Urbana – Hack4Missions

In the week between Christmas and New Year’s in 2015, I joined 16,000 brothers and sisters at Urbana, a missions conference hosted by Intervarsity and held in St. Louis, MO. I want to share some thoughts on my experience. I’ll break my reflections into few posts, because I have more to say than I can fit into one entry.

What it Was

Urbana normally consists of 4 major elements: general sessions, bible study, seminars, and an exhibit hall. Mornings and evenings are for bible study and general sessions, leaving people free in the afternoon to browse the exhibit hall and attend seminars. I’ll go into more detail on these in later posts.

This year Urbana introduced an additional path in the afternoon: a hackathon (if you’re not familiar with that term, check it out). 190 participants (with a few dozen mentors, challenge leads, and organizers) gave up the chance to attend seminars or spend time in the exhibit hall to work on 12 different technology projects, ranging from bible translation software to a video game about the life of a refugee to a social media campaign for Christian testimony from Olympic athletes.

We had a very simple rallying cry for the week: “Expect great things from God, attempt great things for God.”

Though a hackathon is usually much longer (often a nonstop 24- or 48-hour event), Hack4Missions teams only had 9 hours of real development time. Even with sizable teams, that’s a drop in the bucket for a software project. And yet, when each team presented on Thursday, we all had real, tangible results. None of us quite had code ready to give to an end user, but we all had amazing results given the constraints. As I told my friends at the end of the week, “what we accomplished this week…was literally more than we could have accomplished without the power of the Holy Spirit. I don’t know about you, but I’m pretty convinced I witnessed a miracle.”

What it Meant to Me

If you’ve had a long-ish conversation with me in the past year or so, odds are very high that I’ve talked about my dream job: bringing technology to the Church, helping missions and ministries be more effective in loving, serving, and evangelizing with the help of modern tools. It’s why I created Kingdom Builders, and it’s why, when I went to Urbana 15, I participated in Hack4Missions.

Recently, I had become pretty self-conscious when I talked about my dreams; plenty of people I know aren’t really technologists, and they would say “oh, that’s a good idea” but it would be hard to move the conversation forward from there, so I started saying less about it.

That changed completely at Hack4Missions. I got a chance to very briefly share my story with all the participants, and I told them plainly that this event was a dream come true, and it was not a new dream. I’ve been moving in this direction for 3 years. Finally, after three years, I was not just telling a friend about my dream, but I was in a room full of people with the same dream. Not only did I get to make something that a Christian ministry can take, improve, and really use to share the love of Jesus with others, but I spent about 20 hours talking, laughing, and working alongside over 200 of the best people I’ve ever known. Like I told them then, I was finally among people like me – my people.

I held myself together, but at the closing event on Thursday, I got pretty choked up. Have you ever anticipated something for a long, long time, and then had it finally happen? The mixture of joy that it’s happening – along with the realization that now it’s over – is powerful.

I have known for several years that this is the direction my career will go. Hack4Missions was only a snapshot, only a glimpse into that future, but it was energizing and affirming in a way that largely escapes explanation. I felt home in a way I haven’t felt in a very long time.

I could do this forever. I plan to.

What it Means for You

In the last section, I said “now it’s over,” but really it isn’t. I have 200 new friends. I have 12 new hobbies. At Urbana 15, God worked in many enormous ways, but my personal favorite is that He showed up at Hack4Missions, He filled us with the energy and focus to serve Him with our gifts and talents, and He proved that no matter what the application, if we’re using our talents for Him, we’ll achieve more than we imagined we could.

If you’re a techie like me, please join in! Come to Kingdom Builders, get connected to a project, encourage one another, and celebrate the God can and will use us in His Kingdom.

If you’re not a techie, please also join in! If the work of the Church is important to you, you can help us see how technology can improve it. You can help us see what’s hard to do, what’s inefficient, where the talent is needed. Technology creators love to solve problems; tell us the problems we can help you solve!

React

I’d love to hear what you think! I’m getting more into blogging, and as I do I’ll always want any feedback you have. Comment here, send me an email, find me on social media, whatever works for you.

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