Tim Young Tim.Young at LightSys.org
Mon Jan 4 22:01:07 CST 2010

Hi there,
There are a few of us who can speak to various aspects of this, but I am 
probably as good as any for this topic.  :)
Let me introduce myself in light of ICCM.
1) I was the ICCM Co-Chair for 2007-2009 (the co-chair is responsible 
for jointly-leading the whole conference)
2) I have been a part of teaching at ICCM for 10 years or so. (I mostly 
taught various FOSS)
3) I have personally taught four 2-day seminars on Linux in missions as 
a part of ICCM (the conference often has a 1 or 2-day extension where we 
teach in-depth tech topics after the rest of the conference has ended.)

And, as to why I have a good understanding of how open-source impacts 
1) I am a field consultant with LightSys (lightsys.org), a mission that 
teaches and trains missionary techies.  Basically, most missionary 
techies are missionaries who happen to be the most technologically 
competent at the home office.  So they are doctors, pastors, teachers, 
etc.  Who suddenly find themselves responsible for the technological 
security of a small world-wide organization.  LightSys devotes a lot of 
time towards providing technical training for the IT staff for these 
mission organizations.

As a pre-note:
ICCM is a conference that, while spending a lot of time talking about 
FOSS, really focuses on meeting the needs of computing and missions.  
It's motto is, "For missionaries, by missionaries."  Which basically 
means that missionaries decide what needs to be taught, and chooses the 
best of their representatives to teach each other the topics they need 
to know.  It is not a bunch of techies thinking they know what missions 
need that sets the tone, it is the missions that know their own 
inadequacies and who have an interest to keep abreast of current trends, 
who puts together the tracks and sessions.  So by watching the topics 
taught in ICCM over a few years, you get a very good summary of what 
missions use and want to use for technology in missions.

To answer your questions:
Tell me about their Linux/BSD usage. How extensive is it?
Oddly enough, the usage of Linux/BSD is probably fairly similar to what 
you would find in the secular world.  There are some organizations that 
are "completely" Linux-based, and there are more organizations that are 
"entirely" windows based.  (Organizations that claim to be one or the 
other usually fail to take into consideration handhelds, NAS systems, 
virtual environments, etc.  I do not think I have seen a mission that 
was 100% one way or the other.  But there are some that are very 
close.)  Most organizations find that, if they want the best 
technologies to support their ministry, they end up with some of each 

How did they get involved in that? I assume it was a matter of costs, 
but what else?
  Missions are usually very heavily driven by cost.  Many ministries are 
"Support-Raised", where the "salary" for any given person comes in by 
churches or individuals who are giving to that missionary.  This has a 
very odd impact on technology, as there is virtually no cost to 
"staff."  Most organizations have the cost of their employees as a very 
high percentage of their technological cost.  In missions, many of the 
techies appear to be "free" to the organization.   This basically means 
that their time appears "worthless", but so the cost of technology 
appears very high.  So many missionaries will spend an hour soldering 
back together a mouse that costs $5.  Where, in the normal scheme of 
things, if you get paid $15 an hour, it is cheaper for you to buy 
another mouse than to spend the time fixing it.  A number of missions 
have had to switch from this model, as they have not found good 
missionary techies.  Some of these have started paying their IT staff, 
which suddenly changed their priorities around as they suddenly realized 
that time does equal money.
  With Linux, then, where most of the "cost" of it is in knowledge and 
time, Linux may appear to be virtually free.  The problem missions faced 
was that Linux, while apparently free, still has a high learning curve.  
Many missions would start using Linux, but would have problems getting 
it to work.  From there, many would decide that spending money to get 
something to work was preferable to having a free OS that was 
  That is where ICCM came into play.  ICCM is held primarily at Taylor 
University and was heavily sponsored by their computer department.  I 
was on Taylor's staff at that time, and we put a lot of effort into 
teaching Linux and free tools to missions.  ICCM is an extremely frugal 
conference in that it keeps it's costs very low.  All the speakers pay 
their own way and the conference intends not to make a profit.  Any 
extra funds from one year are used to provide scholarships to 
missionaries who could not otherwise afford to come the next year.  So 
the cost of learning missions technology is drastically lessened through 
attending ICCM.
  Basically then, what got many missions involved in Linux was that ICCM 
provided teaching and training in FOSS along with training in 
proprietary tools.  For a number of years, the focus was much higher on 
FOSS, but that was more a matter of interest in missions than of use in 
missions.  (Missions were putting a lot of interest into understanding 
if Linux was for them, and were trying to get over the initial 
technological hurdles.  Now that most of the regular ICCMers have chosen 
their OSes, the focus is much more evenly distributed.  Most for-cost 
products have nonprofit discounts that make them somewhat cheaper than 
for normal folks.)

