Urbana15: #hack4missions

(Suuuuuppppeeerrrr late post – but better late than never)
So this past December I went to Urbana student missions conference in St.Louis, MO. The theme this year was “What Story Will You Tell?” – and now here I am, writing my story to share with you.

Now I could tell you about all the awesome things I experienced for the first time at Urbana. Things like how awesome the worship/singspiration was (LANGUAGES WOO!); how I learned and heard so much during morning bible studies and during each session speaker. I could tell you about how I felt challenged in my faith or how I want to do and serve so much more now that I’m home.

But I’m not going to talk about any of that today.


Some Backstory

Backtrack a bit, I have known about Urbana for as long as I’ve been going to church. I had never really been interested in checking out this conference (even though it’s a huuugge one that happens every 3 years) mainly because I wasn’t particularly interested or involved with the missions aspect of my faith. My image of missions and what it was all about was also, for a long time, pretty narrow. To me missions was about going “out there.” Out to remote villages, underground and home churches; out to some developing country to teach, to dig water wells, to build houses and schools, serve in clinics etc.:

Now I’m not saying that these are all bad things to associate with “missions”. These people are doing awesome things to help others, and if you want to really see God work somewhere, you will see it in these places, hands down (I’ve never heard of anyone going on a missions trip and not seeing God’s awesome work). But for those of us who aren’t medical professionals, teachers, charismatic speakers or physical labourers…or may not have the finances to make such a trip….people with computer/tech skills, research skills, business specialists, artists, designers, musicians, biologists, anthropologists, filmmakers, linguists, physicists, accountants etc….How can we serve in God’s global mission? I wondered. How can I best use the gifts I have – in my case – my love and passion of technology to help and serve? So this year (or well, this past year – 2015), I decided to go to Urbana and find out. And in the process of choosing what seminar track to go for while registering, I found #hack4missions.

a missions-focused hackathon

a missions-focused hackathon (bonus: I am in this picture somewhere)

A missions-focused hackathon. What?! Christian hackers you say? Is there such a thing? Sounds pretty crazy (the good kind of crazy), and I had never done a hackathon before (I’ve done ONE design slam…and…that’s it…yep). But you know what? The idea and challenge of rethinking missions and using technology to (potentially) change the world? I’M SOLD, I’ll take up that challenge, SIGN ME UP. Seriously though, I was SUPER EXCITED (and nervous) about this.


Day 1: Dawn of the First Day – 72 hours remaining –

Or maybe it’s actually day 2, because we had a night session before…Anyway

Day 1, no idea what to expect (other than to do work). About 190 of us participants checked-in and sat down to listen to the 12 challenge leads pitch their projects to us (sidenote: I happened to find a seat in a row of more Canadians lolll – who also knew the 2 friends I came with LOL. it was meant to be ;D). After that we all split off to learn more about each project and then choose one to work on for the next 3 days.

click to check out all the challenges that we worked on

Click to learn more about all the challenges that we worked on

Oh, and did I mention these are all REAL projects? These aren’t projects that just started and ended at #hack4missions. These are projects that are still being worked on after Urbana!


How bad UX design killed Jenny – #hospitalrun

So I chose to work on a project called HospitalRun, and open-source Hospital Information System (HIS) project started by a small team (i.e. pretty much one guy) at CURE International. The platform was to be deployed to hospitals in developing countries to help them transition from a paper-system to and electronic-based system. User interviews noted that the largest problem with the paper system was that records and patient notes frequently got lost or destroyed. Other issues with the paper system included the large amount of time spent on doing admin paperwork. But anyway, you might be thinking, why not use existing software? Well….let me tell you a story about Jenny. Or rather, let me share with you this story about Jenny:

TL;DR, when your HIS looks like THIS MONSTROSITY:

gahhh, what is this???

gahhh, what is this???

Obviously, bad things can happen. Lives are literally lost because of disorganized or incorrect information.

Now my immediate thought to things like this are that WE CAN TOTALLY FIX THIS. Though probably not in 3 days, but at least start that process of making things better. Our challenge/ask for this project was to design/prototype a user dashboard for different 3 different user groups (doctors/nurses, lab techs, pharmacists/inventory managers). Much of the platform was already built/designed, so we had some things we could leverage in our solution.

sample screen from the hospitalrun site

sample screen from the hospitalrun site

So for the next 3 afternoons (probably more than that really) we brainstormed, photoshop-ed, illustrated, made terrible-sketches, covered our white board with crazy things, developed things in tandem with what little design we came up with; and in the end, worked up (I think) a pretty decent working skeleton for the dashboard.

And yes, it could be better, but hey, we only got to work together for a little more than 3 hours each day! – Less than your typical 24-48hr straight hackathon.


The aftermath of my experience of “hacking” for Jesus

hospitalrun h4m - 15

some of the awesome peeps I got to work with on the #hospitalrun team :D

I loved and enjoyed participating in #hack4missions. Despite the fact that I didn’t get to go to any seminars, or really spend much time in the Exhibit Hall, Bookstore (which was probably a good thing) or Prayer Rooms; I got to have an awesome learning, encouraging and challenging missions experience at Urbana. I loved that we had all come together to work on (seemingly) every day, normal(?) (global) issues, not just to better the world; but to show God’s glory and character through the (little) actions, attitudes and work we had to offer during those 3 days. One of the best things I thought we did during our time together was when we stopped for a moment (during a crazy, panicked, stressful time of work and planning lol), to just pray. Boom! So refreshing, I loved it.

It’s been almost 3 months since Urbana ended. Now what?

I’m not exactly continually working on these kinds of projects right now as much as I’d like to. I thoroughly enjoy serving in my church and community as I did before Urbana. However, my picture of missions has expanded a lot, and if there’s an opportunity to serve and work in the “fields” (I do still stay connected and check up on our slack channels). Or if there’s an idea that can be executed. I’m totally down for it. The beauty of missions is that it is everywhere near and far. God’s Kingdom stretches to the ends of the earth and beyond. The harvest is plentiful, but the workers are few. However, I think in experiencing hack4missions, we’ve learned that there can be many more workers in all sorts of places.

And now, I leave you with some quotes from Urbana that continue to inspire, encourage and challenge me in my faith:

“God is not looking for spiritual giants. God is looking for spiritual lamps that will shine for Him”
– Patrick Fung

“Jesus calls you to redefine your ‘us'”
-Christina Cleveland”

“Sometimes we talk the bible to death; and TALK more than we DO”
-Francis Chan

“Expect great things from God, attempt great things for God.”
-William Carey, 1792

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