachment of the larger culture, particularly in language.  If English is the “heart language” of the children, they should hear it in Sunday School and youth group.  The church isn’t the conveyer of one nation’s language and heritage.  It is the reign of Christ.  Further, plans should be made to transition the ministry as a whole almost entirely to English by the time the first generation of church children raised in the United States reaches adulthood.  An alternative is to get them involved in other English-speaking congregations locally, though this would actually fail the “all nations” international imperative of the great commission.

As a church works towards it’s more international, less Brazilian future it will be freed up to reach out to other people in the community, folks for whom English serves as a common language.  This was the experience of the early church in the Roman Empire, where diversity prevailed but the common trade language was Greek, the same language in which the New Testament was written.

The work of the church is the mission of God, and the mission of God is the make disciples of all nations, bringing them into fellowship with Him through Christ.  We preach that Jesus is Lord of the nations and that, therefore, there can be no distinction.  We say we are one.  Are we ready to live this truth?

My Top Five Chrome Extensions

Chrome has become almost exclusively my only web browser.  I came for the speed and ease of use and stayed for the extensions.

When Google’s Chrome browser was first released it was available only on Windows.  Since I only use Ubuntu Linux (and an iMac at work) it was around a year before Chrome was even really available to me (no, I wasn’t interested in the Chromium Projects).  Even after the Linux and Mac versions were officially released I didn’t get into using this browser right away.  This was largely due to habit, Firefox having been my default web browser for so many years, and partly due to the lack of extensions (add-ons).  After I started using it I discovered that not only is it noticeably faster than Firefox, it has many nice features, including the ability to search right from the address line.

What confirmed my switch to Chrome were the extensions.  These are add-ons that extend the functionality of the browser.  Many are ported over from Firefox, others relatively original.  What follows are the extensions I like and use the most as of right now.  So many extensions already exist, with new ones coming available on a regular basis, that this list will likely be outdated in a matter of weeks.  In any case, here goes.

  1. RSS Subscription Extension – What is a default feature in Firefox is an extension in Chrome.  Having access to the RSS feed to subscribe seems pretty fundamental, so if you’re using Chrome this will be one of the first extensions you’ll want to install.  Otherwise if you click an RSS feed link you’ll just get a page of xml gibberish.
  2. TooManyTabs – From the makers of an add-on of the same name for Firefox, this handy extension lets you shuffle excess tabs off into a saved area to check out later.  This is especially useful for me because I’m always coming across articles and tutorials that I don’t want to bookmark but also don’t have time to read right away.  By using TooManyTabs I can save the link out of site and come back to it later.  No more browser full of tiny, crowded tabs or fear of restarting the wrong way and losing everything.
  3. Web2PDFConverter – Pretty much everyone knows you can print a web page “to file” as a pdf.  The result isn’t great, though, with the saved page being formated as though it had really been printed.  Items can be out of place or missing and there may be date and time markers on the tops and bottoms of the saved pages.  Not so if you use Web2PDFConverter!  Just click the pdf icon and any page you are viewing will be converted into a pdf file almost exactly as it appears in the browser, images, formatting and all.  You can then download the file or view it in Google Docs.
  4. Shareaholic – This extension lets you share any page you’re viewing easily with many social networks.  You click the icon, select the network on the drop-down and click.  Often a new page will appear for the share to take place and you will need to be logged in (or else log in) to the social network to complete the process.  I use this a lot for sharing to Twitter, especially when the site doesn’t have adequate share options built in.
  5. Chromed Bird – Speaking of Twitter, there really is no good reason to waste a perfectly good tab on the service.  Chromed Bird changes color and shows a number of new tweets since you last checked, so if you use Twitter often you can stay on top of what’s being tweeted.  You can also reply, retweet and favorite tweets using this extension.  
The preceding were just my top five Chrome Extensions.  I actually use several on a regular basis and have others installed that I utilize less frequently.  Although I’m well aware that Firefox has had add-ons for quite a while, it wasn’t the extensions that won me to Chrome.  As I said above, I find this new browser versatile and fast, better in these respects than Firefox.  The extensions are the icing on the sweet, sweet cake.
Check out the Extensions page and have a look around.  If you find something you really like that I haven’t mentioned, tell me about it in the comments on this post.

Doing It Wrong

When I first went to Brazil it was as a mission intern.  It was 1997, I was 21 and I didn’t expect what would happen in me and to me that summer.  I caught a vision of ministry that was incarnational, sacrificial, community-based and thoroughly grassroots.  Somehow over the next few years I lost that outlook and ended up actually doing it wrong when I finally moved to Brazil.

My intention was to go on a mission trip for the experience and, perhaps, with a view towards becoming a missionary for a few years in some other part of the world.  Brazil was just supposed to be a one-time trip.  Instead, at the end of the first week in Brazil I sensed God’s call on my life to that country (believe it or not…I do) and over the course of those two months I lived a year’s worth of experiences.  What impressed me most were the vibrant faith of the Christians there and their commitment to work with those on the margins.  My mission team visited an orphanage where, right before we left, one of the girls gave us each one of her stuffed animals to take with us.  We visited a drug rehabilitation clinic the church supported (some members led Bible studies there).  We lived for a couple of weeks in a crime-ridden neighborhood just a step above a favela where the missionary knew the drug lords, assassins and kidnappers on a first-name basis.

