What do free software, experiencing god, getting out of the boat while on a plane all have in common?
Well lets start by talking about the free software first. “Why do you give that church management software away for free?”, I get that a lot. Well I can tell you that was not my original intent. It all started when Pastor Mike from church was talking about using spreadsheets to manage all of the contact information for everyone attending church. Basic information like name & address, contact details, etc. He also wanted to be able to determine which classes they took, events they signed up for, volunteering, children, etc. He was attempting to come up with some way of determining just how connected people were. I think that was back in early 2001 or so.
Coming from a technology background I thought that we (the church) can’t be unique in wanting to have that sort of information accessible, there must be lots of other churches that could use software to track that type of information. I offered to help, I offered to write a piece of software customized for what he was trying to do. All I asked in return was for the “rights” to the software so that I could market it to other churches when we had it working how he envisioned. I called the program “ChurchDB”.
During the development and testing phase I started Thunder Software, created a website (nothing flashy), and began looking into how to go about automating the installation process and marketing.
I still had my day job at a large corporation and was involved in a project that required traveling back and forth from Columbus, OH to Dallas TX. Somewhere around the time I had everything set to begin marketing ChurchDB our life group (small group, bible study group, cell group… however you refer to yours) was going thru a study of the book “Experiencing God“. At the time I wasn’t really too thrilled with the book, but God has this twisted way of changing my mind, especially when it comes to bible studies that I don’t particularly care for. As it turns out it was probably one of the better studies I’ve done, but that’s another story.
So on a return flight from Dallas I’m reading the book and I’m prompted to place the book down in the empty seat next to me. Now when I say prompted I mean I heard this voice in my head say “put the book in the seat next to you”. So I did, but then the voice spoke again and said, “no I want the book to face out so somebody could actually see the book instead of having to try to read it upside-down”. So I did, then I figured I’d ask that voice what to do next… and it replied, it said “wait”.
So I waited, pretty soon the flight attendants brought the cart down the aisle and one of them, I think her name was Carol, or was it Susan… or Barbara, I’m not sure anymore but I’ll call her Carol, anyway she leaned over and asked whether that was a good book? I kindly replied back that it was or something like that, and the attendants continued down the aisle after handing me a glass of water. It wasn’t that long after they passed that I heard that voice again, it said “you know that flight attendant that asked about the book?”, I said “sure what about it?”. Well the answer came as a surprise, It said “the next time you see her I want you to ask her how you can pray for her”. I retorted back “are you kidding? I don’t remember which one she was!” (after all there were three flight attendants on board). The voice also said that I should remove the book from the seat and put the tray table up because she was going to sit down after I asked her.
Well, seeing as how I have never really had this kind of conversation going on in my head like this before I figured I had better follow through with this prompting. After all, here I was reading this Experiencing God book right? But I was stubborn and refused to move the book and put the tray table up, I thought that was pushing it just a bit too far, I didn’t want to give God a chance to be wrong just in case I heard Him incorrectly.
So the next time I saw her coming down the aisle, after wiping the sweat from my brow, I asked her how I could pray for her. Considering there was no place to sit she decided that she would take a seat on the arm of the chair next to me (my mind is going berserk now because I didn’t clear off the seat before hand, but God made sure He confirmed His voice to me didn’t He…in spite of myself). She explained how she was going to be going on a bible archaeology expedition in Canada soon, something she was very passionate about and had longed for. She was also beginning a bible study for the high school ballet group in Fort Worth whom she taught, that’s why she had asked about the book. I shared a little about the book but I really didn’t feel that the high schoolers were ready for it. I had just recently finished reading one of John Ortbergs books (he is one of my all-time favorite writers), If You Want To Walk On Water You’ve Got To Get Out Of The Boat, and said this is one of the best and easiest books I’ve ever read. I said it would be perfect for them. She thanked me and stood up (remember she sat down on the arm of the chair) to return to the rear of the plane.
Well after asking God to forgive me for not listening to Him about making room in the seat He said this, “you know that software you’re writing? now you know my voice… give it away!” I was stunned, all that development work, all that effort and He says “give it away!”
Well after having the experience I just went through it would have been tough to say no. When I returned home and shared my experience with Chris she immediately said something like “oh c’mon!, you can’t be serious! after all that hard work?”. There was no arguing, the software was going to be made available to churches for free! When others hear that God said give it away many ask whether God said for how long? I just smile.
That wasn’t quite the end of the airline story, you see as the flight was on its final approach (and I had cleaned up the area), Carol came and sat in the seat next to me with a catalog from christianbook.com. I couldn’t help but smile, God didn’t let me miss out on that (sitting) part of the experience. She wanted to confirm that this was in fact the book I was referring to. I said that it was and she returned to the rear of the plane again.
A couple months later there was a full page story in the Columbus Dispatch about bible archeology, it reminded me about her and so I prayed for her and her family again, and hoped that she hadn’t gotten hurt on her expedition. A few months after that there was another full page story all about ballet… again I was reminded of her and prayed, I prayed that her bible study was going well.
And then came September 11th, Carol worked for American Airlines. In everything else that was going through my head that morning, she came to mind again. I prayed that she wasn’t on any of the flights, and prayed for her family if she was. I don’t really know whether she was or not. Sometimes I wonder whether she pursued bible archeology or ballet more, whether my book suggestion made an impression on any of the high school dancers, or whether she decided to even use the book in her study at all. But I do know that God is a good God and able to use all things for His good! And lets just say that I have been blessed so many times over for giving the software away, over 2000 copies have been downloaded and I’ve heard “thank you’s” from pastors from every corner of the globe. I’ve even been invited to stop by and visit a certain pastor the next time I’m in Qatar! 🙂