Was it something the members themselves were already inclined toward?
  In some cases, yes.  There are two main reasons why technology is in 
use in missions.  Either the techie chose it, or it was their only 
choice available to them.  For example, a few organizations which were 
nearly all Linux oriented switched to Windows primarily because the 
financial system they found integrated with Exchange.  In one other 
case, the ministry was so strapped for cash (and their techie knew some 
friends to help him) that Linux was the only option.

When the computers are prepped for the field, what sort of uses do they 
Heh heh.  You are assuming that the computers are prepped for the 
field...  :)
  Half the computers that go out to the field are purchased by the field 
missionaries and go out straight from the vendor.  So they have all the 
junkware that comes with a new computer.  The other half are prepped by 
someone, either a friend or the missionary tech at the home office.
  The uses for computers are extremely diverse.  They are used for Bible 
Translation, playing computer games, email, tracking personal finances, 
attaching to projectors to show Christian movies or song-lyrics, 
recording of audio (see globalrecordings.net), and many other uses.  
Some missionary computers are "adjusted to the field."  One of my 
favorite laptop computers belongs to someone (on this list), which had a 
car-battery somehow attached as the power-supply.  My mom's computer has 
half of it swathed in duct-tape.  My brother has one that has a screw 
screwed into the laptop power-supply which somehow makes it work properly.
  But missions are incredibly varied in nature.  You have hospitals, 
orphanages, schools that teach farming, and much more.  There are even 
places that teach awareness of various issues.  For example, one 
ministry has an elaborate "day of the refugee" where businessmen gather 
together and get to be a refugee for a day.  They start out wandering in 
a small village when suddenly there is a bunch of special effects 
guranteed to scare the dickens out of anyone.  Huge fireballs, stunt-men 
flying up in the air, loud explosions.  You are rushed away (in fear and 
trembling) and spend the next 24 hours experiencing the life as a 
refugee.  Most people do not expect stunt-men and pyrotechnics to be 
part of missions, but they are.  So virtually any application you can 
imagine for computers, can also be applied to missions the same way it 
can be applied to industry.

What sort of Open Source stuff is relevant to missions?
  Sadly, there is a big difference between "relevant" and "properly 
used."  There are a LOT of open-source and free tools which could be put 
to much better use in missions.  For the most part, Linux is still 
mostly used as a server-side OS.  There are a number of Linux Terminal 
Server cyber-cafes / classrooms.  But for the most part, there is 
Windows on the desktop.  In a number of third-world countries, there is 
a huge ethical battle going on between pirating and Linux.  Missionaries 
see that all the Windows users have pirated versions of their OSes and 
all applications, so they start recommending Linux, open-office and the 
like.  But there are a number of cultural reasons they chose windows and 
so after the missionary leaves their sight, they put their pirated 
windows back on their desktops.  Only when Linux has achieved a critical 
mass will that hurdle be overcome.  But, at the same time, a large 
number of FOSS programs can be installed on any platform, which helps 
alleviate some of the issues.
  One of the other drawbacks to open-source is the inaccessibility of 
the Internet in many locations.  Most of us live in the 
Google/Sourceforge culture.  We think to ourselves, "Wow.  Don't you 
think it would be cool if there was an App to do item X?"  As soon as we 
think it, we can Google our idea, and usually we can download something 
similar from Sourceforge.  But there are places in this world where you 
still pay for Internet connections by the KB.  In some places, your only 
Internet access is through a satellite-phone that costs $4 a minute.  
(And those still have very poor bandwidth)
  For the most part, Open Source is highly relevant to missions.  Most 
organizations use various forms of it, whether they realize it or not.  
In some cases, the best application for a specific use, whether paid or 
free, is an open-source one.  Truecrypt is an open-source tool which 
many organizations have switched to, not because it saved them money, 
but because it was the only tool that offered the level of security they 
needed.  Cacti/Nagios is another example of open-source which is used 
more because of the quality of service than cost.
  There is no doubt that FOSS solutions have saved missions a lot of 
money.  And, with the correct training, missions can be saved a lot more 
money.  ICCM is not about FOSS, it is about teaching missionary IT 
people about the technologies they currently use, or will be using, so 
they can service their people around the world.  Much of what ICCM 
teaches is FOSS, simply because it represents a lot of the technologies 
used in missions.  But at the same time, there are a lot of FOSS 
advocates who know the three limitations of FOSS are training in the 
product, functionality of the product, and knowledge that the product 
exists.  Those people put a lot of time into spreading the word at ICCM 
about the various FOSS tools, and providing teaching and training in 
them, so that missions can be more effective in what they do.

Feel free to ask more questions, ask for clarification, or chuck this 
whole email.  :)  You can also contact me off-list if you wish to 
call/skype or do some other voice interview if that is quicker for 
you.   I am happy to oblige.

    - Tim Young, Field Consultant - LightSys   
    ICCM Co-Chair 2007-2009

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