After I returned home to the United States I was anxious to get back to Brazil on a full-time basis as soon as possible.  What I didn’t want to have happen was to forget what I had learned in Brazil (and thereby lose the passion for real ministry I’d obtained) and possibly end up not even going back to Brazil.  Something went wrong though, and in three areas specifically:

First, I became so focused on the goal of getting back to Brazil that I lost sight of real ministry in the here-and-now.  In the months right after getting back from Brazil I did pretty good.  I made contacts with people and tried really hard to form relationships and do good things for the reign of Christ.  Once I got to Harding this started to slip.

Second, as I just mentioned I enrolled in the Harding School of Biblical Studies, an intensive, two-year ministry program that led to a Bachelor of Ministry degree.  Academically this was a very good decision, and I am quite thankful for the dedicated professors and supportive classmates who made this such a formative experience for me.  Unfortunately, the time I spent in class and on homework (5 terms a year instead of two semesters…think about it) kept me from dedicating much time to ministry.

Third, did I mention ministry?  A month after moving to Searcy, Arkansas to start the ministry program I found myself taking a turn preaching every other Sunday for a local Christian Church.  The members were wonderful.  They believed in what I was doing and even contributed to make further trips to Brazil possible.  Still, my entire experience of ministry for two years was basically just preparing sermons and Bible studies in what little time I had when I wasn’t studying.  Not exactly a rich, deep missional lifestyle.

A year after graduation I “finally” made my move to Brazil.  I married a Brazilian woman, the love of my life, and settled into missionary activity.  Rather than meeting people, learning about neighborhood concerns and showing signs of the reign of Christ through community organizing and also providing training for more workers, I became an evangelist in the shallowest sense of the word.  My entire focus was on door-knocking (which actually still seems to work for the most part in many Brazilian cities) to set up one-on-one evangelistic Bible studies.  The goal was baptisms and all I could see was the need to combat errors in thinking.  Indeed, I was doing it wrong.

Over the past few years, back in the United States and out of full-time ministry, I’ve had some hard learning to do.  The painful part is reevaluating what I did and failed to do.  On the other hand, as I’ve discovered the scriptural roots of concern for the poor and marginalized and become familiar with both the missional perspective and community development, my hope for future work has been renewed.

What is “missional”?  The video below provides a fairly good summary explanation.  As for community development from a Christian perspective, click here.

Central Jersey Church of Christ, the congregation my family has been attending now for a few months and will likely join as soon as we move closer to the meeting place, has at the heart of its purpose as a congregation a vision for proclaiming good news to the poor.  This racially and ethnically diverse congregation has much to teach me and my family about urban and international ministry, and I hope we have something to give back in return.  Personally, I seek a renewal of purpose and re-focusing on what really matters in life: relationships and helping.  We’re certainly in the right kind of area to do this kind of work.  Hopefully I can become more skilled in creating community, organizing for the betterment of all and living out clearly the Good News that Jesus is Lord.  This is my prayer.

I just don’t want to keep doing it wrong.

Two Apps That Brought Me Back

It’s been obvious to me for a few years now that the tech focus is moving from desktop to mobile.  While it’s nice to be able to sit down and use a computer or laptop, the future is on the go.  More and more people in the United States are switching from standard cell phones to smartphones.  The iPhone is obviously really big, as are the Android-based phones.  Personally, I still like my Blackberry despite the fact that the OS is entirely proprietary and there are nowhere near as many apps for it as there are for other devices.  With this move towards increased mobile Internet usage, it doesn’t make sense for serious business not to have good apps for a variety of popular platforms.  Two in particular that were released recently for Blackberry have actually won me back to their services.

First, Tumblr.  I signed up for a blog with Tumblr months ago, thinking I could use the RSS feed import functionality to increase traffic to my various sites and blogs.  I hooked 5 feeds up and let Tumblr do its thing.  There must be some sort of time-out on this feature, though, because I kept noticing that the import had stopped after several days and would only start up again if I logged in to Tumblr.  This got really old, really fast, so I deleted the feeds and abandoned my Tumblr blog.

Then the Tumblr app for Blackberry came out.

Now, sick as it may seem, I actually write blog posts most days while I’m on the train into work in Manhattan.  When I arrive in New York and have signal again I publish what I’ve written.  Suddenly, Tumblr is useful to me again.

Second, LinkedIn.  It’s like Facebook for professionals.  It’s boring, quite frankly, and only useful for connecting and getting my resume out.  Now that there’s a LinkedIn app for Blackberry the service has become slightly more interesting.  At least now I can easily update my status with what I’m working on and make it look like my profile is “live.”

Is there any app, regardless of mobile device, that has brought you back to a service?